SH: What year did you retire? What do you enjoy doing in retirement?
Dave: I retired in December 2010. I was on leave and stuff so I think March 2011 was official date. I’ve got a house that’s still unfinished – there’s always work at home to do. I still like to ski and I think of all the wardens I’ve known over the years, there’s probably only one or two that ski as much as I still do. I ski 50-55 days a year at the ski hill. Gerry (Israelson) works for Mountain Hosts, Hans Fuhrer at 82, he still skis a lot and skis as well as he ever did. I ski with Hans. Ed Robert has been skiing the last couple of winters up at Panorama. John Niddrie occasionally. But I still like to ski in the winter, that’s my main focus. In the summer we’ve got a boat, so I spend quite a bit of time on the boat, at the lake. Last few years I’ve been taking flying lessons and doing some flying. When I retired I thought I might like to build an ultra-light so I figured if I was going to do that I better learn how to fly one first. But then I decided if I was going to keep flying I’d better do it in something more substantial than that; a flying lawnchair with a chainsaw motor.

SH: Remember Bruce Mackinnon (Assistant Chief Park Warden MRG). He died doing that.

Dave: So, the last year or so I’ve been taking flying lessons in Cranbrook in a Cessna 172. I haven’t been doing it this summer because some other things in life got in the way but I’d like to start it up again this fall.

SH: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think I should know about the Warden Service? What do you have on your notes?

Dave: There’s people that I haven’t mentioned, not common omission, they just haven’t come up. People that I worked with closely and a lot to do with for many years, Glen Peers is a good close friend.

SH: How about good stories about those people?

SH: I asked Glen about the warden packhorse trophy and he said Dale Portman was the last person to know about that. Dave didn’t know where it went.
SH: Do you have a good Portman story? There was a funny guy.

Dave: Yes, Portman was an accident looking for a place to happen and a lot of times, they did happen. Unfortunately, between dog issues, truck issues, he had his truck stolen one time, with his rifle in it. They found his rifle in the Kicking Horse River by Chancellor Peak and the truck in Burnaby. We used to joke about Portman, most people would have a spare key on a truck hidden somewhere, a key case. We used to joke that Portman should have a rock on a string, so he’d always have a rock to break the window. The vent window on his truck always had a piece of cardboard on it, always broken.

Dave: A Dale and Kathy story … Dale and Kathy got married and just about everybody at Lake Louise was invited. They got married at Num Ti Jah Lodge. The Warden Service in Lake Louise, we were going to give Dale and Kathy a wedding gift. We’d get them a good barbeque. At that time they’d just finished building a house in Field. So we did, and the barbeque arrived. The barbeque came in a flat cardboard box and needed assembly. So, Dale had that at home, and he left for work in the morning to go to Lake Louise. Kathy wasn’t working that day after the wedding. So, Dale said to Kathy, “Leave that barbeque alone, I’ll put that together when I get home from work.” Kathy took that as a challenge and put the barbeque together. Dale came back home after work and Kathy’s eyebrows are burned off and her hair is all singed. It was a good barbeque, a cast iron barbeque. Anyways the lids blown off, the hinges are snapped off the cast iron barbeque. Kathy had put the barbeque together and had a propane leak. She lit if off and the whole thing blew…. Big fireball, blew the lid right off, and broke it and singed her pretty good. Dale said, “And this is after I told her not to touch the damn thing.”

SH: Good one

Dave: Ledwidge … spent a lot of time working around Ledwidge. He’s always a steady guy and quite capable at anything he tried to do. He’d always work hard, striving to do better, to improve himself or improve the process. He was always trying to make things better and do a better job for the public. He worked hard that way.

