1520 Spring of 1981, I got offered a full time job in Elk Island National Park, and I decided to take it. Actually I got offered Lake Louise and Elk Island at the same time. But in Lake Louise, they didn’t have any housing and Elk Island offered me a really nice house and the whole works. Yeah, so I remember Don Dumpleton asked me, “So did you get an offer for Lake Louise?” I said, “Yeah, but there’s no housing.” He just kind of blew up, “What?? I’m phoning Andy Anderson.” But anyway, I had gone up to Elk Island and looked around and thought, yeah, I think this could be kind of interesting. So moved out there spring 1981. And Elk Island, it’s totally fenced so it’s a very unique National Park but amazing amount of wildlife inside the Park. So the whole job really is about wildlife with a little bit of tourism in the summer, because there’s a lake and a beach and that kind of stuff. So we worked a lot with elk, moose, and the two kinds of bison, the plains and the wood bison. And just before I left, we were planning a Trumpeter Swan reintroduction to the Park, which went ahead, and it’s been quite successful. It’s just the neatest focus on wildlife where you really get hands on wildlife experience. And it’s boreal forest which is totally different from Jasper and just low hills, really lots of ponds. But we did lots of riding with the horses there and lots of cross country skiing in the winter. And lots of work with the wildlife, especially in the winter. And also we did a lot of planning and aerial surveys to count the various ungulates, because it’s fenced and there are no predators, you have to do some sort of population control. Otherwise, things just go totally crazy.
Jack Willman was the Chief Park Warden in Elk Island and he was a mentor for me as well. I was there for two years and at the end of that, I applied on a couple of competitions, one for a GT3 (and then went to GT4 later) in Jasper and I also applied on a job in Western Regional Office with Kurt Seal doing Resource Planning. And I got offers on both of them. So it was a hard decision, but I decided to go to Calgary and work with Kurt. And then while I was there in Calgary, there was a competition for Chief Park Wardens and I applied on that, and I actually qualified on that too, which surprised me. But anyway, that was great. So one year in Calgary, and then we moved up to the Nahanni National Park in the spring of 1984. So got offered the Chief job there. That was a big decision to go to somewhere so remote, and I’d only been up north once before in my life and that was in the Yukon, which doesn’t feel nearly as remote as Nahanni Butte felt. So anyway, spring of 1984 went up and moved into Nahanni Butte. And it was three families at a Warden Station on the north side of the Nahanni River and the village in Nahanni Butte is over on the south side of the river which was about 60 or 70 people, so middle of nowhere, hour and a half flying time from Fort Simpson which is where the main Park office was and then the station at the Nahanni Butte was where the Wardens were based and so it’s on the river so you can have relatively easy access into the Park.
That was a big learning time for me learning to be a Chief Park Warden and it’s a small staff but it’s big on logistics because everything involved flying or jet boats or something like that. I supervised one full time Park Warden and a full time Maintenance Manager because the station is so remote, you have to have somebody who can run the station and all the equipment and look after the boats and then we had cabins in the Park as well. And so he would do that kind of stuff as well. So two full time staff and then in the summer, there were four seasonals and we also had two labourers. Just three families actually living at the station. Small staff, big budget and it was all about the river really. Running jet boats on the Nahanni River is very complicated and you have to learn to read the river and how to get through the various rapids safely.

2036 We did a full-on canoe school two years in a row because we also did a lot of patrols using canoes, because that’s what the visitors were doing either that or rafting. We ran a climbing school one year and Willi Pfisterer came up and actually put on a climbing school with some rescue techniques and stuff with us. That was great. We did the school fairly close to the station. We just found some small cliffs. That’s all we needed. There’s a lot of mountains in Nahanni. On the west side of the Park is the Ragged Range and the Cirque of the Unclimbables which are actually well known destinations. And those are actually now in the Park as the Park was recently really expanded as part of the land claim settlement up there. More likely, we would have been involved in river rescues.

