In business since 1903, the Indian Trading Company in Banff features many unusual finds for the eclectic shopper. Watching them all quietly is their oldest resident: Mr. Banff, the Merman.
Little is known about the specific history of this mysterious half-fish, half terrifying taxidermy experiment, but it was most likely acquired by the shop’s legendary proprietor Norman Luxton around 1915. Following adventures as a gold prospector and an ill-fated attempt on an around-the-world canoe expedition (he was lucky to survive), Luxton returned to Banff where he became a successful entrepreneur, a newspaper man, and an honorary chief of the Stoney native American tribe. In addition to the Trading Post, Luxton founded the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, and today his former home is preserved as a museum.
Conflicting stories of the merman’s origin pit the idea of Luxton purchasing the gaff from a mysterious Javanese salesman against the legend of Luxton building the beast himself.
Mummified mermaids have a long history, with some dating back centuries, but they really hit their stride as part of the sideshow circuit when P.T. Barnum got into the action with an elaborately planned hoax in 1845. Supposedly caught in the waters of Fiji by a sailor, the so-called “Feejee Mermaid” was actually a taxidermy gaff of a monkey sewn to a fish, and detailed in papier mache… and that lucky sailor was none other than Barnum’s accomplice. Despite the deception, Barnum’s wild success in showing his monstrosity of dubious origin led to a peak in popularity for this particular kind of fanciful creation, and they joined sideshow line-ups and wonder cabinets around the world.
Today there are several mummified mermaids to be found, of various appearances and origins from Japanese temples to Seattle’s Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, but Banff may have the only mer-man.