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.
Park Warden Service Alumni Society of Alberta
Oral History Project Phase 10 – Spring 2020
This Oral History interview was funded in part by a research grant from the Government of Alberta through the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.
Telephone Interview with Bob Hansen
April 15, 2020 – 2:00 pm – Tofino, BC, Invermere, BC
Interviewed by Susan Hairsine
Place and date of birth? Bob was born in Claresholm, Alberta, a small prairie town in Southern Alberta, on April 16, 1953.
SH: It’s your birthday tomorrow! You are 67 tomorrow.
Bob: Yes, quite the week and as you know, Adrienne and I just had our 30th anniversary last week.
SH: Where did you grow up?
Bob: I grew up in Claresholm, so born and raised there, until I left home around when I was nineteen or so.
SH: Did you leave home to go to University?
Bob: Yes, I had an ill-fated try at University, at U of A in Edmonton, which didn’t work out very well and the next year, I tried University of Lethbridge, which again, I just didn’t find University suited me very well.
SH: I thought that would lead into this next question, but apparently not. So, how did you become involved in the Warden Service?
Bob: In 1974 I got a job in Waterton on Trail Crew, so it was after my year at University of Lethbridge (U of L), and I was looking for summer work and learned about this job in Waterton. Waterton sort of had a special place in our family. Claresholm is not that long a drive from Waterton, so growing up we would often go to Waterton for Sunday picnics and occasionally overnight camping trips, and that sort of thing. I was into the outdoors right from a very young age, and I really liked Waterton. It was the place where I caught my first trout from the end of the dock that was where the Warden Office used to be. I think it still may be there but at the end of that dock I caught my first trout. It was a pretty big moment. I think I was like seven or something. So, I have lots of good associations with Waterton, and getting a job there in the outdoors.
After that year of hard work at University, I did okay in the Forestry Program at U of L, but I just didn’t feel like University was a good fit so headed off to Waterton and had a great summer. I got to meet a few Park Wardens that summer, actually Tom Davidson was our supervisor for our trail crew. Tom of course was a great guy, and we’d see him every so often. But pretty much he just left us to work away and we got good reviews on our work that summer. I finished up at Waterton and I still had a big student loan debt from my attempts at University. So I actually went to Edmonton as soon as I finished in Waterton. I’d heard about being able to make big money in the oil patch. I loaded up my truck and went up there and camped in the back of my truck, and went to all the drilling companies, one by one in Edmonton. Took a few days until I finally hit a company that hired me even with zero skills and experience. I started work on graveyard shift that very night. I drove from Edmonton to Fox Creek and somehow managed to find the oil rig up a forestry road. That first night me and another new hire spent the night digging a ditch in frozen bog with pick axes. I worked all that winter on various oil rigs in Northern Alberta and worked from lease hand to rough neck to motorman and assistant derrickman. We’d work 21 days and get 32 hours off. Hard work but the money and the food was good. Worked with lots of interesting characters. Most of the holes were in remote parts of Northern Alberta. I got to experience some remote country in the boreal forest environment.
Come the next spring I was working on a big rig that was shutting down for the summer. This hole was a wildcat well south of Edson in the forestry district there. I’d gone a couple of times on my days off from the rig to Jasper and was just completely blown away by Jasper. Just driving into the mountains the first time, into Jasper I couldn’t believe it. I had a good time in the Athabasca Bar and met a couple of locals. Actually one of my first experiences in the bar, I saw Russell Ruddy at the mike in his top coat and top hat singing Jerry Jeff Walker’s Red Neck Mothers to a very enthusiastic crowd. I was so impressed, I thought I want to work here and live here …. This is amazing! So when the rig shut down for the summer I applied for work. I applied for three jobs and got offered all three.
SH: Were they Parks jobs?
