While the stories are many, one funny episode took place while at the Marble Canyon Warden Station. Early morning knocks on the door were never good news. It’s 5 am on such a morning and I open the door to two fellows.  One is dripping wet with dozens of little cuts on his face. The other is obviously a tow truck driver. The story was that this guy had fallen asleep and gone off the road resulting in car and driver in the river. The river was shallow and making his way to the highway the driver summoned help and then got a lift to Radium where he hired a tow truck to retrieve the car.  After two passes no car was located. I said I’d look later to find the mystery vehicle.  The cut up driver was adamant that we go immediately as he had left $6000 cash on the front seat.  Leaving the tow truck on standby we retraced the route to no avail. We stopped in at Vermillion Crossing for coffee and with that truth serum in hand I began to question the story.  It turned out that rather than falling asleep the guy was travelling at a speed of 120 miles per hour when he lost control in the dark and landed in the river. Therefore, the car may not have been immediately visible from the roadside. With that new information off car hunting we went. North of the warden station there is a plateau of grasses and shrubs that is 15 feet above the river which is hidden from view here.  Looking over I saw 4 divots, four hubcaps then nothing. Sure enough a walk to the embankment revealed the car upright in two feet of water with a blown out windshield. Indeed he had launched at 120 doing the Evel Knievel into the water. On the front seat sat a leather bag with $6000 inside.

SH: Other Memorable Events?

Dan: The major search and rescue events always come to mind first. There are layers here that go deep and perhaps it serves no purpose to reveal in detail the tragedies of those whose lives were irrevocably changed in an instant. It is important however to share a few as it highlights the work and its challenges. We were involved in numerous fatalities and I can encapsulate my own experience only, not to self aggrandize, not to exploit the tragedy of others and certainly not to represent the personal experiences of my fellow wardens.

Many poor souls have been swept to sea off the rocky coastline of Pacific Rim. On a March day one such event occurred just south of the Park. A young woman was caught unaware by a large wave and she disappeared off of a high rock ledge overlooking the water.  In my experience 60% of those lost are never recovered. Near where she was last seen is a cave open to the sea identified by a small hole on top. Known as the blowhole during high tides and storm events water shoots skyward with every wave that plunges into the opening.    A number of weeks after her disappearance it became evident that something was blocking the blowhole. The situation was difficult as the cave would fill with water and the blowhole is located several feet above the sea on the cave’s ceiling. The RCMP asked us to investigate.  Gord McClain and I responded. Gaining access and establishing a working platform required all the skills and experience we had garnered from our mountain training and experience. Setting anchors and contriving a rope rescue and safety system in a dynamic surf environment allowed access to the cave ceiling where it revealed the body of a woman jammed tight in the crevice.  Gord set up a cable pulley system while I donned a wetsuit and harness. Room only for one, I made my way into the cave and then up, pulling cable and carrying a handful of web slings. All the while waves kept flooding over the cave bottom. Utilizing a girth hitch I attached web slings at the base of each limb and equalized them to a point below where they were affixed to the cable hook.  With Gord working the pulley and cable system above her body dislodged. It was difficult working alone with my face next to hers and with the condition of remains left unfounded for a number of days.  I knew she was at peace and that her family would gain some comfort with her return. 

Another incident on the coast happened one early April during an episode marked by huge seas. I was unfortunately the first on scene to where a helpless family had witnessed their son being washed from the rocks and never again to be seen. Mom, dad and the boy’s sibling stood numbed. They were from Europe and this was the first day of their holidays. I suspect that the parents may have had a disagreement about the safety of venturing out on the rocks. I recall the Mom’s expression as she stared at her husband and wondered if the marriage would survive this grief. I could offer no hope that the boy could survive and with the state of the seas being what they were, hopes that we might find the boy’s remains could not be assured. With that they returned to Vancouver and returned home that night. I think of that family unit from time to time hoping that they did survive this event.  Years later at the same location we were to deal with a multiple fatality.  The initial attempt at rescue was significant. It involved a large-scale interagency response. But, as with those buried in avalanches, not much chance of success. Afterwards, and for the next number of days it was left to the wardens to undertake body search and recovery. Three days later the team concluded the incident after recovering the remains of three people.

The last tragic incident I’ll share happened at Marble Canyon. Once again the dreaded early 6 am morning knock on the door. There was an accident down the road. Arriving at the scene I saw a large old convertible that had obviously rolled over but the country music was still playing from the car.  Here was one young man obviously deceased. Searching the perimeter I found another young man, alive but seriously injured.  I radioed for a helicopter or ambulance whichever could first attend. I talked with the young guy trying to be reassuring.  Alone at the scene I felt quite helpless as I waited for medical assistance.  As the ambulance pulled up I Iooked down and the young guy was dead. As I drove back to the station I got a call that two elk calves had been run over but were still alive at roadside. I responded and put the calves out of pain. I then rolled them into a ravine away from prying eyes where scavengers would congregate.  Heading back home I was covered with dirt and blood. Whose or what blood I didn’t know.  Once at the Station I knew at any moment that dreaded knock could be just minutes away. It was time to transfer and many months later I arrived back at Pacific Rim.

