Bringing the Stories to Light

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in heart forever.”
– Native American Proverb

The cave has a story to tell. That story is unique to each and every person who visits, and it will only be told once, for despite the constant temperature, the constant darkness and the constant silence, the experience of the cave is ever-changing.

unEarthed is an opportunity to show the world that the cave is so much more than a hole in the ground. It is much more than extreme adventure, or Hollywood horror. There are so many different ways in which we can connect with this ancient space inside the Earth and so many way to let the stories out.

unEarthed | Music

Ten stories under the earth there exists a void in the rock known as the Grand Gallery. As the name suggests, your first reaction upon entering this room is a sense of awe at the sheer size of the space - how does such a large space exist so far underground?

But those first impressions are quickly forgotten when we turn off the ligths and that first note of music comes to you through the darkness. You have just climbed, crawled, wiggled, slid and scooted your way into the heart of a mountain and now here you sit in the dark with 23 other like-minded cavers enjoying a private performance from musicians who, along with their instruments, have just made the same trip you did.

Its raw, unplugged, and unbelievably incredible.

Sept 29, 2017: Ellen Froese & Derek Curtis

Sept 29, 2017: Ellen Froese & Derek Curtis
Ellen Froese

Hailing from a dairy farm in Central Saskatchewan, young hip-swinger-folk-singer Ellen Froese is not Joan Baez or a sheep, but the vibrato in her voice may tell otherwise. Ellen is a folk artist who also plays in bluegrass/folk group In With The Old. With recent performances including Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, and Merlefest in North Carolina, there is no doubt that Ellen is a busy bee – balancing In With The Old and her solo project. One of Ellen’s very first gigs was a 2014 opening slot for Catherine MacLellan at the Bassment in Saskatoon - two years later, she was headlining the venue herself. In March of 2016, after a very successful release show at age nineteen for her first solo album “Get On With the Blues (filled with folk songs and bluegrass numbers), she embarked on her first solo tour across Eastern Canada. Since then she has written countless songs, performed constantly, and toured Canada both on her own and with In With The Old.
read more about Ellen...

Ellen Froese

Derek W. Curtis is a Folk/Americana Songwriter who uses traditional songwriting and his modern consciousness to create thoughtful and timeless songs. Derek grew up in Massachusetts where he discovered music from before his time with influences like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and others. Now based out of Nashville, TN, Curtis has gathered eras of folk, blues, bluegrass, and country music into his repertoire to mold his own modern twist on songwriting, capturing the simple complexities of his thoughts and stories.
read more about Derek...

Read our interview with Ellen

Music in the Mountain: Ellen Froese and Derek W. Curtis

If you like music and adventure, get ready for an unforgettable experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen – or heard. Canmore Cave Tours is thrilled to bring you two amazing performers in one very unique way.

On Friday, September 29, Ellen Froese and Derek W. Curtis will be playing the Grand Gallery in Rat's Nest Cave, located 100 feet underground - and you are going to have to climb, crawl, wiggle and slide your way through the cave to get there.

As they prepare for their debut in-cave performance, we caught up with singer and leading lady, Ellen Froese, to chat about performing below the earth, the launch of her new album, and the story behind the name of her latest single.

Q: It’s not every day that an artist gets to perform inside a cave! Where did this idea come from?

A: The idea happened back in June. I was on the road with my bluegrass-inspired band In With The Old, and we were opening for Raine Hamilton at The Bassment in Saskatoon. Raine was talking about performing the next day at Rat’s Nest Cave in Canmore. I happened to be in the process of booking the tour for my new self-titled album, Ellen Froese, and I thought it would be a really unique place to perform. So I shot the team [at Canmore Cave Tours] an email and they made it happen!

Q: What are you most looking forward to about performing in Rat’s Nest Cave?