Bob: Yes, one was trail crew, one was grounds, and one was a brand new position called towerman/patrolman. They had just created that position that year. So I took the towerman/patrolman job. It sounded awesome. I was supposed to split my time between Bald Hills Lookout above Maligne Lake and patrol the backcountry on foot, educating backcountry hikers about the new quota system. Jasper had just brought in a quota on backpackers that year. The quotas were on the busier trails like Tonquin and the Skyline and the Brazeau Loop. (Section 1: Tape 07:17)
The job was in the Warden Service and I lived at Maligne Lake in the little log cabin at the back of the station there. The cabin is still there I believe. Warden Toni Klettl apparently built it in the 60’s as a snowshoe cabin at Big Bend on the Maligne River. It was called a snowshoe cabin because it was one day’s snowshoe in winter from the end of the road at the north end of Medicine Lake. He could overnight there and then make the main Warden Station at Maligne Lake the next day. I was told he and his crew cut the trees, peeled the logs and built the 12 x 10ft cabin in just 3 days. Years later the cabin was taken apart and reassembled at the Maligne Warden Station. I really enjoyed my summers in that cabin. Just enough room for a single bed, an airtight, a woodstove, a small table and a bed. I hauled water from the nearby creek. That was the start of my Warden Service career. Warden Al Stendie was my boss and I couldn’t have asked for a better position and mentor to start off.
SH: What made you want to join the Warden Service?
Bob: Growing up, right from a young age I was really enthralled with the outdoors. So with my buddies we spent as much time as possible exploring out from town. When we were young we’d head off out east of town into the prairies or out west towards Porcupine Hills on our bikes. We actually started hunting by strapping our .22 caliber rifles or shotguns onto our bikes and bike out to sloughs to hunt ducks. Outside of hunting season we’d film ducks with a hand crank film camera, 8 mm I think they call them. I just couldn’t get enough time outdoors and then as I got older, we got motorcycles that would take us further out, and then I got a truck and camper, and a boat. I was working all through high school so I had some money and it all went towards gear for getting outdoors for camping and hunting and fishing. Initially I wanted to be a forest ranger because at that time they still had forest rangers living in district stations in the Porcupine Hills and Livingstone Mountains. I got to know one of the rangers and thought wow, that’s the job. I want a forestry district and a station. But by the time I graduated from high school, the Forest Service decided to centralize and they were shutting down all the Ranger Stations so I sort of gave up on that. It wasn’t until I worked as a towerman/patrolman in Jasper that I experienced the Warden Service and realized that you could still have that kind of life but in National Parks.
That first summer working at Maligne, I only spent two nights in the Bald Hills Lookout, because it was a very wet summer. The rest of the time I was working with Al Stendie either on the lake or doing backpacking patrols in the Maligne District and occasionally into other parts of Jasper. I was just hiking up a storm, clearing trails, repairing phone lines, educating backcountry users, cleaning up campsites, and doing maintenance on cabins. I patrolled the Skyline, Maligne Pass, Wabasso, Watchtower, Jacques Lake and then that first fall I even got a stint in Tonquin Valley late in the fall for ten days. By the end of that summer between the mountains, the work and the great people, I was hooked. I thought okay, I need to go back to school and work towards a Warden Service career.
So I applied for Lethbridge Community College (LCC), which the word was, they had an up and coming program that Parks Canada was going to be hiring lots from. I was accepted and got the okay to start at LCC in January. In the intervening months I went back to work on the oil rigs to make some money and then started at Lethbridge in January. I followed the same routine for the next couple of winters. I’d work a bit on the rigs and then go to school. It took me extra time to do my college course this way but the rig money really helped. Initially I was hesitant at returning to school because of my experiences at university. I soon got over that hurdle. The LCC program I took was tailored to the needs of the National Parks Warden Service. The courses were challenging but designed to equip people with the skills to carry out a variety of roles in the field. The instructors were veteran field people and great mentors and teachers. Almost all my classmates were well into their 20’s or older and were serious about learning. Just about everyone had a good job waiting for them if they could complete the program. It was very tight knit group that worked and played hard. BJ (Al Bjorn) was there, Frank Staples, Rick Holmes and Dave Galbraith were there. Rob Watt and Rick Ralf had come out of the program. It just seemed everything fell into place. There was this fantastic program and I had this strong desire to make a career in the Warden Service. It all just came together.
