Thank you to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies for granting permission to the Park Warden Service Alumni to post this interview on our website.
This Oral History interview was funded in part by a research grant received in 2019 from the Government of Alberta through the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.
Park Warden Alumni Society of Alberta
Oral History Phase 9, 2019
Phone Interview with Art Cochrane
Date/time: Thursday November 7th 2019 @ 1900 CT
Interviewed by Monique Hunkeler
Art at Hole in the Wall Lake, Nahanni National Park
Place and date of birth? McBride, British Columbia on December 7th, 1948
MH: Where did you grow up?
AC: I grew up at Croydon, British Columbia and Mount Robson, British Columbia
MH: How did you become involved in the Warden Service? Which national park did you start working in?
AC: I got a job as a packer for Jasper National Park in 1968 so that’s how I got involved with Jasper. In 1968 and 1969 I was a packer and then they asked me to put in for a Seasonal Warden and I didn’t really want to because I hadn’t planned on ever being a Warden but they finally convinced me and I said, “Okay, the only way I’ll put in for being a Warden is you have to give me a backcountry district.” So that’s what happened. I got to be a Seasonal Warden in 1970. Jasper was my first National Park.
MH: What made you want to join the Warden Service? 0854:
AC: Getting my own back country district. They gave me Blue Creek District in 1970 and spent two years in that district. I first started at Devona until the snow melted, and then a couple of years at Blue Creek District.
MH: What different parks did you work in? How did they compare? Do you have a favourite? 0250:
AC: In the winter of 1971-1972, they asked me to apply to be a permanent warden. It was called ‘the paper board’ so you just had to fill out your forms and they reviewed them. So then they gave me, as a full time Warden, Yoho National Park in 1972. I was in Yoho for about 2.5 years and then I went to Nahanni National Park in 1974. From Nahanni in 1978, I got a full Warden position at Grasslands National Park, but they didn’t have any accommodation for me so they asked if I’d move to Riding Mountain in the interim so I did, and I’ve been here ever since.
0410: Jasper was great; I guess all the Parks were great in a lot of ways. I had a backcountry district in Jasper so I spent all my time out there and didn’t have to worry about frontcountry or townsite areas. And then when we went to Yoho, I had to learn how to ski. In Yoho we did a lot of skiing, mostly Lake Louise and Sunshine and then we did avalanche control so I had to learn to ski deep powder and stuff so we made a few trips over to Revelstoke/Glacier. Got involved with Avalanche control in Yoho and mostly backcountry patrols. When I moved to Nahanni, it was probably the best park I was at for me and the family; we got started there. Ray Frey was the Chief Park Warden at Nahanni and he’d just moved there in early spring and then we flew in in May and we had to live with them because that was the only accommodation. That summer, they moved a trailer in for us. Nahanni was really isolated then, 90 air miles to Fort Simpson or 120 river miles on the Liard River to get to the park headquarters, so it was like that right through and then in 1978, my son was getting ready to go to school so we wound up here in Riding Mountain. I like Riding Mountain too but as a Park, it doesn’t come high on the list. In Riding Mountain, you live outside the park and all your interests are outside the Park. Not like Yoho, Jasper or even Nahanni where you lived in the park. In Riding Mountain, I was stationed at Sugar Loaf station and that was about 1.5 hours from the park headquarters. We got into horses and that and it was all on the outside. There were a lot of horse shows and fairs that we got the kids involved in. I guess my favourite probably would have been Nahanni at the time. When we started up there, there was nothing there. It was just the river. We had to do all the trails, it was a real wilderness, portage trails. Learned how to drive a river boat on the river and lots of flying. Jasper/Nahanni were probably my favourites.
MH: What were some of your main responsibilities over the years? 0800:
AC: In Jasper, I was backcountry patrol and of course at that time, mountain rescue was coming in so we had to do training for that. And when I went to Yoho, we got quite involved in Avalanche control and I went to a lot of schools for Avalanche Control. Backcountry skiing trips for rescue purposes. Then I got selected to go on a high altitude rescue team so in 1973, we made a climb on Mount Logan and from there, I transferred to Nahanni and had one more stint on a high altitude rescue. We flew into Mt. Kennedy and climbed Mt. Kennedy, Mt Hubbard and Mt. Overstone there. And that just about ended my career in mountain rescue because in Nahanni, I wasn’t quite available as I was before. But then in Nahanni, I got into river stuff, making portage trails, setting up a permit system for canoers coming through the park and stuff. Setting up campsites, warden cabins and we did a lot of wildlife inventories to see what was there. Nahanni was a brand new park when I started. There was Ray Frey and I and a couple of seasonals that we hired in the summertime.
Ray left in 1976 and Lou Comin was the Chief Park Warden there for the next couple of years. And then I transferred down to Riding Mountain and in Riding Mountain, they put me in charge of Fire Control for a few years. We had a big fire in 1980 that burned up 50,000 acres of land and stuff. I was on fire control for 3-4 years or more and then I looked after horses in Riding Mountain, training all the Wardens to do backcountry stuff with horses, packing and camping. I took a session being an interim Area Manager for a year, until they hired someone. In Riding Mountain, we had the townsite to look after. I spent a lot of my evenings in the summertime patrolling campsites and the townsite and stuff. Wasn’t a job I really liked but done it with Law Enforcement. We did a lot of Law Enforcement here, lots of poaching and stuff.