A: The ambience of playing deep in the belly of a cave is going to be sweet! As a musician, when you book a tour, it’s great to be open to a variety of performance venues. Often you might book a fairly conventional slot at a bar, and of course those gigs are a lot of fun, but sometimes the nature of the venue can limit your engagement with the audience. So I think it will be particularly cool to perform in a cave for a small crowd who are extra stoked to be there. I think we are all going to share a really unique experience.

Touring with Derek W. Curtis will be great too. We met in February this year at the Folk Alliance Festival in Kansas City where he was playing the festival – and so was I, with In With The Old. We just got along instantly, and have kept in touch ever since. He’s been living in Nashville and he mentioned wanting to visit and tour around Canada. When I mentioned I was booking my album release tour across Canada, he said, “I’ll come too!” So we’re going to be spending a whole month touring together within the same car. It’s going to be a great adventure.

Q: Will this be your most unique gig so far?

A: For sure. At first I didn’t realise just how far underground it would be – 100 feet below the earth! It’s going to be cool to crawl through some tight spaces to get down there. Sound equipment will be minimal-to-none, eh?! It will be interesting to see how we get the guitars down there. Adam [Canmore Cave Tours’ Owner and Senior Guide] said it would be difficult if we had an upright bass player, so it will just be Derek and me with our guitars. I think it‘s awesome. Being so physically close to the audience that we don’t need to use microphones is going to make the experience a lot more intimate.

Q: Do you have any experience with caving?

A: I once stayed with some relatives in Peterborough, Ontario, who live near some interesting caves, and I was lucky enough to explore the area with them. It was wintertime so we didn’t go very far down into the depths, but it was a lot of fun and a really unique experience. Now I can’t wait for the full experience at Rat’s Nest!

Q: How does it feel to be launching your new self-titled album, Ellen Froese, in September?

A: I’m pretty excited – it’s been a long time coming! I recorded the album over a year ago but kept pushing the release day back. This is my second album, and I’m approaching things a little differently this time around. With my first album, the recording process just felt a little rushed, so I’m really excited to have had more time to work with on this new one. I recorded it on tape in my cabin. It’s just guitar and vocals, so it’s really stripped down. There’s no over-dubbing – we didn’t go in and correct any little mistakes. It’s not perfect, but that’s the way I wanted it to be, in a type of old-school folk fashion.

There are 12 songs on the album with a few traditional folk songs, and a couple of cover songs that I was really drawn towards and related to. September 13 will be the Saskatoon album release party, and then I’ll be releasing the album online on September 14.

Q: ‘I Wish I Had a Footlong Cigarette’ is the first single from your new album. What’s the story behind it?

I had been playing with In With The Old for four years before I started my solo project. Two winters ago I booked my first solo tour. It was the first time I hit the road on my own, and I booked this month-long tour all the way from Saskatoon to Montreal. There were many long stretches of driving all on my own, and after a while I got super freaking bored with driving. I smoked too many cigarettes out of boredom, and I got to wishing I had one super long cigarette that would last me the whole drive. That’s where the song came from.

It’s probably the most honest song I’ve ever written, and people seem to be drawn to it the most. I wrote it really quickly. I wasn’t trying very hard, compared to other songs I’ve written. It’s funny how that happens – but I guess it makes sense. People are drawn to authenticity, and you’re most authentic when you’re not trying. You can tell when something comes from honesty.

Q: The music video is a lot of fun – where was it filmed and who are the actors?

A: The premise was a van full of hippies just hitting the road, and picking up two golf dads along the way. One of the golf dads gets in with the hippie crew, while the other one doesn’t enjoy it. Then the first guy turns into a cigarette. It was filmed on my parent’s farm, and my friends were the actors; lots of people I met through music. The guy in the blue shirt is my boyfriend, the guy in the yellow overalls is my bandmate from In With The Old, and my best friend Ashley is also in there. I just invited a bunch of friends and these were the ones who came along for the ride!

The guy who filmed it is Landon Johnson. His film career has been blossoming lately and lots of local musicians have been hiring him. He has a really great vision. The video was filmed with a not-so-great camera, but that was exactly the kind of retro vibe what we were going for.

