Questionnaire for Retired Park Wardens, Resource Conservation Specialists, Associates & Spouses.
Park Warden Service Oral History Project – March 2022
ORAL HISTORY FOR DAVID REYNOLDS
Where and what year were you born (optional if you wish to keep it private)?
I was born in Toronto in 1946 approximately nine months after my father returned from WWII. Coincidence: I think not! I was born on Easter Sunday. I always tease people that I am the second coming. I was the middle child of five: four sisters and me. A few years later my family moved to just outside Montreal on a tiny island (Ile Bigras) in the middle of Riviere des Prairies near Laval, P.Q. My Dad worked at the time for Trans Canada Airlines (now Air Canada). I attended kindergarten on the island, but spent my first three years of formal schooling being bused to Lake of Two Mountains High School in St. Eustache, P.Q. It was an all-grades school.
Where and how did you spend your growing-up years?
My growing-up years were spent in Toronto in an area that is now known as the Beaches in east end Toronto. I knew the area as the Beach District because we lived on the shore of Lake Ontario. Today the Beaches is very trendy. We lived a stones’ throw from the shore of Lake Ontario. I spent a good portion of my early summers lounging on the beach at the foot of my street. Life was great! Little did I know that I had to grow up at some point. I attended a couple of elementary schools in the area and ended up attending Malvern Collegiate Institute for high school. I was a disaster as a student, although I did achieve a Private Pilot’s License as an Air Cadet during my high school days. So, I guess it wasn’t a total loss. The irony is I now have earned four university degrees. During my teen years I had several part-time jobs, but the biggest influence on me and my future career choice was two jobs: 1) working three summers at a children’s summer camp near Ottawa; and 2) working one summer as a 17-year-old Junior Forest Ranger (JFR) at White Lake Provincial Park for the former Ontario Lands and Forest Department. Oh, the stories I could tell! JFR was like Parks Canada’s former Conservation Corp. I knew after those summers that I wanted to work in an outdoor or environmental management type of vocation. At the time I had a strong interest in forestry and geology. I eventually became a Professional Geologist.
Why did you want to join the Warden Service?
I didn’t immediately gravitate to the Warden Service. It took many more years for that interest to emerge. I held many jobs along the way. After high school I held several part-time and full-time jobs working pumping gas, working at a plywood mill in Vancouver, working for a geophysical company and working in radio broadcasting (like my father who by that time worked at CBC). In fact, I worked full-time at a radio station in Cranbrook for a year and then later part-time at a radio station in Calgary while I was attending the University of Calgary. I put myself through university by being a news broadcaster. At U of C I was majoring and minoring in Geography and Geology with a special emphasis on Hydrology (i.e., water). My goal was to find a career in a natural science field that I really enjoyed, In this case, water management. But fate often has a way of intervening in the strangest and unexpected ways. After graduating with a B.Sc. I was seeking a job in the field of water management, but as luck would have it, I was successful at getting an interview for the Warden Service as a Seasonal. The summer before that I had worked for part of the summer with Environmental Canada – Glaciology Division at Peyto Glacier. That was my first exposure to and interest in the Warden Service. I found a job posting at the U of C for both a Parks Canada Naturalist and Park Warden competition. I applied to both and was successful at getting an interviewed with Jim Syme and Max Winkler. To my surprise, I was short-listed. I was offered a position by Jack Woledge working with Terry Gibbons in Kootenay. I took over Derek Tilson’s seasonal position when he went to Waterton. That was my start with the Park Warden Service. It was the best job I could ever imagine. Even today, 48 years later, I still feel it was the best job I ever had.
Which national park did you start working in?
