MH: How did the Warden Service change over the years?
BJ: It started out as quite a generalist job and you did everything and you were slotted into a certain discipline for a while, and then you’d be transferred over to another one either with wildlife, law enforcement or public safety. And you would get a lot of different training and a lot of unique experiences that you could never replace. And then as the years went by it became more bureaucratic and more politically orientated. And then things started to change, even the backcountry, where a guy used to live in the districts, this was before my time, but they’d live in the district the whole year with their family. When I started in Jasper, we’d go out for 17 days at a time, and we’d be off for four and then we’d be back out. So, they were long shifts in the back country. And then as things change, whether it be shorter shifts, and less time spent there, and then you weren’t by yourself, you had to go with somebody else. So that changed and then the whole arming issue came about where for several years, we couldn’t do any law enforcement and the RCMP were doing our job and it became pretty aggravating. Nobody knew what we were supposed to be doing anymore. And people got really discouraged when we had to work through that kind of situation. And a lot of people thought, well, it’s time to retire because this is no good anymore. Me included. I had a good time and when it changed that much; I didn’t want to do it no more and I was glad to retire.

MH: What about the Warden Service was important to you? 2905
BJ: The things that were important for me in the Warden Service was the history. If you read the old warden cabin log books, journals, there was lots different stuff that people would do and situations that they would get themselves into and the stuff that they had to help the public with. I think the diversity of the Warden Service was its strength. And it made for really a well-rounded, dedicated, knowledgeable and skillful people that worked there and that will never be replaced. Because that was the nature of the job and the nature of the job became the nature of the person after you do it for a while. The people had a lot of “esprit de corps”. You were a part of a team, a part of a group of people that were special, and they all supported each other, stuck up for each other and you all socialized together. It was a really good camaraderie where later on, it changed and no one would do anything together anymore. Things just changed. We used to have Gymkhanas and we used to have Warden Days where we do skiing and different things. And we’d always have a pretty good time and towards the end, nobody did that stuff anymore. It was just like you go do your shift and you go home, and nobody socialized. That part of losing that camaraderie with your other workmates was pretty sad.

MH: Are there any legendary characters or stories associated with the Warden Service that you can share? Is there anyone from the Service that stands out in your mind? 3135
BJ: There’s many of these legendary figures that I worked with and they were all great. From guys that taught you how to do public safety, how to do mountain climbing, like Willie Pfisterer. He was quite a character. And other guys like Al Stendie. He was my boss back in Jasper when I was in the frontcountry that year and we had some funny situations where we had to get called upon. And I remember somebody had thrown a little kitten into one of the outhouses by Wabasso campground in Jasper, so we went down there and to say this was a shitty job was true! But …so me and him looked down the outhouse hole and there was the little kitten down there. So, Al says, “I’m your boss, you’re the seasonal, you go grab the kitten and I’ll hold your legs”. So, I had to go down the hole and I grabbed the little kitten and I was just puking my guts out while doing it. But I managed to get the little guy up. Al held my legs and pulled me back out of there once I had the kitten. He was a funny guy; he just had this laugh about him that would just make you laugh because he was just laughing his guts out. And he was trying to smoke a cigarette at the same time. And I mean, I was covered from head to foot in shit, but we got the kitten out. But that was one of the things that sticks out in my mind and is kind of a comical situation that I had with him. Al passed on a little while ago but I never could get to the service, but I always thought he was a great guy. Good boss.

I think every park that I worked in, there was always somebody that I’d have an adventure with, whether it be chasing bison up in Elk Island into the sorting pens. We used to chase them up an alleyway that had an eight-foot fence on both sides, and in winter, we could chase them up using snow machines. And as long as you kept those bison running, (or those buffalo) running, they would keep going but once they had a chance to turn around, like right at the entrance of the of the holding pens, they’d start to come back on you so you had to keep moving them or they would just start coming after you. One fellow I was working with, he decided that this was getting a little too close so he didn’t keep chasing them so that big herd of buffalo, about 125 of them, decided they were coming right at him. And he managed to jump off his skidoo but the skidoo was in the middle of the alleyway, and the whole herd run over his skidoo and there wasn’t much left of his skidoo by the time they got through with it. Little pieces here and there. But we were both lucky to get over the fence before they come roaring through. That was one little adventure I had while in Elk Island. And then I think about the different mountaineering stuff we did. River rafting stuff in Kluane National Park, the Tatshenshini River and some of the big mountains we climbed up in Kluane. It was pretty neat there. And there were some really good characters up there to work with to. And Lake Louise and Banff and the whole Field Unit had a lot of spectacular things happening all the time. I guess every park had something pretty neat going on in my career. I’ve been retired since 2011 so you kinda forget about all the stuff that happened, until you start talking about it and then it comes back to you.