SH: You worked in a lot of different parks Bob. I didn’t know about Waterton. So what different parks did you work in? Waterton, Jasper?
Bob: By the time I was in my last semester at Lethbridge I’d worked 3 seasons in Jasper as a towerman/patrolman and 2 seasons as a backcountry patrolman with a horse district. They dropped the towerman part of it after a couple of summers … that’s when they started to shut down the towers, and so after three seasons at Maligne, I was assigned to Blue Creek for two seasons, my first horse district. I had Blue Creek in 1978-1979.
During my last semester I was able to apply on the western region warden service competition. I made the eligibility list but by early Spring they hadn’t reached my name. That was fine by me as I still had my Jasper backcountry patrolman position and they told me I’d be headed back to Blue Creek for a 3rd season.
I’d just been back in Jasper long enough to take some training – climbing, wildfire fighting and shooting when I received word that they had reached my name on the eligibility list. I was assigned to Mount Revelstoke National Park as a term park warden in 1980.
SH: Was that a summer park warden position Bob?
Bob: Yes it was a term summer position. I have to admit I was pretty bummed when I got posted there because I’d already reported back to work in Jasper and I’d just finished shoeing my 3 horses. I was going back to Blue Creek for a third season, and then I got this posting. I have to admit that I hadn’t even heard of Mt Revelstoke National Park. And then when I found it was about one hundred square miles, where Blue Creek was about four hundred square miles, I was less than impressed. Anyways, I packed all my stuff in my 1960 4 door Chevy and arrived in Revelstoke and reported to Bill Laurilla who was the Warden there and John Turnbull who was the Chief Park Warden. Bill Laurilla, as I came to learn, was a legend. As you know Sue, he had worked his entire career in Rev/Glacier National Parks. I believe he’d been a warden 35 plus years when a heart condition caused him to retire. I am very grateful for having worked with Bill. He had so many incredible stories from his warden career. He was the Glacier Park Warden for many years before there was even a road through Roger’s Pass. He and is family lived at Flat Creek Warden Station for years and also at East Gate. Both stations were only accessible by railway in those years. Bill had his own pumper car for patrolling the park. He’d listen for approaching trains or feel for vibrations in the tracks. If a train was coming he’d tip his pumper car off the tracks until the train went by. He said once he had gone away from the tracks on skis to go further into the park. On his return he fell as he was skiing down a slope. The skis back then were heavy, long, wooden skis. The bindings were called “leg breakers” because they would not release when you fell and the skis wouldn’t come off. He fell and broke a leg. He was alone and had to get himself back to the tracks and his pumper car and return to the station all with a broken leg.
Another story was how Bill worked with two Canadian Wildlife Service biologists for several years in the 60s as they studied grizzly bears in Glacier NP. When their research came out they had documented the densest grizzly bear population known at that time. On one occasion up Flat Creek they spotted a large grizzly up an avalanche path above them. As soon as the bear saw them it charged straight at them. Bill hit the bear with 5 rounds from his rifle and it almost reached them before it collapsed.
I hope some of Bill’s stories have been captured somewhere.
I’m sure Bill was not impressed when I showed up with my over packed car. I didn’t have the first clue as to what I’d be doing. My time to that point had been spent working the backcountry on foot and on horseback. In my new position I’d be working in the frontcountry in a high use park that included a chunk of the Trans Canada Highway and neighboured the city of Revelstoke. Bill gave me two days of orientation and training. I’d check in with Bill regularly but I was pretty much on my own for the rest of the summer. I worked two kinds of shifts either night shift or split shift. I was used to working alone from all my time in the backcountry but now the role was very different.
The emphasis was on Iaw enforcement. I had some law enforcement training from Lethbridge Community College and a couple of days at the start of each year in Jasper. (It would be a number of years before national parks instituted the mandatory 16 week warden recruit training – 9 weeks of which was at the RCMP Depot in Regina.) I had a very steep learning curve situation and I made some real gaffs in handling some situations I encountered.