I was so fortunate to start my career with Parks Canada in Kootenay in 1974. I was married by this time, so my new bride and I spent a great summer driving the roads and walking the trails in Kootenay. I worked with people like Neil Woledge, Terry Gibbons, Brian Sheehan, Byron Irons, Lance Cooper, Ron Davies, Dave Downing, Gord Watkins, Larry Halverson, Ian Jacks and many more great people. In the fall, I returned to the U of C to start a master’s degree in Geography focusing on river hydrology. At Christmas break, I was contacted by Dave Day, who was the Resource Studies Manager in Region, to see if I could help him and Hal Shepherd put together a terms of reference for a hydrology (water) resource inventory in Yoho National Park. Hal Shepherd believed the Warden Service was more than capable of carrying out a resource inventory. I drove out to Field and met with Hal Shepherd and drafted the terms of reference. Little did I know that I was drafting my job description. It seems that Neil Woledge and Hal Shepherd connived to have me transferred to Yoho to undertake as part of my Warden duties the hydrological inventory of Yoho National Park. What a big surprise that was for me. So, that ended my short tenure in Kootenay, and was the start of my future in Yoho for the next couple of years. Like Kootenay, Yoho was also a great park.
What different parks did you work in? How did they compare? Do you have a favorite?
I only worked as a Warden in Kootenay and Yoho parks. I visited Banff, Jasper, and Waterton a few times. All were great parks. Kootenay was a little like working in “sleepy hollow” in some ways because, other than bear problems, it was mostly highway and campground management. Yoho on the other hand has the busy Trans-Canada Highway. It also has some of the most spectacular landscape vistas you can image: Lake O’Hara, Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge and the Kickinghorse Flats, Takkakaw Falls, and the numerous wild mountain streams. It was a busy park. The highway dominated a large portion of my time and the installation and monitoring of the water survey stations. It is hard for me to determine which of the two parks is my favourite; they are both my favourites but for different reasons. I am glad I started in Kootenay because it gave me an opportunity to learn the job of being a Park Warden. Yoho was a faster paced park environment. The internal politics were very interesting and dynamic in Yoho with the change of the Superintendent during my tenure there. As winter approached during my second year in Yoho, I was offered a GT2 position in Jasper. I turned it down to continue to work on the hydrology study. Hal Shepherd was greatly relieved. But I did accept a winter position in the regional office working with Kurt Seel and Jim Cuthbert in the Resource Conservation Section. That move lead to a major change of direction in my Warden career. While in the region for the winter, I applied for the Assistant Resource Studies Manager’s position and was successful. Unfortunately, that move meant that I was prevented from going back into the parks as a Warden because, I was told, I “had been promoted to a higher-level position and I couldn’t go backwards.” That was the decision by the then Warden Services Officer, not mine. He wanted to protect the other Wardens on the eligibility list.
What were your main responsibilities as a Warden over the years?
As a newly minted Seasonal Warden in Kootenay, my duties were to attend the Warden School at the Palisades and then put into practice all that I had learned there. I helped deal with problematic bears in campgrounds, licensed errant visitors without a fishing license, participated in search and rescues, monitored the soil study at the Vermillion burn, attended traffic accidents and harassed visitors’ attempting to camp overnight in picnic sites. Very little time was spent in the backcountry except on a few rare occasions. I only had a few occasions to use the horses. It was an easy summers’ work.
As I said, In Yoho I worked on a special water resource inventory while still carrying out normal Warden duties. I spent most of my time monitoring water survey stations, preparing maps and drafting the final report. I also took my turn at handling the feeding and care of the horses at the ranch for a couple of weeks, meeting with the public, chasing bears (all too often) and carrying out various law enforcement functions. Oh yah, I did assist with a couple of rescues or searches. Traffic control and accidents did occupy part of my time, sadly one or two were fatal. It was a time of working with Hal Shepherd (a legend in his own time), Jim Purdy, Gord Rutherford, Dale Portman, Don Mickle, Kathy Calvert, and Alan Knowles, to name only a few. Gord Watkins was brought over from Kootenay in the early part of the first summer to help me with installing the hydrology monitoring stations. My wife and I lived at the West Gate for one summer and in the Boulder Creek Compound trailer park for the second year. During my two years I spent a lot of my Duty Warden duties chasing and trapping curious Black bears. Over the two summers Yoho Wardens relocated 22 Black bears. I think it was the same bear 22 times!
What did you like most about being a warden? What did you least like about being a Warden?