The point of these glimpses into public safety, search and rescue are important for context. By the 1990’s Prime Minister Mulroney had frozen our wages for seven years. Our federal government had fallen into league with the Thatcher, Reagan, Douglas ideology of reducing government service to a minimum while enhancing their privatization under a free market model. No government services for personal benefit was their mantra. Every federal search and rescue agency including Parks Canada were tasked with developing and executing a strategy of cost recovery for search and rescue. By this time I was the Public Safety Specialist for the B.C. Yukon Region of Parks. Clair Israelson was the Public Safety Specialist for the Mountain Region. Together we spent a year and a half analyzing our service offer while we developed various options and strategies to both implement and execute cost recovery.  Each submission was rejected as it failed to meet with the free-market agenda and ideology of the government.  It was a loathsome exercise as it revealed how much the government of the day seemed to despise both the citizens and employees of the country.  This became increasingly apparent the deeper we went into the exercise.   However, we suspected that the entire rescue service offered by Park’s Canada was at risk if the organization had baulked at the request. Left for bureaucrats to develop wouldn’t have been an option. It was a doomed initiative driven by a heartless ideology. The bureaucrats focussed on the 15 year old who might require rescue services after skirting under a closure fence.  What bureaucrat or politician would put a bill in the hands of a grieving family after the failed search for the body of a boy swept from the rocks or the recovery of the body of a young woman left jammed in a cave. Such was the value set of a federal  government  driven by an ideology bereft of compassion and common sense much less courage.

In the end, years afterwards, with a new government in place and near the end of our careers, Bob Hansen and myself were invited to Ottawa where we were acknowledged and commended for our work and exemplary contributions; Bob’s in wildlife management and mine for search and rescue. While we were singled out, I know Bob and I owe this recognition to the numerous remarkable people that shared in and contributed to our success. At the ceremony I thought it was important to point out that there are generations of people alive today were it not for the professionalism and remarkable skill sets of so many Wardens across Canada. Because someone who was rescued went on to be a parent, grandparent, doctor, nurse, firefighter, police or simply lived full lives that contributed to community may not be aware of a historical rescue event that was providential and accounts for their existence yet remains unknown.

SH Did you take on other roles besides public safety?

Dan: For a number of years, I had the honour of working with a team of excellent wardens teaching at the recruit school in Jasper. I taught Risk Management Planning, Marine Navigation and Search and Rescue. Under the watchful eye of the mountain rescue specialists, I helped with rope rescue and evacuation techniques as well. Also, Rick Holmes and myself were trained as physical defence instructors for law enforcement purposes. Each year we travelled to recertify at the RCMP Depot in Regina.  I then taught at Pacific Rim and travelled to Glacier to train and recertify the warden crew there. 

SH How did the Warden Service change over the years?

Dan: I have alluded to some of the changes. I was one of an early cadre all required to have university degrees. There of course the inevitable frictions fitting into a service with a long legendary history in National Parks. But the challenges of modernity, increased visitation and wilderness activities required so much more than that of the traditional role of the Park Warden. Environmental assessment and management, helicopters, science based approaches to avalanche and ecologically based management systems, new search and rescue systems and technologies, computerization, modern approaches to law enforcement (Including the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms) all demanded changes in order to meet the new challenges facing wardens.

In the 1970s, the Age of Aquarius, the back to the land movement began.  Bell bottomed pants, love beads draft dodgers avoiding the Vietnam war descended in the Parks. The pressures brought on by an increasingly mobile general public and the young nomads challenged rescue services and enforcement.  But they also represented societal changes that would soon shape a modern Warden Service. Most notably women began to be represented in the ranks. 

One of the first women I know of worked at Pacific Rim: Jan Cadieux, married name Sranko. She and others bore the brunt of any pioneer I sure. The first woman I saw in a warden uniform was while I was hiking in Yoho. Up trail came this goddess mounted on a beautiful horse. While she was small in stature, she was both a commanding and impressive site. A confident and skilled horse woman named Kathy Calvert clad in uniform and Stetson.  A year or two later we were together on a ski tour up Mt. Hector. She led the way up carrying a pack as heavy as any of the men present. Even more impressive was the way she could turn those skis on the descent in spite of the weight on her back.

Kathy was a proficient mountaineer as well. An artist and writer, she remains as impressive as the first day I saw her. Today women are well represented in the Warden Service and from the early days were and today are, such an integral part of the team.

