For the later part of my career – and given those debilitating health concerns – I took on the Cultural Resource Management portfolio. The Resource Conservation team at the time was young and fit – I was able to be “put out to pasture” you might say. No need for an old horse like me on the trail. But boy did I work hard in that CRM role …and of course, it was right up my alley. I’m fastidious about file care, love mindless tasks like digitizing old Waterton-related photo albums, interested in people – thus took on oral histories. Many great projects through those years. Cultural Resource Management in Waterton – a program that got a real good start years ago …with Kurt Seele, Duane Barrus, Derek Tilson, Diane Amos and Rob Watt. I carried the torch high for them! And I enjoyed working with the Calgary/Winnipeg team – Meg Stanley, Gwyn Langemann, Bill Perry. And passionate people from Ottawa like Gwenaelle Le Parlouer. They were all so good to work with …so supportive and dedicated.

What did you like best about being a warden? / What did you like least?

The esteem of being a national park warden. Carrying on a proud tradition I was! Yes, I got to know the Warden Service first in the early 1980s and hired on in 1989. There was a spell there before the troubled times … “The Change”. Then I started to hear colleagues’ grumble. Lots of grumbling. That was not good – tough times. I understood it of course, but I tend to not get too political. My heart would have given out sooner! It was hard on the older members of the team. And some of the younger ones too. But deep down we knew that it was – and still is, work to be proud of.

Edwin at Argillite Towers having a cup of tea
Edwin at Argillite Towers having a cup of tea.
Photo by Brent Kozachenko 2008.

Edwin on Middle Waterton Lake in Zodiak
Edwin on Middle Waterton Lake in Zodiak taking in the docks. 2006.

My good fortune! Looking back on the career that I had! Nothing is perfect. It was better than good – it was great! As far as what I liked least: at times I saw a system that was too bureaucratic – but that is understandable within such a big federal agency. But most all, that I had to work for, and with – were real down-to-earth people who got things done the right way. Good team players. Oh yea, at times too, I’ll be honest – I was stubborn and not the easiest for some to work with. But I was one to get over issues and resolve things in a healthy manner. I hope there isn’t anyone out there reading this that feels otherwise. I never liked to see a rift not mended.

What are some of the more memorable events of your warden service career?
Almost all of it is memorable. To say “most memorable” is difficult. I do remember one day out on our skis – an avalanche forecasting field day… we’d dug our profile, gathered the data – the skiing was good. Up on the Continental Divide above Cameron Lake and we settled into a nice tea break …having our lunch …Kozy and I. I was thinking – as I gazed east towards Ottawa, that of all the public servants today in Canada, we’ve got it pretty good. March sunshine – the wind wasn’t blowing – not another sound but the silence of winter nature. From coast to coast to coast there couldn’t be much finer “office” for a couple of federal public servants! All of us who served had those times …that understanding – of just “how lucky we have it.”

Can you tell me about any rescue/wildlife stories that stick out in your memory?

Brent asked me to gear up for a hike up to Goat Lake. …warden Paul Friesen and me. It was an early autumn snowstorm (September 2000) that hit the eastern slopes. Temperatures plummeted, and it dumped a pile of snow overnight. Double what was forecast. A sweep of the roads revealed one car still at Red Rock. An associated camping permit for the previous night at the high elevation campground. At 4 PM the three of us ascended the trail in knee-deep snow and a stiff wind blowing out of the northeast. Plumes of snow were sluffing down gullies behind us. Two hours later, approaching the campground, we saw a half-buried tent and clothing and bits of camping gear scattered around. A feeble voice answered our call. The poor man from Louisiana hadn’t ever seen snow, in any amount, ever before. He hadn’t eaten or had water for greater than 12 hours. We dressed him up in his dry clothes and the extra kit we had. We gave him warm liquids and a little food. He was able to walk out with assistance. A month later a thank-you card and letter came in the mail. “You saved my life!” And there was a huge cheque made out to each of us …10K I believe it was! “No, no,” we replied, returning the generous gift – “we can’t accept that …but a donation to the Visitor Safety Program” … was suggested – to purchase a piece of safety equipment. Sadly, he never responded. But we felt good “saving his life!”

There were lots of feel-good times like that …hard enough work, but good reward in “a job well done” …and with wildlife too. The time Keith McDougall, Derek Tilson and I rescued and warmed up the little Pronghorn buck, young of the year. I held Derek’s ankle tightly as he reached over the side of the dock at the marina on a cold winter’s day and pulled the little creature from the icy water of the lake. Derek snuggled him tight in a warm wool blanket as we returned in the truck to the office where we dried him off with a hair dryer. Derek scouted for “the herd.” We released him downwind, and the little runt went tottering up to the others – escorted by a couple of young bucks, as if “guiding” him back, it seemed. We watched all this from good cover. Checked later in the day out of curiosity …yes, back in the mix. All good. It felt good. Pronghorns in Waterton? The Bighorn sheep didn’t know what they were! In the wildlife observation records it was a first for the park. A couple of small herds were seen through the late fall and into the winter there in 2003-2004. They haven’t been seen in Waterton since. Of course, they are common in southeastern Alberta – and through southern Saskatchewan.

And then the worst …MVAs – horrible, body recoveries after a long search – nothing pretty. Being on the pointy end of the shovel in Waterton’s first/only (to 2024 …touch wood!) avalanche fatality – unbelievable there working that day in February of 2014 with the recovery team and the dog in Rowe Bowl. Many of us can relate to heaps of stories like those. I could go on and on – stories I was part of – or relate stories told or written by others …Waterton incidents from previous decades. All in a day’s work – right! For some we would have had good debriefing. But not for all. And even with debriefing and the most well-intentioned grief counselling – something lingers. Not always good. My dreams at night are often filled with “adventure on the mountain!” I wonder how many of us have “warden” dreams? Stressful …not so good.