First, the job of a Warden back in my day was a calling. It was a lifestyle not a job. I loved it! There were occasions that I had to deal with tragedy in the form of traffic and hiking accidents and drownings. The duty I liked the most was meeting with members of the public in campgrounds and viewpoints and talking about the park, geology, nature, and such. Comically, I remember stopping at the Natural Bridge and there was a tour bus with American tourists stopped there. One man walked up to me and said he really appreciated the service the Park Rangers were providing to protect the park and visitors. I had to politely tell him that I am a Park Warden not a Ranger, that a Ranger was an American term. To me that distinction was important, to him it didn’t matter. He apologized for his mistake. I felt better, but it still burned my backside a bit. I guess I was a little too sensitive. One other thing I liked about being a Warden was being able to work outside working to protect the natural environment from humans and protecting humans from the natural environment. It is amazing how many visitors to the park seem to think everything in the park is part of a zoo, where animals can come right up to you. NOT! Oh, the bear stories I can tell. Every Warden in the west has a bundle of bear stories.
The team of Wardens worked well together in both Kootenay and Yoho. The senior Wardens trained their charges well and it was a smooth operation. Oh, certainly there was challenges as is found in every workplace. But, at the end of the day everyone was pleased to be in the Warden Service. Some stayed in the Warden Service until they retired. Others, like me, moved on to other positions within parks, others left parks all together.
One of the things I disliked about being a Warden was the internal politics. For the most part, everything ran smoothly. Everyone knew their job. Occasionally, a new person would join the organization at a senior level that wasn’t qualified to be there, or who didn’t have a full understanding of how a park operates. That can be very challenging and stressful at times for everyone below this person in the organization. That occurred in Yoho during my second year there with a change of top management. It led to at least one senior person that I know of packing up and leaving due to the discord and chaos the new person created. It was so unnecessary.
What are some of the more memorable events of your Warden Service career?
I have a few memorable moments that I can recall. The attendance at the Seasonal Warden Training School at the Palisades in Jasper is certainly one I can highlight. It was a great time, and the learning experience was great, so was the location. I was shown how to throw a diamond hitch on a pack horse. Don’t ask me to do that today, I haven’t got a clue. Another moment was when videographer Bill Schmaltz was recording encounters with bears for his video Bears and Man for the National Film Board. I used that video in my lectures at BCIT when I was teaching there in the late 70s. It was memorable because I am portrayed in the video for about 15 seconds while I released a Black bear into the Kootenay River after it was removed from Redstreak Campground. I had to get up on the tank, walk to the gate, and open it to allow the bear to escape into the river. The trap had been backed into the river. Fortunately, it swam across the river, and I returned safety to the truck. That was my fifteen seconds of fame! The film crew applauded.
Bears seem to be a big component of my more memorable events. Another is the time I had to remove a bear that was captured at the Boulder Creek Compound. It was in the large Grizzly bear trap. I would normally have a Warden with me as a safety measure when releasing the bear, but on this occasion no one was available. So, I had to do it myself because we didn’t want to stress the bear out any more than necessary by leaving it in the trap too long. I drove the truck and tank to the lower Ice River cabin and backed it up between the two railings of the footbridge over the Ice River. The bridge linked the park with the Province of B.C. I got the rifle and climbing up on this large tank and walked to the high platform overtop of the gate. I opened the gate, and the bear came charging out and ran to the end of the bridge, about 30 feet, and turned around and looked up at me. Fortunately, I was quite high above the animal, but there was no way I could make it back to the truck safely. I thought, oh shoot! I picked up the rifle and took a shot to the side of it to scare it off. The bullet hit the moss covering the stream bank. The bear didn’t even notice it hit, so I took a second shot a little closer. At the exact moment I fired the shot, the bear moved its front paw to turn around and leave. Its paw was right in line with my shot. I think I may have hit one of its claws. But whether I did or didn’t, it took off into the province and out of sight, thankfully. I quickly climbed down, jumped in the truck and took off down the road as quickly as was safe on that road. I went straight home to change my clothes.
Of course, some accidents are more memorable than others. I remember several traffic accidents that were major and some tragic in both Kootenay and Yoho. I don’t dwell on them anymore. The term PTSD comes to mind. A couple of drownings of children still haunt me to this day. They should never have happened. A moment of inattention by the parents is what I attribute to the loss of their children’s lives.