The Blue Creek District Wardens, Art and his wife Marilyn
MH: What did you like / Dislike about being a Warden? 1245:
AC: In Jasper and Nahanni I really liked the wilderness part of it. I didn’t have much time for townsite politics and stuff like that. That wasn’t what I was into, I’d just as soon be on backcountry patrol somewhere doing something in the bush. Nahanni was great for that because we had a lot of work to do and we were busy all the time. The Nahanni River was big and new to me and I had to learn how to run the river without chewing off the props, getting into trouble.
1345: I didn’t like the townsite and politics side of it, sitting at meetings for a couple of days here and there. They sent me to school for three months to the Pallisades in Jasper because I didn’t have a university degree so I had to be upgraded. There were a few of us old wardens who had to do that.
MH: What were some of your more memorable events as a Warden? 1450:
AC: I guess one of the bigger ones was in 1980 when this fire started in Riding National Park. They put me in charge of it. We had several crews and lots of cats and airplanes, bombers and that was in May of 1980. It was a big project for me. I guess one of the more memorable things I enjoyed was learning how to ski and deep powder ski, learning how to run a river boat, jetboat and scows, stuff like that. And I guess even learning how to climb mountains. Nowadays we don’t even have any of the old wardens now. They call them Resource Conservation or something like that. Everybody is specialized and Wardens are more like policemen.
Riding Mountain 1985 Centennial year.
MH: Can you tell me about any rescue/wildlife stories that stick out in your memory? 1630:
AC: There are always several stories that always come to mind. When I was in Yoho, they put me in charge of bears. At the time, Lake Louise had a dump right up on top of the Kicking Horse Pass. They closed that dump and there were lots of grizzly bears and we had them coming down into Yoho. That was one of my big deals was trapping and relocating these grizzly bears. We had several incidents with bears, being chased by them. There were a few scary things that happened. Being on the river there, hitting rocks with your boat, drifting backwards without any power. Pretty powerful river that Nahanni. Being on the big fire in Riding Mountain, that was huge.
MH: How did the Warden Service change over the years? 1845:
AC: Centralization occurred when I first moved to Riding Mountain. We only had three districts here. It changed quite a bit because it separated everyone from the Chief Park Warden. Years ago when I was in Jasper, if you needed to talk to the Chief Park Warden, you’d go talk to him or the Assistant Chief. Same with Yoho and Nahanni but here, all of a sudden you had to talk to your Area Manager at the time, and he went and discussed things with the Chief Park Warden. It wasn’t that huge at the time, just later on when the Environmental Assessment stuff started rolling in and you had to do that. I did several of them, but it wasn’t with the computer, it was basically by hand. And then just before I retired the computers came in and you had to learn to run the computers. It changed a bunch. Law Enforcement started changing in the mid-80s. Banff, Jasper, more guys were kind of like secret service, you might say, they were looking for poachers, trying to find them, to figure out when they were going to come in and that sort of thing. We did the same thing here. We did a lot of patrols outside the Park looking for poachers. It just changed and then of course we couldn’t carry firearms, we could carry a rifle but no sidearm and that was a big deal. It took a while to get all that changed over and I think that’s what kind of split the Warden Service into Resource Conservation.
Art Cochrane weighing a bear. Photo courtesy of Don Mickle.
MH: What about the Warden Service was important to you? 2125:
AC: To me the Parks changed. They started changing in the early 70’s, late 60s. At one time we tried to get as many people into the Park as we could. And then the hiker craze started in the 70s, and all of a sudden people realized we were getting too many people into the backcountry. It took a few years to gain control of that. Now I think it has gone the other way, there aren’t as many people going into the backcountry, but I’ve been out for 20 years now.
And that was a big change, and then of course Jasper and Banff townsites starting changing. When I was in Yoho, there hadn’t been that much change but I don’t know if there has been since. I think the townsite hasn’t grown like Banff and Jasper have. When I was in Jasper 68-70, our horse barns were where the Catholic Church was. That whole back area was outfitters, the McCready’s were there and others.
MH: Are there any legends or stories associated with the Warden Service that you can share? 2350:
AC: There are lots of stories to share. I think of Fred Dixon, working in Elk Island National Park and got into a rumble with a bull Bison one day that tore him up pretty badly. Him and Bill Walburger were working this bison and Fred let him out of the chute and there were just the two of them there. The bison just normally walk away I guess but this one come around and got ahold of Fred and put a horn under his belt into his stomach and threw him backwards. Fred got up and run to the fence and climbed the wire fence, Bill had run to get the truck, and the darn fence started falling down, the staples were popping out, and then the bison walked over and ripped on his legs and stuff and then hit him and knocked him over the fence. And the bison walked around the fence to get him on the other side. Bill drove up with the truck and Fred got up and fell in the back (of the truck) and got away from the bison. I don’t know exactly when that happened, in the 80s sometime I believe.
2530: I got in a little bit with a grizzly bear and her cub in the townsite of Field. We had this cub in the bear trap and the sow was right there too so I darted her with the capture gun and then she wandered up in the bush. We gave her 15-20 minutes so she was laying up there. A policeman was there; I didn’t have any warden backup. So I said to the policeman, “You watch for me”. I had to climb this bank next to this residence and I got up there within a couple of hundred feet of her and she kinda lifted her head up so I stopped and all of a sudden she is charging me so I run down the bank and I expected to hear shots from the policeman but he jumped back into his car. But the drugs took effect and she just rolled down the hill behind me, so we picked her up and threw her in the bear trap. That was a close call.