Through the 1990’s a discontent was merging amongst the ranks over the carrying of handguns for law enforcement. Grievance upon grievance erupting into dispute at the national level resulted in the arming of the Warden Service. During the dispute enemies were made and resentment prevailed. In the end the wardens were stripped of all duties with the exception of law enforcement. There were, I believe, no winners.

When the smoke cleared each warden was left with two options. Either compete for a job with the new Warden Service or stay within a department named Resource Conservation. At that time I competed for the position as Head of Regional Law Enforcement in Calgary. I believe with my experience and knowledge that I represented myself and my vision for the future with competence. It is my understanding that a 22 year veteran of the Ontario Police Force was assigned the position but that he lasted only a short while.  However, I competed for and won the competition for the head of law enforcement at Pacific Rim. Left with two options: Resource Conservation or Enforcement, I decided to retire.

SH: Do you ever miss not being a warden? 

Dan: No I never tied my sense of identity or self with being a warden. I preferred being a husband and father. I miss my cohorts. They are a group who possess remarkable skill sets, abilities and intelligence. I miss their authenticity, senses of humour and comradeship.  I still visit national parks but I’m not inclined to reminisce. While I worked hard to achieve the knowledge and skills required of a warden, when compared with the likes of a Tim Auger, Keith Everts or Clair Israelson I’m not sure I hit the mark.  There are too many stand out wardens for me to single out. I will mention those who most influenced me and have passed on. Notably Keith Everts, Tim Auger and Lance Cooper. I would also take note of wardens of my generation killed while on duty. Neil Colgan (Banff), Pat Sheehan (Jasper), Mike Wynn (Jasper).  Three young wardens whose opportunity to fulfill their life’s potential was lost.

SH: Is there anything about the Warden Service, as you knew it, that you would want future generations to know?
I have a particular investment in the future of the Warden Service as my son is a warden in Waterton National Park.   Born in Tofino, he was immersed in the culture of the warden service I suppose.  He lived primarily with me a few years after my divorce.  He and I travelled together a lot and he was routinely present at the office or sitting watching field training sessions etc.  I purposely refrained from guiding him into career choices.  He was not yet ten years old and was acquiring mountain bike, surfing, skiing and sailing skills.  Further education was the only direction not up for debate. And so without knowing it he was born to the breed.

I say to him what I say to all present and future wardens. Make your own golden times. You are privileged and fortunate to have options and you are able to choose your path.  Seek and find your best self and keep learning.  Growth, knowledge and expertise are gained incrementally. Mistakes are necessary and inevitable even when taking calculated risks. The career you’ve chosen will present many significant risks.  Keep your head up, stay focused, be serious.  I am both proud and grateful to say, “I was once one of you.”

SH: Do you have any photos of yourself that you would like to donate to the Project, or that we may copy? Do you have any artifacts/memorabilia that you would like to donate to the Project (Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies will archive these)
Dan: My son has three photos I’d like to include. I’ll get him to send them to you.
SH: What year did you retire? What do you like doing in retirement?
Dan: About 10 years ago. I still work and this funds travel to ski, flyfish and surf down south. I’m married to a Michigan farm girl who keeps my inflated ego in check. I’ve worked various jobs but for the last few years work for a plumbing contractor primarily on new builds and renovations. Every day there are problems to solve and “work arounds” to devise. There are the inevitable accountabilities which keep one focussed. The learning never ends and I think Hans Fuhrer would still chuckle at my downhill skiing and now my son is the one waiting for me at the bottom of the hill. Nevertheless, I still take the odd lesson.

SH: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think I should know about the Warden Service?

Dan: I guess it’s a funny thing in today’s world that in a lot of ways the Warden Service has become or was kind of something from a forgotten age almost. Even in the 20th century … the kinds of climbing and the horse work. I think the story of the Warden Service is a metaphor for how we’ve not retained a lot of what once defined the newcomers to Canada, and what Canada was. People traveled and learned to live in the mountains and were subjected to the forces of nature and how to survive the best way they could.

Parks along with the wardens, trying to modernize and be all things to all people, lost their identity and became pseudo recreational areas. We never presented our history and preserved it. The Warden Service is a relic of what it once was. The modern Warden Service would best return to a traditional working model, akin to successful European models, where rescue and policing services are amalgamated.

SH: Is there anyone else I should talk to?

Dan: It would be interesting to look at the spouses for comparison, and contrast. They were there.


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Susan Hairsine worked for Resource Conservation and Operations in Mt. Revelstoke/Glacier, Jasper and Banff National Parks, as well as for Public Safety in Western and Northern Region for over 30 years. She obtained funding for an oral history of Parks Canada’s avalanche personnel and oversaw the successful completion of the project. Her experience working with several the interviewees during their careers has been an asset to the current project. She was also the Executive Assistant to the Chief Park Wardens of Jasper and Banff National Parks.