Can you tell me about any rescue/wildlife/fire/enforcement/other stories that stick out in your memory?
Not many Warden colleagues were heavily into law enforcement. In fact, I don’t remember any other of the other Wardens engaging in law enforcement during my time in the parks. I may have just been oblivious to that, but it seemed I was the only one doing law enforcement; mostly for illegal camping or speeding in reduced speed zones. I didn’t carry out any law enforcement in Kootenay. If someone was fishing without a Parks license, I just sold them one to avoid any fuss. I do remember in Yoho spotting a pickup truck with a homemade camper on the back. It was parked on a section of the old highway just west of the turn off into Field. I assumed the people associated with the truck were off on a hike nearby. There wasn’t a trailhead in the area, so I doubted they had gone far. The truck was still there the next day. I checked on it. I found a bag of charcoal briquets outside the door. I knocked but didn’t get an answer. I left it to another Warden to investigate with the RCMP after three days. The word from the RCMP was that a couple in their 50s was dead from asphyxiation due to taking the burning hibachi inside a windowless and ventless camper. How foolish!
Another story involves a small Black bear in Kootenay. Terry Gibbons and I had been monitoring a small bear in the Redstreak Campground for about a week. It was a periodic nuisance but not an aggressive bear. We took the immobilizing kit with us and darted the bear because it just didn’t want to move on. We couldn’t find the dart anywhere. Finally, we realized the charge was strong enough to cause the dart to penetrate the bear’s hide. It took the full dose and expired there in the campground. We hauled it into the truck bed and drove up to the Warden Office in the compound. The naturalists heard about the bear and asked if they could skin the hide for use in the naturalist program. We agreed.
The naturalists cut all four legs at the elbow or knees and then skinned it out. The carcass was disposed of in the Radium Hot Springs dump. Did you know that a bear’s torso looks surprisingly like the torso of a human? I didn’t until the local RCMP officer came to us and asked if we had recently disposed of a bear in the dump. Well, you guessed it. They thought it might have been a human torso that was reported in the dump. The RCMP officer wiped his forehead and laughed all the way to his cruiser. Case solved! Terry and I just looked at each other and laughed. I am not certain who the naturalists were that dumped the bear carcass, but I do believe one name that comes to mind was someone who was well known among now-retired park Superintendents.
How did the Warden Service change over the years? – centralization, affirmative action, focus on public safety, changes in 1990s & 2000’s
I wasn’t part of the big changes to the Warden Service in the 2000s, but I was part of the changes to centralize park infrastructure. It was just beginning when I started with Parks Canada in Kootenay. At the time, Wardens were required to live in park housing within the parks. They called it mandatory residence requirement. So, there were Warden Stations at various locations, such as Kootenay Crossing, Marble Canyon, the compound area (Sheehan’s house) and up by the administration building by Redstreak that were affected. The demolition or relocation of buildings started shortly after I was transferred to Yoho. Now in Kootenay the stations at Marble Canyon, the compound and near the former Admin building are all gone. In Yoho, the relocation of buildings started with warden stations at the west gate, Leanchoil, Ottertail, Wapta Lake, and Stan’s house at the trailhead to the Burgess Shale were starting to be removed or relocated to Field when I left Yoho.
Back in my day, the mid 70s, all Park Wardens were generalists. They did public safety, fire management, wildlife management, fishery management, public relations, law enforcement, backcountry patrols and other duties as assigned. However, this was also a time when certain “specialties” were starting to emerge among Wardens. For example, skills in public safety, fire, and resource conservation roles were beginning to be highlighted. For example, I carried out all the standard Warden duties while carrying out the water resource inventory function. As I understand it, today Wardens are primarily law enforcement.
I left Parks Canada in 1978 to teach in the Forestry Department’s Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Option at BCIT. Although I wasn’t involved in more recent years, but given my role as President of the Park Warden Service Alumni Society, I am aware of the “trauma” that many Wardens experienced when the edict came down from Ottawa to remove Wardens from their normal roles, to remove titles and lights on trucks, remove shoulder flashes, etc. I pity the poor Superintendent who was given the task of informing Wardens that they no longer were to be called Wardens, their identity was to be removed, and that they would be assigned other duties or released from service. It was a sad time, indeed. The bottom fell out of the morale of the iconic Park Warden Service with a stroke of a pen by someone in Ottawa. It used to be a lifestyle, not a job. Today, working in Parks Canada is no different than working for a large corporation in downtown Calgary.