Typical incidents and responses …those related to wildlife and rescue …but for memorable, flood and wildfire top the list! Flood …Waterton is flood prone – a huge part of the Waterton Lakes and Waterton River headwaters and the upslope rain events of June, in many years, and rare torrential rains in July even …can wreak havoc with the roads and the townsite. In the 30 years I worked there I witnessed high water a few times – most memorable was the flood of 1995. What was it …10 inches of rain almost in as many hours? It hammered the infrastructure. No one was hurt. They are natural phenomena. Same with fire – as we know, a fire-based, natural ecosystem. If only we could let it burn, all would be so much better off. But in Waterton, and many other areas within our jurisdictions, we can’t. Sad indeed to see healthy Douglas fir trees 600 years old that witnessed countless wildfires over the centuries prior to the park’s designation over a century ago. Since then, we’ve extinguished most of the lightning strikes and have been unable, despite good efforts, to put much meaningful fire with prescription burns, back on the land. It’s tough. And then the inevitable happens and we get a wildfire that races to the park boundary, and we are frightfully challenged. Kenow Wildfire in September 2017 rocked us to the core! And it nuked most every old Douglas fir – countless dozens – on Crandell Mountain …to cite just one location. What with the fuel buildup in the forests and grasslands, the hotter and drier summers, and the ever-increasing infrastructure to protect …it’s a tough one!

How did the warden service change over the years?

“The Change” … others have commented on that already and I have little to add. It was perhaps inevitable that a law branch would be created. Yes, about 10 years into my career it happened. We’d be at a law enforcement equivalency training/refresher …coming up to that “change” …and always in the later years had the enforcement scenarios to role play in …with shotguns mostly. I’d end up getting shot or stabbed! I’m glad I never had to “pack a piece!” Though I did come very close to applying for a position with the Law Branch. I’m glad I didn’t.

As far as warden service change – been lots, but little in that regard of having to put in miles on the trail. There is at times still, the requirement for staff in the Visitor Safety function to hoof it up the trail – up the mountain. Yes, with e-bicycles employed now, in some first responder incidents, and powerful snowmobiles …even ATVs and, of course continued, frequent helicopter use …there is still the need for being on the ground in your boots and having a high level of fitness. From what I’ve seen lately in Waterton, and there at the later end of my career in Waterton, there are extremely fit and able-bodied staff in Visitor Safety and Resource Management …and in the law function. Many maintain their fitness. They are good mountain travellers – winter and summer. It’s exemplary really … fine, fit folk!

What about the warden service was important to you?

This is what I read to other staff when my retirement was marked in April 2021:

“Reflecting now on my career with Parks Canada …36 years since I hired on with the Yoho trail crew …trails, visitor service, elk and bear studies, then the Warden Service in Yoho and on to Waterton Lakes 30 years ago, where shortly after, I met the “cook”ie of my life – Alice [Wagenaar], who has supported me so very well all these years since. A highlight too of my career was a stint in the Arctic …Ivvavik National Park where Alice and I got to know the friendly folk of the Western Arctic while living in Inuvik for seven months. Unforgettable memories there of big wild rivers, vast herds of caribou on the tundra and amongst and around them grizzly bears and wolves. Back to Waterton and 21 more years working in one of the most wonderful parks in the system …with work experiences in Law Enforcement, Visitor Safety, Natural and Cultural Resource Management …firefighting with exports to Wood Buffalo and Northern Ontario, helping stranded or injured hikers …getting to them at times long-lining in under helicopters. Always exciting! Many winters assisting in the avalanche forecasting program …how many times up Forum Ridge and other good ski destinations with Brent Kozachenko and others checking the snowpack stability! Never tired of it! And over the years lots of good public relations, acting as an ambassador and guide for the promotion and protection of our natural treasures. And working with incredible people …four awesome park managers – Chief Park Wardens …Rutherford, Dolan, Madsen and now John McKenzie …dedicated teams that they led …lead today! Good people. So much passion for such a good reason …our national treasures -our national parks. I must acknowledge my parents Lorna and Tommy who took us to Prince Edward Island National Park so very often when we were kids …the beautiful beaches along the north shore. Instilling in us all a love for the natural environment. And …older siblings who broke the trail west for me …to the Rockies when I was 14 with brother George and then at 18 when I motorcycled west. I’ve been in awe of the mountains ever since I first stood on the shore of Lake Louise beneath Mount Victoria and Lefroy. I still remember the feeling! And I must too, acknowledge brother Billy who gently nudged me towards “higher education” and studies in environmental science. He saw the interest I had …the keenness for the mountain trail, horses, skiing. I’d had a good run of years working in the tourist service industry and hammering spikes, or in the winter chipping ice in the Spiral Tunnels on the Big Hill, for the CPR. Best were my four years as chore boy at Skoki Ski Lodge – then packing, guiding, and cooking for clients of Paul Peyto and Timberline Tours during those summers. All the wonderful workmates on his crew. Great memories! Working hard …enjoying every minute of it. Back to school when I was 26 …working for Parks on Trail Crew in the summer and other interesting jobs …yes, then the Warden Service when I graduated with my diploma. So much to be thankful for …as they say, a great run! Now it’s time to retire. At my leisure I hope to help still with some of the park history – my archive work – an interest of mine. I wish all of those still in the throes of their careers – safe, meaningful, and fulfilling years ahead …as good as mine! I hope to visit when our paths cross …along the trail or out enjoying the lake boating. Stay safe and enjoy the trail ahead …as best we can.”