MD: Was Nina with you at all of the different places in the park? 

Al: Let’s talk about Nina In 1972 I met a young lady that worked as a bartender at the Athabasca lounge in Jasper.  Nina and I became friends and got together on my four days off each month after my 24 day shift in the backcountry. Nina was from Edmonton and after spending a few years in university, she had checked out skiing and really liked it. She decided Jasper would be a good place to work, live and ski. She was quite adventurous and had a brother who was a bush pilot in the Yukon, so in university she joined the parachutists club and did some jumps!  

She wasn’t in the backcountry with me except for a few trips, but when we were younger, she worked and had her own adventures. She did a couple of summers up on Mayberne Fire Lookout, out by Edson. Once we went canoeing at Luccern and my dog Kaylay tipped the canoe when he jumped to shore – she wasn’t too pleased and almost wrecked her camera. “What a stupid thing to bring the dog in the canoe” She gasped in that cold water! She would visit me at Maligne, getting snowed in and stuck. 

Over the years she worked in food service and bartending. She also worked for parks in visitor services in Jasper for a few years. In ‘78 she moved to Sunwapta with me, and  ‘79 we were married. On May 18, 1980 our daughter Larissa was born, right about the same time Mt. St. Helens erupted. Then we moved to Jasper townsite in 1982 when our son Erik was on the way (‘83).  These three people kept me going for most of my warden service life – they were always there when things were up-and-down. The kids and Nina liked to downhill ski, and as a family we would go cross country skiing, skating on frozen ponds, run the dogs in our favourite spots, and go fishing. We took a trip with the whole family into the North Boundary in about ’91 on horses and stayed in the cabins. The kids say it was their favourite vacation, with the riding and great fishing and cosy cabins. Nina enjoyed the quiet and reading in the evenings. A really wonderful experience to share. And I know Nina and the kids enjoyed Jasper, because nobody in my family wanted to sell our house. My family made my story of working at Jasper Park so enjoyable. We had a lovely life.

MD: Have you enjoyed retirement since you retired?

Al: Yes, pretty much. I retired in May, 1996 and I had taken time from August 4th, 1995, to May ’96, as stress leave. There was a couple of doctors that thought I should take a little rest, and there was all that leave to use up. I had got my retirement through a buy-out. So that’s why I took it earlier, and I got pretty well the full strength of it  – it was just that they were getting rid of so many positions – in the mountains here there were about ten wardens that went in that time – some in Banff, and some in Jasper. I did what several of the older wardens did – my wife, and kids and I bought an old farmstead and a quarter of land and we raised and sold lamb  – a farmgate sale sort of thing- for fifteen years after retirement. So I kind of took on another job. We were planning to move into town when I was 65, but it didn’t happen until I was almost 70. In 2016, I got lung cancer, and I already had COPD, and then in January 2017 I had a third of my right lung to cancer removed. In the fall of 2017, I was taken to Edmonton on Stars Ambulance with a collapsed lung, and I almost went at that time…and a few months later by land ambulance, I had another lung collapse, and I’ve been on oxygen and recuperating since then. In November of 2018 I had a small heart attack. The cancer is checked regularly and it hasn’t been detected for two years, so here’s kind of hoping…My wife Nina was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017, and then in 2019 she had a pacemaker installed, so we’ll be taking it easy, that’s for sure. 

MD: So you guys are busy going to lots of medical appointments, I bet.

Al: Yes, it was terrible for a while but things have calmed down. Nina said I was just trying to get a helicopter ride…but I’m hoping we’ve got most of that over and done with so that we can kind of cruise through this old age.

We bought a small house on a nice big lot in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, in 2017. We’re enjoying town living, and they have a very good hospital and health services here  – that was the reason why we bought it here. It’s not a very big town -we’re about 4 blocks from the hospital, 3 blocks from downtown. But they’ve got about 6 or 7 doctors here, and all the old age and nursing aid facilities  – right across the street from us is an extended care. Not that we’re hoping to go there! The population of Mayerthorpe is 1300. That’s likely counting the farmers and stuff too. It’s at the north end of the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) that goes all the way down to Waterton. 

Al; I was so surprised when we got the letter in the fall and Tim (Auger) had passed away. He was on some of those route marches and down training us too. Yes, we’re losing quite a few  – just the other day, Wayne Thordarsen who left parks, but he was a warden for quite a few years, and I think his Dad was a warden in Riding Mountain. He just passed away from cancer, so we’re losing our guys pretty readily here now too. 

It’s good those guys Brad Bischoff and Scott Ward are taking on the storytelling with “The Wardens”. Yes, they’re busy, and I’d give my eye-teeth to go along with them. They were even playing at our little nearby town of Wildwood. There were quite a bunch of wardens that showed up there. And then they played for our alumni at Pine Bungalows in Jasper here in October. I’ve got all their records and when Bischoff had his band, we always played at the Warden Days, and he always invited me to come up to play with him for a tune or two. I played guitar and accordion. Scotty picked that up on his retirement – he didn’t even used to play! That show that they put on is just excellent.

MD: They’re so unique – there’s nobody else like them.

Al: That’s right – well, there’s Sid (Marty). He’s kind of the forerunner of all those guys. I always liked Sid’s music and his lyrics. He was quite the guy – I worked quite a bit with him, and even went on backcountry trips with him. He always jokes about the time I fired him at Blue Creek, eh? 

MD: You fired him?

Al: He was kind of cranky and tired because we’d been on a big long trip over to the Smoky and back fixing phone lines. He’d wanted to get home because his baby had just been born before we left on the trip. We were taking turns on who would get the horses and who would cook breakfast – I was getting breakfast ready and he comes in but I saw that he still had the hobbles on a couple of the horses. They were old horses and weren’t hard to get the hobbles off.  He was grumpin’ around and come and washed up, and I was getting the breakfast on the plates, and I said “Why did you bring the horses in with the hobbles on?” He kind of started swearing at me, so I said “I’ve got to use them all the way ‘til the fall.” This was June. I said, “You don’t bring the horses in with the hobbles on, ‘cause they’ll gets sores.” So he had some harsh words for me, so I said, “OK, get on that horse you rode in on, and get outta here. “ He stood there and I didn’t know if he was going to take a shot at me or not, but then he came around. He laughs about it now and says, “Remember the time you fired me at Blue Creek?”  I was too scared to fire him! I’ve got lots of stories but I just can’t print them! We laugh about them now.
They used to have real characters down in Banff too – like Monty Rose.  Dale Portman tells all the stories. He’s a character too – the stories he can tell, and now he writes all the books. 

The parts about the people are what I remember best, more than the freezing your hands and stuff. There are so many other stories – I can’t tell them all here. 

MD: Thank you Al.