What aspects of the warden’s job were most important to you?
The aspect of a Warden’s job that was most important to me was knowing the job I was doing was making a difference to the continued environmental integrity of the national parks. That view was supported by being able to meet with and interpret the “park” to visitors from all over the world. At the end of each day, I was grateful that I had what I felt was the greatest job on Earth. That was most important to me.
Are there any legends or stories associated with the Warden Service that you can share or stands out in your mind?
One of my Warden colleagues in Yoho was a gentleman named Alan Knowles. He was an enigma. He shared the West Gate Warden Station house with my wife and I one summer. He reportedly gave up a lucrative job at a large B.C. forestry company to work during the summers as a seasonal Park Warden. He finally got the posting of his dreams at Lake O’Hara, a location he worked at for many summers. People familiar with Alan still talk about him to this day. He was an avid reader; he would read a book in a day and take time to share what he had learned. He would take a “short” evening hike after supper; it would be 20 kilometers long or longer. He once applied for UIC after he was laid off for the winter. They issued an amount of money that was more than he felt he needed. He asked the UIC people to reduce his payment. They said no because he was entitled to that amount. He returned the cheque and cancelled any further payments. To me he was a legend. I lost touch with him many years ago, but I still remember him and his ancient Volkswagen bug.
What do you want future generations to know about the Warden Service as you knew it?
I want today’s crop of Park Wardens, and any future individuals interested in working for Parks Canada, to know that the former Warden Service was a “calling,” a way of life. For me, it was never a job. It didn’t pay worth a darn, but it was freedom and rewarding like no other job I have ever held to this very day. The people and the location made all the difference. I would have paid to work there. The Wardens I worked with were totally committed to the role and purpose of what a Park Warden needed to be. If it wasn’t the greatest job, who would be crazy enough to hang from beneath a helicopter or hang by a rope for hours at a time trying to rescue a climber that fell or a hiker that had lost their way.
What made the past and current Warden Service such a unique organization?
Todays Warden is a different kettle of fish. The job is nothing like the old Warden’s function. The old Wardens were generalists; they did most everything from public safety, poacher patrol, fire protection to resource management and public relations. Today’s Warden is focused on law enforcement. The two are worlds apart.
Do you have any lasting memories as a Warden? Favorite Park, cabin, horse, trail, humorous stories, etc.
My all-time favourite Warden story is about former and now late Yoho Chief Park Warden Hal Shepherd. He was a true legend within Parks Canada. Apart from his war history as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong during WWII, he was a character in his own right, partly because he carried himself as if he was still in the military. He even occasionally carried a sidearm and wore a military styled forage cap. No one else that I know of could get away with that. He was a pilot. What made that so amazing is that he was blind in one eye. Normally, a person needs two eyes for binocular or three-dimensional vision, without that type of vision flying, rather landing, an airplane can be difficult. He proved everyone wrong. Another story is probably better told by others, but the way I heard it through the grapevine is that he was flying his aircraft from Ponoka to Golden or vice versa. He encountered low cloud just as he approached the Saskatchewan River area. Rather than turn around and fly back, he landed the airplane on a straight stretch of the David Thompson Highway and taxied up to the Lodge and parked the aircraft and went inside for a coffee to await better flying conditions. Now this could be someone just pulling my leg, but I do believe Shepherd would do that. The rest of the story says he got Wardens or RCMP to block traffic on the highway so he could take off and continue to his destination. Now that man is truly a legend in his own time.
Do you ever miss being a Warden?