Dave: Who else is out there…. I remember trapping on the elk project in Banff, we had the trap set up by Warner’s barn down in Banff. We had about 8 or 10, and we loaded them up and we were taking them down to our newly built elk farm. Todd Shurry, the vet was with me. So we backed the trailer up and we had the horse gooseneck trailer. So, we filled the trailer up and we’re off to the elk farm, driving down Banff Avenue.
Didn’t realize until we got to the gate at the elk farm, I stopped at the gate, Todd got out and unlocked the gate and I drove through. As I drove through, Todd shut the gate behind me. When he came back he said do you realize we never shut the gate on the horse trailer? So, we had driven down Banff Avenue with 8 head of elk in the horse trailer with the back gate wide open. Didn’t lose one elk the whole way. (End 16:12)

Last Section: 2:04 pm
Dave and I had been talking about losing horses in the backcountry.

SH: I remember doing radio call in Banff and someone would say “I’m staying around the cabin today.” and you’d know they’d lost their horses.

Dave: I remember losing them one time, when I was in Jasper, about halfway through my career, there was an exchange program in Jasper, and John Strachan who was at Snaring, made a deal with a park warden from Forlllion in Quebec. Jean – Luc. The two of them swapped houses for 3 months. So, this French guy shows up and he didn’t know a single word of English, not one, and I could read the back of a cornflake box and get about 50%. So, we are down to sign language. So, Haney, or whoever I was working for at the time, said “Take this guy on a horse trip to the north boundary, for ten days or whatever.” So, we go out there, and we go to Vega cabin, and Vega cabin was quite new at that time. The first time I was up there we had stayed in tents. So, it was at the most, two years old. So we’re staying there, and son of a bitch, there’s ten inches of snow on the ground. I listen quietly for the horses … wonder where they are? Better go find them. So, we go out and start looking and there’s no tracks. We don’t know what time the snow started but there’s not a track to be seen. You can’t see anything. There’s ten inches of new wet snow. No sounds, where are they? So, we make bigger and bigger circles. I had only been there once before, so I really was not that familiar with where they might go because it was a new cabin. We are near the end of our trip and we had two days to get out. He had to catch an airplane, and had a wife and everything waiting for him. So, we looked for the horses til about one o’clock and I said “You better hoof it to Little Heaven this afternoon. You can get to Little Heaven and from there you can get to Seldom Inn. It’d be a long day, 17 miles. Once you get to Little Heaven you’ll have to get up early in the morning and hoof it to get out tomorrow. I got to stay and find the horses but you have to catch that airplane so you’d better walk. So, he went down to Little Heaven and I said, “I’m going to look for them, but if I find them, I’ll come down too Little Heaven tonight or whenever I find them.” Little Heaven to Vega is 8 or 9 miles. So I had a bowl of soup and then I went back out and started looking. I finally found them about 5 o’clock. And they weren’t that far away. They were under some spruce trees and they’d been there the entire time. They hadn’t moved … They hadn’t gone grazing, they hadn’t done anything. There were piles of poop around them, and they had stayed under these trees the entire day. And when I saw them I didn’t even hear a bell. I was just walking up the creek and I looked up and there they were, looking at me. Not a tinkle, and I’d walked by them many times.

SH: They were hiding

Dave: Ya so quite a relief I found them, so back to the cabin to clean up. Pack up and saddle up and it’s almost dark by the time I’m in the saddle and I’ve got three hours down to Little Heaven. I pulled into Little Heaven a little after 9 at night. And I was cold, my toes were cold, and it was so dark out other than, later with all the stars, but in the trees with no moon, it was so dark, can’t see branches, and just going by memory and letting the horse go. And going down in the dark and the horse stepped on a stick with his front foot and it froze up, and the stick went up under his rear cinch. Now he’s bucking like a crazy bastard, because he’s got this stick poking him.

SH: This is your riding horse?

Dave: Ya, I didn’t know what started it. I kind of figured it out afterwards. Anyways, finally the stick broke and I pulled in a little after 9 o’clock but you’re riding down there and from about a mile and a half away, you’re looking across a meadow, across a creek, and you can see the little cabin. And there was just this little wink of light from the lantern in the window. What a comforting feeling coming out of the trees. I knew I still had another half an hour of riding in the dark, but somebody was alive over there.

SH: I bet he was happy to see you

Dave: We were both happy to see each other. (End Tape 07:00)

This interview was conducted by Susan Hairsine

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.