MH: Is there anything about the Warden Service, as you knew it, that you would like future generations to know?
BJ: I think, as I was telling you before, as I knew it, the camaraderie and the diversity of the job and the adventures of that job was something that should be passed onto future generations that this was once a career for us. And it’s probably the best career you’ll ever have during that time. That’s something I’d like to see passed on, that the diversity of what we used to do.

MH: What made the Warden Service such a unique organization?
BJ: I think geography is one. National Parks, they had to be a beautiful place to begin with, they had to be representative of the Canadian landscape, which they are. And so every park was unique. And it had its own beauty. And then with that geography came the challenges to that geography, whether it be the masses of people that come visiting it, or the people that try to tame the wilderness that you’ve got to take care of. And then the wildlife and everything else associated with that. That made that whole Warden Service such a unique job. You look at all the different jobs out there involved with Resource Management, and I think the Warden Service was by far the best job you could probably have. It had everything going for it. Unfortunately, it’s changed and it’ll never be the same now. I mean, the guys that are now the Park Wardens, they just do Law Enforcement and that’s it. And I could see that job becoming pretty mundane after a while. Same with Public Safety, it’s a young man’s game, and after a while, they won’t be able to do that stuff, unless they have another option like being stuck behind a desk or something. You just don’t have that lateral movement to move around like you used to.

MH: Do you have any lasting memories as a Warden? 3959
BJ: The Smokey River District in Jasper was one of my favorite districts. It was unique and the district itself had so much diversity. You’d start your shift in Mt. Robson and ride up around Mount Robson up to Berg Lake and over to Adolphus and you’d keep on going right to the other end to the Bing Cabin on the other side. It was such a beautiful country and such a wonderful place to spend the season. There weren’t very many people that ever traveled out there, so there was a lot of solitude and a lot of real wilderness that I liked. And I had a pretty good string of horses. I had one horse, he was a big thoroughbred, his name was Nolan. And he was over 16 hands high, maybe close to 17. He was a big black lanky thoroughbred that had come out of that RCMP breeding stock and he was a pretty good horse. But when you would get on him in the fall morning when it was frosty, he was gonna let you know who’s back you were on because he would duck his head and would start to buck and unless you were ready for it, you were gonna hit the ground, and it was a long way down from that guy. And usually every frosty morning, you’d get your leg about halfway on that horse and he would just duck his head and start bucking. Your notebook, your tobacco and everything would be flying out of your pockets while you were trying to survive staying on this horse while he had his fit and then he would be okay for the rest of the day. But the next day he would do the same thing. And I remember it was quite adventurous with that horse. But that horse could put on miles like, you get him walking, and he could just walk and walk and walk and he covered a lot of ground because he was so tall and lanky. But he’d sure keep you honest, I’ll tell you. You never wanted to let your guard down with him because he would leave you on the ground, which he did with me a few times. He just all of a sudden would blow up out of nowhere.

Back then you could take your dog in the backcountry as your companion because sometimes in the backcountry, and especially towards the fall when you were out there by yourself, your horses and your dog were your only companions. You wouldn’t see anybody for 17 days. Most people never go a day without seeing another human being. Can you imagine 17 days and not seeing one person? You’d come out and you would feel like a hermit because you hadn’t seen anybody. So, it was nice to have a companion like a dog to keep you company or the horses you know. I had a really good dog, a german shepherd. He was great and he was always with me, a great companion. I sure missed that dog. He died of old age but he died happy.