Q: Tell us more about your band, In With The Old. How do you enjoy performing as part of a band compared to gigs as a solo artist? What inspired you to branch out on your own?

A: I’ve learned a lot from being in that band! Working with other people, networking and making contacts has definitely helped my work as a solo artist. It can be challenging sometimes, striking the balance between working as a solo artist and as a member of the band. It can be hard to focus on both at once, but I have truly loved the experience of both.

I think being a solo artist is something I’ve always been drawn to. In With The Old is more bluegrass-inspired because we met at a bluegrass festival, and it just kind of happened without being really intentional about it. Then we just started getting gigs. With my solo work, I’m able to be a lot more intentional about it. Selfishly, I’m able to do exactly what I want with it. I’m really drawn to old school rock and roll. I’ve started to do a few shows with a new band with different members. I’m trying to keep it a little separate because my other bandmates have other projects too. One of them is in a barbershop quartet!

Q: How did music influence you as you were growing up?

A: I grew up on a dairy farm just north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. To this day, my dad always plays the country radio station in the barn for the cows. He says it’s their favourite genre, but I have a feeling he secretly likes it too.

Since I was a home-schooled, only-child farm kid, I had a lot of free time on my hands. When I dig back to my childhood, it’s only good memories. I’d say that my parents took an “un-schooling” approach. There were a lot of homeschool programs that I enjoyed and I was in creative writing and theatre groups. My parents were always self-employed people, so homeschooling meant we could all be together at home. I think they just wanted to spend as much time as possible with me when I was growing up.

I always liked music a tonne. I have really vivid memories of hearing The Beatles and Elvis for the first time when I was about four. I remember listening to Elvis in my dad’s truck, and borrowing CDs from the library. Neither of my parents were particularly musical, but I have to thank them for exposing me to piano lessons when I was four after they noticed my interest in music. I didn’t want to practise piano at first, though – they had to bribe me with candy to play. Then over the years I enjoyed it more and more. Eventually I picked up the guitar when I was 14 and that was something I really loved from day one.

Q: In addition to piano and guitar, which other instruments do you play? Are you a self-taught singer or did you take lessons?

A: I also like to play the harmonica a lot, and I do a little bit of mandolin with In With The Old. We’ve been playing a lot of festivals this summer. In terms of singing, I have had a mix of lessons and self-taught practice. It was a solid two or three years of working really hard on my singing before I felt confident. I just kept pushing through. Eventually I started vocal lessons with my guitar teacher, Danny Downing. Learning proper technique really helped and it was really satisfying to hear myself improve.

Q: What do you enjoy most about making music? How would you describe your creative process?

A: There’s just nothing that makes me happier. It’s my main outlet. I find that if I don’t write a song or perform in a while, I get antsy. I’m thinking about writing songs right now!

It’s my self-expression, but it can be stressful. I just came out of a long period of trying really hard to write songs and not having the results I was hoping for. When I started writing songs and making music, it was just something I created out of happiness. The whole process was completely for myself.

When you start performing, the awareness that people are going to be listening to your songs can influence what you create. I was going through this phase of thinking way too hard about it, and basing my songwriting on what I thought people wanted to hear. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted, so I took a break from it.

I had this big learning curve that I just have to do it for myself, and now I think I’m finally back on track. I feel like it just has to be authentic, and if I try too hard to be authentic it just defeats the purpose. I have heard that a lot of musicians go through this phase: starting out by writing for themselves, then starting to write more for what they think people want to hear, before coming back full circle just to what they want to create.

Q: Is there a particular place that is most conducive for your songwriting? Somewhere that you think: “this is where the magic happens!”

A: When a wave of inspiration hits, the music and lyrics usually both come at once. I strum a few chords, hum a bit of a melody and it slowly comes to life. It usually happens in my cabin at home on the farm, when people aren’t around. I’ve never successfully written a song with someone else. There’s a lot of trial and error, and I would feel quite vulnerable. I love performing with others but I really like songwriting alone. It’s almost like journaling. I write my best songs when I’ve experienced a really strong emotion, rather than just experiencing a level mood – that’s when I like to practise.