Nahanni climbing school/hot springs

2145 – One of our canoe schools, the first one I went on; we were going through what’s called the figure eight rapids. We had come all the way down the river from Rabbit Kettle and the upper part of the river is quite smooth and easy. Then you portage around Virginia Falls and then right away, you are in big water in the fourth canyon. And so we had the jet boat plus, I think we had four or five canoes and everybody working and we had two instructors, Wally Shaber and another fellow from Trailhead Outfitters in Ontario. Wally had done schools there before and he was a real expert on canoeing. So we were paddling down, and we tipped in the figure eight rapids, and man, it was so scary and I thought it might be over. I just couldn’t get my head above the water. And then, finally, the two of us popped to the surface, and we were floating down through the canyon but the guys couldn’t rescue us with the jet boat. Like we had never done a rescue with a jet boat before and they couldn’t pick us up. Finally, they picked us up with the canoes. So that pointed out a big hole in our capabilities so we learned how to use the jet boat for river rescues. And the problem was, we were trying to pick up the victims with the boat pointed upstream but the victim is in the river going downstream quite rapidly because it’s a very fast river, especially at that point, and there were no grab lines on the boat or anything. So we learned we had to put grab lines on the boat and we had to pick people up by going downstream. So you take the jet boat and go downstream and being just downstream of the people in the river, they can float up to the boat and get hold of it.

Other things we did up there we did quite a few backcountry patrols on foot because there was a lot of remote country there. During hunting season, we got up on the Tlogotcho Plateau and I think we landed with the helicopter on the Yukon border and hiked for three days back to Deadman Valley, which is one of the major areas for access on the river. And we went to a couple other hard to get to areas like the karst lands which they weren’t at that time in the Park, they were right on the edge and now they’re in the Park Reserve. There’s the Grot Valerie that’s the famous cave with the sheep skeletons in it. That’s all gated so people can’t get in since there’s just too many fragile features there. But there’s a lot of little stalactites and stalagmites, you know the little drip stone things. And then there’s a lot of ice as well. And then in one chamber there’s all these sheep skeletons and skulls where they got in and couldn’t get back out I guess so they all died in there. The Karst Lands are farther north than that, although the Grot Valerie as a karst feature, but a lot of the karst Lands are just all kind of huge holes with a lake in the bottom. It’s kind of a seasonal lake, so at high runoffs, the lake forms but then it drains underground. There’s probably a lot more caves out there that haven’t been discovered. And, there’s little solution streets, they’re like a canyon, but there’s no river in them. It’s really interesting.

26:09 – Toward the end, we had two earthquakes. First one was a 6.7 (on the Richter Scale). (The Richter scale is used to rate the magnitude of an earthquake — the amount of energy it released. This is calculated using information gathered by a seismograph. The Richter scale is logarithmic, meaning that whole-number jumps indicate a tenfold increase. In this case, the increase is in wave amplitude). There hadn’t been earthquake there I don’t think before, and it was rated as a low possibility but a 6.7 earthquake is a big shake. When it started, Cecile (my wife) was in the house and we were in the office so we all ran outside. We had a quad parked there and it was in gear so it wouldn’t move, and the quad was rocking back and forth wanting to take off, and trees were rocking back and forth. Cecile came running out of the house and the TV had fallen off of the shelf and all kinds of stuff. And then maybe six or eight months later we had a 6.9 and it happened in the middle of the night in the winter and that was even a little more disorienting because we couldn’t tell what there was for damage. We had to go out with lights and look around. The station was on generators and all the utilities were underground so we didn’t really have any good idea if any pipes had been ruptured or anything like that. And after we left Nahanni, they had another one and it was a 7.1 so that’s really getting up there and I haven’t heard of any since.

2802 – We had a couple of bear adventures. We were up at Sunblood Warden Station which is above Virginia Falls and after dinner the boys wanted to go fishing and I said, “Well I’ll come over and just go for a walk” and so I was just walking by a little lake and all of a sudden I hear a clatter of stones and here’s a grizzly bear taking a run at me. I think it was a fairly young bear because it didn’t make contact but it came quite close and scared the hell out of me and I was yelling at it. It turned around and started going away and then turned around and came back at me again. And so I picked up some rocks and threw them right in front of it and was yelling at it. It went away and then turned around came back a third time and so I threw more rocks and that time it left. So I ran over to the shore and starting yelling at the guys to come and get me, which they did. Yes so that was an adventure and then another bear adventure…Peter Jowett and I had parked the boat in the second Canyon and were hiking up a peak. We’d hiked a couple of 1000 vertical feet up above the boat and the sun angle was low and I heard something like a rock rolling. And I looked over my shoulder, Peter was following me and I didn’t see anything but the sun was coming in kind of low. And we walked on little further and I didn’t feel right so I looked around at Peter and right behind him was a black bear following along right behind us. And I guess Peter says, ‘Oh the look on your face, it’s like Bear!’ So we started yelling at the bear and it wasn’t interested in leaving at all. So we had to pick up rocks and throw them on the ground, it wouldn’t go, so finally we started throwing the rocks at the bear and it left. But it didn’t run away, it just kind of reluctantly left us. We speculated it probably was one of those blacks that turns carnivorous and it was thinking to have dinner. And that was the days before bear spray but yes, we had a gun, but it was in the boat, not with us. We thought afterwards that one person up there alone, might have had a lot of trouble getting rid of that bear.