I remember myself and another warden named Andrew Lawrence, we were doing this major hike, kind of adventurous hike. We went up by the Burwash Uplands and we worked our way up to Donjek and around and came up Bighorn Creek and came back via Halfbreed Creek. Anyway, it was a long, multi day hike and there were a few cabins we could stay at. I remember we stayed at this Bighorn cabin and it’s right where the Donjek River and the Bighorn River meet and there’s a big glacier hanging right there. It’s pretty spectacular place. And I remember as we were walking along the Donjek River, we looked up on top of the hill, there was a grizzly that stood up and he had to be maybe 100 meters away. And when he stood up…we were just hiking we just had backpacks on and little pen flares. We didn’t even have bear spray. I don’t think they even had bear spray then. And that big grizzly stood up…we were crossing this big wash out creek, kind of a dry bed creek, and we were right in the middle…and he just started to come running down toward us. So, we dropped our packs, got the little pen flares out ready to shoot the little banger at the bear, and he came right to the end of the creek, which was probably about 20 meters away, and he just stopped dead, smelled the air, looked at us and he turned around and buggered off the other way. But I’ll tell you our hearts were in our throat then. We thought for sure we were gonna get run over by that bear crossing that creek. So anyway, we managed to get to the Big Horn cabin that day and there was a nice little lake where the cabin was situated on. It was a hot day so we went for a swim, came back to the cabin, made supper and went to bed. In the middle of the night, I can hear this rubbing right by my bunk on the cabin. It was summer in the Yukon so it was still pretty light out even in the middle of the night. I was wondering what is that rubbing/scratching thing. I thought maybe it was a porcupine on the side of the cabin. And so, I got up in my underwear, and Andrew got up too and we stepped out on the porch and looked around the corner. The little cabin was only probably 16 by 10 cabin and right where the logs kind of crisscross, a big grizzly was rubbing his back against the wall of the cabin, where the logs meet, just to scratch himself. And so, it was pretty comical but kind of a unique situation there. When the bear saw us, he ran away.

MH: Was it the bear that you’d seen earlier? 44:12
BJ: It was a different bear from the one that we had seen earlier that stood up and ran towards us. That one was a real blonde grizzly. This one was more chocolate brown. Up in the Yukon, if you run into a bear, it’s gonna be a grizzly bear. There’s no black bears in the park. If you do find one, it’s pretty rare. It’s mostly grizzly bears. So, you’re always gonna run into a grizzly if you run into a bear. Anyway, the look this bear gave me was like, “Who the hell are you? And what are you doing here? This is my scratch post!” And then he kind of just trotted off.

MH: Do you ever miss being a Warden?
BJ: Oh yeah, sometimes I dream about it. I’ll dream that I’m in the backcountry and we get saddled up in the morning and we’re riding this spectacular wilderness. I have these dreams a lot and I think I dream about the Warden Service and things we used to do more than I actually consciously miss it. I still live in an area where it’s pretty remote and do a lot of stuff with horses. I replaced what I did there with what I do here with my business. And then here, we’ve got a great ski hill and you can turn around if you want. You can do a lot of the stuff that I did as a warden just living here. It’s not like I am stuck in the city and I miss being out in the wilderness. I have this around me all the time. I don’t really miss it but I dream about it all the time and it is kind of weird that I have these dreams about people I’ve worked with and stuff and I wake up and think that was a pretty neat dream. It’s a reoccurring dream and we never get where we’re going, but we have fun getting there.

MH: Do you have any photos of yourself as a warden that you would like to donate? Artifacts? 5053
BJ: All the ones I have, I don’t even know where they are. We had a flood a while ago and a lot of my pictures and stuff kind of just disappeared and I don’t know where they are. I don’t think I have many of those old photos but if I find some I’ll send them to you. You think about all those days and about all the guys you worked with that are no longer here and you realize we are all getting old; things are happening. Guys like Dave Norcross. The last trip we did together, we were both retired at the time, we rode in from Lake Louise to the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch for the centennial and that was the last trip I ever did with Dave and then he passed on. A lot of those guys are gone now and it’s just going to be more and more.

MH: What year did you retire?
BJ: September 2011 was when I retired.

MH: What do you enjoy doing in retirement?
BJ: Well, I’ve got this trail riding business that does pretty good. For quite a few years, I went down to Arizona and I’d take a horse down there with me and spend a couple of months’ team roping and riding around the desert and playing some golf and just having fun. It was a nice break from the winter to go down for the months of February and March. My wife, Linda, she doesn’t like travelling. She’s got so many damn animals here that she won’t go anywhere. So, if I’m going to do any traveling, it will be by myself, because she’s pretty much a homebody here.