Q: What does the rest of 2017 look like for you?

A: I’m looking forward to kicking off my album release tour with Derek, and also touring with In With The Old for three music festivals and gigs in August and September. Right now I’m still living on my parent’s farm where I grew up, but I’ll be moving out this winter. I don’t know where to just yet, but I think there’s lots of change on the horizon!

Only 24 spectators will get the chance to see this one-off performance, so don't miss out, get your tickets now!

Tour Information

This once-in-a-lifetime experience combines an evening Explorer Tour with a unique performance in the Grand Gallery - the largest room in the cave. This is a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the performers in a spectaclar but intimate setting.

You will meet your guide at the Canmore Cave Tours office in Canmore where you will get a brief overview of the evening, sign the waiver, collect your caving equipment and then drive in convoy to the cave parking lot (approximately 7 minutes away). All of your caving equipment is provided. Please see the FAQ section for more information on what is provided and what to bring.

The hike to the cave will take approximately 30-40 minutes up a moderately steep mountain trail at a leisurely pace. Once you reach the cave, you will don your equipment and head underground for the performance awaiting you. Our expert guides will share the rich history of the cave and surrounding area along the way, with stops for stories or even an optional squeeze for an additional challenge.

When you reach the Grand Gallery this cathedral-sized room will be transformed into one of the most spectacular performance venues imaginable. Just you and twenty-three soon to be great friends. Not one to be missed.

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unearthed | Conversations

Rat's Nest Cave has an important role to play in our world despite its best efforts to remain hidden from it. The ripples in the rock, the air we breath, the animals sharing the cave space, and even the layers of dirt on the wall all have a story to share about our past, present and future.

We are teaming up with the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre and an amazing group of talented presenters to help share these less known stories of the cave and its place in the world.

More Information

Conversations is a two-part experience starting with a free presentation at the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre. No reservations are required and all ages are welcome. You will have a chance to meet the presenter and get a great introduction to the topic of the day.

We then take the discussion underground, into the incredible classroom that is Rat's Nest Cave. Join our guest speaker on a tour of the cave and see first-hand how it plays such an important role in many aspects of our world. Your tour will include a mini-lecture in the Grand Gallery, the cave's all-natural auditorium, with plenty of opportunities to engage with the presenter.

If you are planning on join us for the in-cave presentation please reserve your spot below. You will meet your guide at the Canmore Cave Tours office in Canmore where you will get a brief overview of the evening, sign the waiver, collect your caving equipment and then drive in convoy to the cave parking lot (approximately 7 minutes away). All of your caving equipment is provided. Please see the FAQ section for more information on what is provided and what to bring.

The hike to the cave will take approximately 30-40 minutes up a moderately steep mountain trail at a leisurely pace. Once you reach the cave, you will don your equipment and head underground. Our expert guides will share the rich history of the cave and surrounding area along the way, with stops for stories, discussions or even an optional squeeze for an additional challenge.

You will spend approximately 3 hours underground, but with all the stimulating conversations and cave fun it will go by in a blink!

Upcoming Conversations

Stay Tuned, the Fall 2017 Lineup will be available soon!

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Is there a minimum age?

The minimum age for the unEarthed Experiences is 10 years.

Is there a maximum size?

Generally speaking, fitness is more of a concern than size. However, all participants must wear a safety harness which has a maximum waist size of 46" (116 cm) and a maximum leg size of 33" (84 cm). If you have any concerns about size please don't hesitate to contact us.

What is included and what should I bring?

We provide all of the necessary caving equipment including coveralls, kneepads, gloves, helmet & headlamp, harness & safety lanyard, and backpack. The backpack will be shared by two people and will not go into the cave. We will also provide you with a Clif Bar energy bar, and a 500mL bottle of water (in a reusable bottle that is yours to keep).