There’s a guy named Neil Hartling who runs a company named Nahanni River Adventures, and he’s still active up there and was quite active in the park expansion. So he’d been down the river a couple of times in the summer, and it was late September, I think, and everything’s really quiet in Nahanni in September, there’s no tourists anymore. And all of a sudden, this great big Voyager canoe comes up the river to the station, and it’s Neil and three or four of his guides. And they have got this idea that they’re going to…they built this great big Voyager canoe, and it can be taken apart or put together so you can fly it. It was too big to fly on a plane as it was. They were going to use it to bring people down the river. And guided tours, for people who were kind of nervous about being in a canoe by themselves, or with two people. Yeah. So they took their big canoe, and they went all the way up the river to Virginia Falls, portaging and poling and paddling. And then they brought it all the way back down, a week or so later. And the trial was a big success so he started doing that. And I think he also runs raft tours now. Anyway, that was a bit of a milestone. And then in 1985, a winter road came into Nahanni Butte Village. Ivan Simons, the maintenance supervisor at the station, built a winter road extension across the Nahanni to the station. We actually had road access for part of that winter, and then winter 1986, he did it again. So we could bring a truck from Fort Simpson, you could drive out on the Liard Highway and come in. Yeah, so that was quite a big change.

One of the big debates while I was there was whether to keep the station or move to a centralized operation in Fort Simpson. And, of course, the argument against it was that Fort Simpson is a long way from the Park. The plus side was the station was really expensive to operate, so it’d be cheaper, and also all the staff would be in one place. Two years after we left, their hand got forced, because there was a massive flood and the Liard River backed up in the spring and the whole station area flooded. So it took out all the infrastructure. They just decided, “Okay, this is the perfect time to do this.” So they moved into Fort Simpson and the station is no more.

A couple of notable characters up there. There was a guy named Father Mary and he was based at Fort Liard, but he would travel down to Nahanni Butte to hold church services for the native folks who lived there. And he traveled all over in the north. He was from Paris. He was an Oblate, and quite an interesting guy; totally capable of being out in the remote northern environments by himself. So he’d come over and check on us as well when he was at the village. Also Dick and Vera Turner and Gus and Mary Kraus were legendary early area residents who were elderly but still living in the area.

One winter, we’re in our trailer just happy as can be and there was a knock on the door. You know, we were three families living at the station and we never really knocked…like we had radio intercom between all the three trailers so we just, opened the door “Hey, hello, I’m here” or you tell them on the intercom. Hey, I’m coming over. So there’s a knock on the door. Who could that be? When we went to the door and it was Jehovah’s Witnesses. They had found us in the middle of nowhere. So anyway, we told them we weren’t really interested but they could come in for a visit if they wanted, but they wanted to try to convert the others so of course we called over to the others to tell them that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were coming to see them. It was hilarious!

The other thing at Nahanni was the flying. There was tremendous amount of flying both with helicopters and with light aircraft and some notable bush pilots who are extremely skilled and it was pretty exciting.
One trip, we were flying back in a Turbo Beaver (a very powerful beaver aircraft) and we hit some sort of a downdraft and we dropped like hundreds of feet, it was just unbelievable! And then really windy and we were just getting buffeted all over the sky after that. The plane is on floats so we landed in Nahanni Butte and as soon as we get the plane landed and tied up, the pilot says, “Can I stay here tonight?” That was pretty scary. He was shaken up even though he’s super experienced pilot.