I truly miss being a Park Warden. It was the best position I ever had, and I had many good jobs during my 50-year career. I was a Warden for such a short time, but it left a lasting impression on me and occupies lots of space in my memory bank. If I had to do it all over again, I would in an instant. In fact, I should not have left. The irony is that the winter position I took working with Kurt Seel, was only temporary and meant to end in the spring. Then I would have returned to the park without any question. But because I accepted a position in the regional office, I was told I was no longer eligible to return to the warden service. I must admit that I aspired to greater things within Parks Canada. I wanted to be a park superintendent or senior management. Unfortunately, I had a Parks Canada Human Resources person advise me that if I aspired to greater roles within Parks, I would have to go outside the organization to get the management experience I needed and then come back into Parks at a higher level. Big mistake on my part taking that advice! As I quickly learned, Parks Canada mostly promotes from within the organization. Few people parachuted into upper levels back in those days. Today, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems even accountants can become Superintendents without ever having worked in a park. Go figure! But it is not all sour grapes for me. I did become the Yukon Government’s Director of the Yukon’s Territorial Parks System and later Superintendent of the Planning Section for Calgary Parks & Recreation.
What year did you retire or leave Parks Canada? Presuming you are now retired, what do you enjoy doing during your retirement?
I left Parks Canada in August of 1978 to take a two-year long job as an Instructor in BCIT’s Forestry Department, Fish Wildlife & Recreation Option. I taught wildlife management, resource inventory techniques and law enforcement for resource officers. It was the worst two years of my career. In hindsight, I should have stayed with Parks Canada; I had a more assured future there. I held several jobs after BCIT including being the Regional Fish & Wildlife Manager for Skeen Region in Smithers, B.C., Branch Manager for Norecol Environmental Consultants in Vancouver, Head of Department for the Resource Technicians Training Program at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Branch Director for the Yukon’s Parks, Resources and Land Use Branch. Finally, I move back home to Calgary in 1989 and worked at The City of Calgary for sixteen years in a couple of capacities; Planning Section Head at Calgary Parks & Recreation; Environmental Coordinator for the Office for the Environment and Division Manager for the Climate Change and Strategic Environmental Initiatives Division. In the last two years working at The City of Calgary I was seconded for sixteen months to work at Climate Change Central, an arm’s length, Alberta Government – funded agency. When I retired from The City, I returned to university to complete two more degrees: an MBA and PhD. After the degrees, I worked at the U of C, Alberta Research Council and then briefly at Clifton Associates as the Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs. Then I retired for the fourth time and bought a second home in Canmore and considered myself fully retired in 2015. I have since sold the Canmore condo and continue to reside in a villa complex just outside Calgary. Now it is time for my kids to take care of me and my wife. Now that is wishful thinking because that is not likely to ever to happen! The ingrates!
Is there anyone else from the Warden Service you would suggest we talk to?
In my role as the President of the Park Warden Service Alumni Society it is upon my shoulders to keep the oral history project alive and going until we run out of money, Wardens, Resource Conservation field staff or others involved with the former Park Warden Service. I have seen the list of people to interview, and it is long. I am hoping to involve Warden and Res. Con personnel from other regions in Canada. The interest in participating from other regions is low, but one can always hope to generate greater interest in establishing or maintaining contact with former colleagues in other parts of Canada. Time will tell.
Is there anything I have not asked you that you think I should know about the Warden Service?
The former Park Warden Service no longer exists as its former self. Yes, Park Wardens still exist today, but in a law enforcement capacity, not as generalists as Wardens once enjoyed. Resource Conservation appears to be the dominant organizational entity for carrying out the functions once handled by Wardens. The current cohort of Park Wardens are a new breed. The bond that once bound all Park Wardens together doesn’t seem to be as strong as it once was with the new stock of Wardens. The new generation of Park Wardens have different expectations, aspirations and loyalties than existed in the past. It is a whole new world in Parks Canada. As one retired Parks person said to me about the Parks Canada Agency of today, you might as well be working for Imperials Oil for all the difference it makes. It sounds like there really isn’t any great difference: business is business.
Do you have any photos of yourself as a Warden 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)?
Sadly, I do not have a photo or any mementos of my time as a Park Warden. The only item that still exists from my time as a Warden is my son, Ryan Reynolds. No, not the actor! He is a product of the long nights at the Yoho West Gate. He spent his first few months living in the Boulder Creek Compound trailer park. He asked that I not donate him to the oral history project or the Whyte Museum.