Once part of a giant inland sea, the sedimentary rock along the western edge of Alberta began to form part of the chain of mountains which eventually became called Rockies between 140,000 million to 45 million years ago.
Some of Alberta's earliest archaeological sites occur around Canmore and Banff including the 10,000 year old Vermilion Lakes site in Banff and Sibbald Flats located east of Canmore in Kananaskis.
Canmore was named in 1884 by Donald A. Smith, an employee of the Canadian Pacific Railway at the time. The name originates in Scotland, possibly in honor of King Malcolm III. The anglicized version of the Gaelic Ceann Mór, Canmore has been variously translated as "big head" or, more likely, "great head" or "chief."
In 1886 Queen Victoria granted a coal mining charter to the Canadian Anthracite Coal Company and in 1887 the first mine was opened.
The North West Mounted Police built their first barracks in Canmore in 1890. It was vacated in 1929 and turned into a private residence. Later, in 1989 the barracks was purchased back by the town and restored.
Through the early 20th century many of the coal mines in the Bow Valley began to shut down. The nearby towns of Anthracite, Georgetown, and Bankhead closed down and many of the buildings and residents were relocated to Banff and Canmore. In 1965, Canmore was incorporated as a town with 2,000 residents.
July 13, 1979 marked the end of an era when Canmore Mines Ltd. closed their doors. One hundred and twenty miners were out of work. Many of the families of these miners remain in Canmore as evidenced by the annual Miners’ Parade. They have witnessed tremendous change in the town and its people. Of the mines themselves only the Lamp House and a few mine entrances remain, due to provincial safety and reclamation policies.
The announcement in the early 1980s that the 1988 Olympic Winter Games would be held in Calgary and Canmore heralded a new era for the town of Canmore. It would be the site of the Nordic events; welcome news for a small community struggling to stay alive. Since the Olympics, Canmore has more than tripled its population and become a vibrant recreational tourism based community.