Other adventures: We had to get fuel into the Park somehow for the jetboats, so we’d fly it in in the winter, a fuel haul. So we would go in with the Pilatus Porter on skis and land at each of the places where we wanted to take the fuel to and make a little airstrip. Up at Sunblood, we landed on the river and we had a skidoo there. So we would take the skidoo and pack down a nice long airstrip and the theory is, we wait until tomorrow and the snow sets up overnight and then we can come in with a bigger plane. We also went down to Flat River Cabin and there wasn’t that much snow there, but it’s a gravel flat with lots of bumpy snow and we landed there with the Pilatus Porter. Ted Grant who owned Simpson Air was the pilot and he said, “Oh, yeah, I think this will be alright”. So anyway, a couple of days later, we brought in about 15 or 16 drums of fuel with the Twin Otter on wheels, not on skis, and we were counting on this strip at Sunblood to be nice and solid. So we landed there and of course broke through, but nothing happened to the plane and we took all the fuel off and then the plane had to take off. Well of course his wheels were now down in the snow and he couldn’t get up on top of the solid snow anymore. I was staying up there so I got to watch the take off and so it took them about four tries and each time he’d go by and it would just be like a blizzard because the engines were going flat out and then I’d hear the engines cut out because he’d come to the end of the strip and he still wasn’t in the air. He tried about four times and on the fourth try, he was in the air enough to fly away. So that was good. And then he came back again the next day, and it was solid enough that he could land actually and we unload the fuel and we flew away. And then that same day, we went back to the Flat River Cabin with the Twin Otter and the pilot, who was Noel Condy, another really good northern bush pilot. He said, “Well, let’s just take the plane and land down at Flat River and make sure that this is all right before we go in there with a bunch of fuel”. Noel had me take the park radio and sit in the very back of the plane (he’s up front), just in case there was an accident. So as we’re landing these huge blocks of snow are flying up past the windows and I was thinking, “Oh, this isn’t good”. We bounced all over the place and eventually we come to a stop and he shuts down the engines, and we climb out and look around and Noah says, “This isn’t very good! If we come in here with a bunch of fuel, I have a feeling we’re gonna damage the plane.” So we decided to figure out some other way to get the fuel up there. So we get back in the plane, I’m in the back, he’s in the front (and he) starts the motors up, motors get going full blast, nothing happens. And the Twin Otter, you can reverse pitch on the prop so you can back the plane up or go forward. And it wouldn’t go anywhere. So we shut the motors down and we get out. Got some big shovels and we had to dig the plane out so there was enough room for the wheels to actually move. Then we get back in and started up and sure enough, we get moving. So we turn it around and away we go. It was crazy. So that that was kind of pretty exciting. And Noel, he was an interesting pilot and he came down south to work for…it would be the precursor of Westjet I suppose. Flying the Edmonton Calgary milk run. And he said the only thing he liked about that was when it was really stormy weather and he couldn’t see anything, because he’d have to use instruments. So about two years later, he came back to Fort Simpson, again because he found it too boring. He was kind of an adrenaline junkie I guess.

4208: We did a lot of helicopter flying there too, into remote places. And it’s funny how things go, but we had a really good company, Canadian Helicopters. Good pilot. But they had to bid on the contracts. Everything had go out to the lowest bidder, and this fly-by-night company out of Ontario got the contract and our local guys lost it. This new company…the guy shows with this helicopter and it was pretty old beater of a helicopter to be flying around in the middle of nowhere. And he’d never been in the Nahanni country so he didn’t know where anything was. Whereas our previous pilot knew. You’d tell him where you want to go and we’d go and if things got kind of dicey he’d have an idea how to fly out of these places. So anyway, we did a bit of flying with the new guy. And then one day we landed on top of some peak and he had trouble getting the helicopter going. But anyway, he finally got it going and we flew over to Rabbit Kettle and landed and he said, “Excuse me, but I have got to do some work on the machine”. And he got out his toolbox from the back and he started wrenching on the helicopter! So anyway, we flew home and got dropped off at Nahanni Butte and I phoned my boss Peter Lamb and I said, “We’re not flying with him anymore.” I told him what happened and he said “Okay, that’s enough.” And so they cancelled the contract with those guys and we went back to our original guy.

4410 Yeah, so that’s probably it for Nahanni. We went there in May of 1984 and by New Year’s 1986, we were back here and I went to a job in Western Regional Office as the Warden Service Officer, working with Mike Schintz for about 8 years. I started that in January 1987. I did a lot of the GT1 competitions and that was really satisfying work. It’s really inspiring interviewing young warden hopefuls. There are so many young people who are so skilled and so enthusiastic. I think that was the other thing, it was so uplifting to see the enthusiasm that new recruits have. They are so excited about life and here we are these old farts who are kind of jaded. And then we were also working on developing the new Warden Recruit Training Program. So like the field training officer things and all that. So that took a lot of work to get that up and running too. And then a lot of work, just kinda fighting fires, whatever came up. Duane Martin was there as the Law Enforcement Specialist and then he actually took over the manager job for part of the time as well, like the full time job. And Mike Schintz was the Warden Service Manager there.