MH: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think I should know about the Warden Service? 5326
BJ: I can’t seem to think of anything at the moment. I remember one story; it was kind of a law enforcement situation. It was kind of unique, kind of like in the old west. I was a warden up at Rocky River District in Jasper that’s on the south boundary and it was the last couple of days of sheep hunting season toward the end of October. And I thought I’d just go up to the boundary from where I was, right up to the park boundary, up Rocky Pass. So, I rode up there with my pack horse and my saddle horse to the boundary, and it was starting to snow and it was getting pretty blizzardy up there. And I started looking in the binoculars and I thought, “What is that”? I didn’t know if it was a bear standing up or what it was, but there was two of them. So, I rode a little closer, and sure enough, there were two guys out hunting with rifles and they were in the National Park. Here you are, you don’t see anyone for 17 days and you run into two guys hunting in the park. So, I rode up and I introduced myself and told them who I was and said to them that they were hunting in the National Park. They said they didn’t know that, meanwhile, they had just walked by two Park boundary signs and were hunting inside the park. I guess they were sheep hunting, it was the last couple days for sheep. So, I had to seize their rifles, and I had to issue an Appearance Notice. But because it was only me and they had the rifles, I had to have one guy to help me get the rifles back to the cabin, which was about 20 kilometers away, Rocky River cabin. So, I arrested one guy and let the other guy go back to his camp. (The guy I arrested) was a pretty good guy really, a local guy, but he was in the wrong place. And I led him on the horse and we packed the rifles on my pack horse and took them all the way back down to the cabin. And so, he was my prisoner overnight, so I had to feed him and play cards with him. He had to do the dishes because he was my prisoner. So, it was kind of a comical thing, having to arrest the guy and then he had to be in my custody all night at a warden cabin. And ended up the next morning, I radioed this all in and they flew out and took the evidence and him out with a helicopter. But it’s kind of a unique situation. Because it kind of felt like, this is what the old people 100 years ago had to deal with if they were in law enforcement. I guess it’s a good thing the guys were pretty cooperative. Otherwise, it would have been a whole different deal ‘cause it certainly could have gone south but what do you do? You’re in it. I guess you could have ignored it but you weren’t doing your job.

(BJ and I talked about a situation in Riding Mountain, Bill Dolan had talked about the incident in his interview)
MH: Well, some of the old- time wardens were telling me stories in Riding Mountain National Park about this well-known poacher from – I think Manitoba somewhere – and these wardens lives were at stake!
BJ: I knew those guys and we talked about that. Bruce Sundbo was one of the wardens involved and Bruce has shared his story with me a few times about that

MH: And I remember Bruce was one of the guys that was involved and they were walking and then they hid the bush because they suddenly thought, this guy’s gonna come back and kill us. And he did come back. They were hiding in the bushes. So, you were lucky BJ.
BJ: Yeah, that was the situation I wouldn’t want to repeat again. But I mean, what are you going to do it? And I think that’s why as the warden service evolved, they realized that there was an inherent danger to to this stuff. As a result, 1) they armed you with a sidearm and 2) they put a partner with you.
I think it was Art Cochrane who talked about this incident.

BJ: That was pretty close call. Dempsey that was his name of the poacher? He went to jail for that.
There was one chronic poacher down there in Kootenay Park that was probably a’ Desperado’ kind of guy too. John Niddrie had some dealings with him. I can’t remember his name but he could be a dangerous person, too. John Niddrie may have talked about it in his interview.)

MH: Anyone else to interview? 1:06:42
BJ: I don’t know the list that you got already. But I mean, have you interviewed Hal Morrison. He’s got some pretty good stories. Guys like Randy Finland, Ivan Phillips, Joe Owchar, Anders Hawkins. Quite a few of the guys just behind me. I was pretty late to be interviewed. I wasn’t sure I was ever gonna get interviewed. But the guys that were a little younger than me that I worked with in Lake Louise, I think a lot of them are retired and Grant Peregoodoff just retired. And there’s quite a few, how about Judson Brown, the Haida guy (don’t think he’s retired yet) and in the Yukon there is Greg MacKinnon. I don’t know if he’s still working. He worked for me as a seasonal. He was a pretty interesting guy too and he’s got some stories.

Monique Hunkeler first started working with Parks Canada in 1989 as Secretary to Banff National Park Finance Manager. She moved into a position as Dispatcher for the Banff Park Warden Service and later worked within Banff National Park and Town of Banff’s IT departments. She is experienced with the interviewing, transcription and archiving process the Park Warden Service Alumni Society.