I was kicking people out that were trying to camp overnight in the national park parking lots on the Trans Canada for the most part and I also patrolled the road up to the summit of Mt. Revelstoke. The picnic shelters at various pullouts on the road to the summit were favorite party spots for the local kids. I’d have to sweep the road and picnic shelters each night and ensure that by the end of shift there was no one on the mountain. Then I’d close the gate at the bottom of the road. Usually Bill opened the gate in the morning. If it was Bill’s days off I’d work a split shift and lock it at night and get up early next morning to open it. I’d sometimes go meet Bill for his regular coffee at Smitty’s Pancake House and debrief my night shift and seek his advice on how to handle different situations. I had a few standouts. One of my first intense situations was a domestic dispute at one of the picnic areas. There were just the couple and myself. They were yelling and pushing each other. They didn’t see me at first. When I got their attention I asked the woman if she was ok and that in a way helped resolve the situation. Instead of screaming at each other they both focused their anger at me. After a minute or two of yelling at me and then my making a call on the radio to the RCMP they calmed down. Some more talking and they became a bit embarrassed, apologized and went on their way.
Then there was the fellow who pulled his beat-up motorhome into a pullout and settled in. I was able to get him to leave but not until he had a complete freakout. I kept approaching Law Enforcement situations with the attitude that I had a badge, a ticket book and legal authorities and that if I just impressed that on people they would of course do what I asked. Most people just had to asked and they were good about complying. For other people like this fellow it was just like pressing a button. Like with the domestic, it took quite a bit of talking to cool the situation down. He then calmly informed me he had serious mental health issues, hated police and had been a violent offender in the past. He eventually apologized and moved on. Another lesson learned in a summer of trial and quite a few errors.
One of the most memorable incidents from that summer was when I was almost in a slow speed head on collision. I was just driving my warden truck out the access to my summer parks cabin when I see a truck coming down the narrow dirt road towards me. He’s not pulling over and I get as far onto the shoulder as I can. Our mirrors just about collide. He looks over at me as he passes. He looks confused and startled. I go to a wide spot and turn around and return with my red and blues on. He can’t go far. The road ends at my cabin. I see the truck is stopped and as I watch he falls out the passenger side door. He picks himself up and his hard hat that has fallen off. He puts it on his head backwards. He stumbles towards me as I call into the RCMP. I get out and approach him. He’s older, skinny, missing some teeth and very unsteady on his feet and is quite friendly. I identify myself as a Park Warden and ask him what just happened? He said his buddy was driving. I point out that he was the only person in the truck. He asks me where he is? I ask him where he thinks he is? He says somewhere near Nakusp which is a couple of hours drive and a ferry trip away. He is the drunkest person I’ve ever seen. The RCMP are tied up with an incident in Revelstoke. It takes them almost an hour to attend but the guy is very talkative and the time passes quickly. They take the fellow to the detachment where he tests 4 times over the legal limit. He should not be able to walk or drive. It takes a few days for him to sober up in cells. When he goes to court he pleads guilty to several offences. He is known to the judge. He has no money and then he gets conditional jail time. Turns out he is the only earner for a large family. He is career alcoholic and forestry worker. He goes to work in camps where he stays in as long as he can and stays sober. It is when he comes out that he occasionally falls off the wagon. The judge tells him to go back to work and to report to jail when he comes out of the bush until he completes his sentence. The fellow is very appreciative.
A real bonus of working in Rev/Glacier was getting to explore the Columbia Mountains. I spent every days off hiking in Mount Revelstoke or in Glacier National Park. I quickly came to love the Columbia Mountains. The first hiking patrol Bill sent me out on was up the Clachnacuddin Valley. He sent me and the new firetower lookout Joe ?. As we were heading out Bill said, “Oh and keep on the lookout for bears”. He wasn’t kidding. We came across the old remains of a mountain goat on the trail and then on breaking out of the forest into the subalpine I looked up at the first avalanche paths. There right above us were 5 grizzly bears. 1 sow with 2 large cubs on one path and another sow with a large cub on the neighbouring path. We turned back before they detected us.