You will need to bring good footwear, warm clothing, a camera (optional) and if you have any dietary restrictions, please bring a snack that you know works for you. Also, if you will require medication during the tour it is a good idea to bring 2x what you would expect to use, just in case.

Footwear must be closed-toe and should have a sturdy tread. Hiking boots or shoes are best, but a sturdy running shoe will also work. Other options include rubber boots or winter boots (in the winter)

The cave is 5 degrees celsius, so warm clothing is recommended. Imagine what you would wear if you had to spend a few hours in a refrigerator. We recommend long pants, long sleeves, a warm sweater, hoodie or jacket. Synthetic fabrics are best as they will keep you warm even if you get wet. Don't be afraid to brings lots. We will help decide which will work best.

Any cameras going into the cave will need to fit into your pockets. We do not allow backpacks in the cave. Small point-and-shoot cameras or smart phones are welcome but please keep in mind that the cave environment is not particularly friendly towards electronics. High humidity and dust can damage equipment, and screens can break if you accidentally sit on it. Electronics are brought at your own risk.

Is transportation provided?

No, transportation is not provided. If you do not have your own vehicle we can arrange a taxi to the cave for you at an additional cost. You can use Canmore's public transit to get to our office.

How hard is the tour?

The hike to the cave takes approximately 30-40 minutes and is uphill the whole way on a mountain trail. Most of our guests find this to be the hardest part of the day, but we do take lots of stops along the way to enjoy the scenery.

Once in the cave the pace is quite slow as we maneuver through the passages. This is not a flat walking tour. There are no handrails, walkways or fixed lighting. We climb, crawl, slide and wiggle our way around the cave so it is best to have a moderate level of fitness. Even more important though is your sense of adventure!

Are there rats or bats?

Rat's Nest Cave is named after the nests of Bushy-tailed Wood Rats found in the entrance. This species of super-cute rodents is native to the area and they use the cave as a home due to it's constantly warm temperatures and protection from predators. We rarely see the rats, and if we do there is usually just one.

Bat's are rarely seen at Rat's Nest Cave. The cave is not a hibernaculum (a place where bats hibernate through the winter). We usually only see the occasional bat in the summer as they are passing through the area.

Is this tour suitable for me if I'm pregnant?

Yes, but only up until the end of the first trimester (12 weeks).

It is always advisable to seek advice from your doctor when participating in activities like caving.

Will I Need to sign a waiver?

Yes, all participants will need to complete a liability waiver. We recommend you review the waiver before booking your tour, but you will sign the waiver once you have arrived and have been briefed by your guide. Any minors must have their waiver signed by a parent or legal guardian before participating on the tour.

View and Download the Waiver

Past Events

Raine, Brett and Jeff

June 5, 2017
Rain Hamilton, Brett Nelson and Jeff Faragher in the Grand Gallery
Raine Hamilton, Brett Nelson, and Jeff Faragher. Guitar, Fiddle and Cello. Goosebumps.

Binnu Jeyakumar - The Pembina Institue

April 22, 2017
Binnu Jeyakumar of the Pembina Institue
What Does Alberta's Climate Leadership Plan Mean for Me?

Binnu led an important discussion on Alberta's plan for protecting the province's health, environment and economy.

Sarah Smith - The Calgary Zoo

March 11, 2017
Sarah Smith of the Calgary Zoo
Why Should you Thank a Bat for Your Dinner?

Sarah gave us an educational and entertaining look at the role bats play in our world. Whether they give you the willies or not, they are still pretty amazing little creatures.

Elk, Run & Riot

December 18, 2016
Elk, Run & Riot during Spirit in the Mountain
Local folk band Elk, Run and Riot joined us for our Spirit in the Mountain ad delivered an incredible holiday performance.

Valley Winds Choir

December 18-22, 2015
The Valley Winds Choir practicing for Spirit in the Mountain
The Bow Valley's community choir wowed us with five nights of holiday cheer in our first ever Spirit in the Mountain event.