Are there any legends or stories associated with the warden service that you can share? Is there anyone from the service that stands out in your mind?

For those of you who know me, you know I’m very interested in the well documented history of Waterton’s first “park official” – Fisheries Guardian (warden), John George “Kootenai” Brown. The author of his biography, William Rodney, was a Waterton Park employee who was enamoured with the writings of William MacDougall Tait, a young saddlebag minister who wrote verbatim the recollections of Kootenai over the course of many visits with the man himself. It was the start of Rodney’s extensive research into Brown. Rodney, a distinguished RCAF pilot in WWII, served Parks in Waterton as interpretation specialist in the 1950s when a student at UofA. I found a great report in the park archive that William Rodney wrote, recommending improvements for sharing with visitors Waterton’s rich natural and cultural history. At St John’s College, Cambridge, he completed a BA and MA in history. He went on to become a professor at Royal Roads Military College (now Royal Roads University) – an exemplary man, who never forgot his summers in Waterton.

 Edwin erecting Kootenai Brown sign, 2016.
Edwin erecting Kootenai Brown sign, 2016.

And Joseph Clarence “Joe” Cosley (1869-1943) – another of the old “ranger” legends I often talk about. I’ve helped build the Waterton archive file on him. If interested check out Belly River’s Famous Joe Cosley by Brian McClung. Cosley was a survivor of Shingwauk Indian Residential School. I’ve gotten to know a researcher, Edward G. Sadowski from Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, who has done research with descendants of Joe, on his time in that residential school from 1877-1880. The original Shingwauk still stands within the grounds of Algoma and great work has occurred there and continues – for Truth and Reconciliation. Joe Cosley is a part of that story.

But one who never got his due, as far as a Waterton great – was Walter Ballentine Foster …of course like Brown and Cosley, Foster was well before my time – not a contemporary legend. I discovered him upon acting on a tip from local Waterton wrangler – writer – singer/songwriter Don Brestler. After Foster’s youngest son Alan Waterton Foster died, Brestler told me of the extensive photo collection of Foster’s that his granddaughter was trying to find a home for. I made the contact, and received, on behalf of the park, an extensive photographic record of the building of Waterton spanning five decades. In the mid 1920s – for a couple of years, Walter was a park warden. But most of his long working life in Waterton was in stone and log work and he documented it well in his photos and journals. It is now a treasure in the Waterton archive. And I’ve digitized it all. His valuable contribution to building Waterton was celebrated for his family by Parks in 2013. With the support of the Park Superintendent and Resource Conservation Manager, I worked hard to ensure that special event happened. His family had thought he was unknown in Waterton. Except for a few, he was. His story deserves to be written about. No one worked harder for Waterton than Walter Ballentine Foster!

And thank goodness for the good work of the National Park Warden Alumni in highlighting the histories … contemporary writings “On The Book Shelf”. And the oral histories – covering so many of the Legends! And there are the classic histories: Guardians of the Wild, by Dr. Robert J. Burns with Mike Schintz; A History of Canada’s National Parks by William Fergus Lothian – with his own history of the Wardens in Chapter 9 – also titled “Guardians of The Wild”; Ian Getty and his research paper from 1971 for Parks titled The History of Waterton Lakes National park 1800 – 1937; and Where the Mountains Meet the Prairies: A History of Waterton Country from 2000 by Graham MacDonald. And I’ll put a plug in too for our local author of everything related to the history of Waterton: Chris Morrison. She has written six books on the cultural history of the Park and collaborated with Ray Djuff on three others.

Edwin Knox and crew in front of helicopter

I enjoyed my time helping to add to the oral history record of Waterton and interviewed a few colleagues and Waterton old-timers. A few of those are posted on the warden alumni website but all of them are available to read/listen to at – just google “Waterton oral history and digital collections and University of Lethbridge” and it will come up. Oakley Thompson was interviewed in an earlier phase of the project – in 1995. I’d met him on a patrol through the Belly River Campground in 1991 – my first summer in Waterton. He was born in 1910. He told me about his father knowing Joe Cosley …and of he and his dad working on building some of the first trails in the parks there. Inspiring hearing those old-timers talk about the place and the people. Renowned wildlife author Andy Russell is interviewed. Getting to know the folks like that in the area surrounding Waterton really helped grow my appreciation for the place. Rancher Cal Wellman there in the heart of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve …his interview is entertaining. Recently passed, he indeed was one of the interesting old-timers of the area. Thankfully some of his stories are there for us to listen to. And Ed Christiansen …it was so wonderful to visit Ed many times over his last decade. He was one of the wardens of the 1940s – 1950s. He had lots to say about those times. And I mentioned the legend of Bo Holroyd – his story covered in The Holroyd Journals: Chronicles of a Park Warden 1919-1947 – compiled in 1977 by park warden Doug Eastcott. And Holroyd is featured in Ann Dixon’s book “Silent Partners”. Due to the generosity of Bo and Connie’s daughter Alice and grandchildren, I digitized the Holroyd family photo albums, a remarkable treasure trove covering the full span of his career in Waterton. These are in the Waterton CRM files.

Is there anything about the warden service as you knew it that you would want future generations to know?

Yes, that the history of the Warden Service is well documented as I just referred to – and there is indeed, a proud tradition to uphold. Basically, the job today is the same as the job when it first started. Of course, there are differences, but the core of protection – and presentation – is still there, and for staff today to understand the rich, and well documented history – it is important. It will do them and the Warden Service / Resource Conservation good. Uphold what was, and thus, will continue to be!

What made the warden service such a unique organization?

The Parks Canada mandate is quite impressive: “On behalf of the people of Canada, we protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage, and foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations.” We were the Warden Service – Guardians of the Wild, tasked with helping to ensure that mandate was met. Good people were hired. We were all proud of our positions – took our jobs seriously, and given the situation, in many cases a “family like” bond was developed amongst many members of the team and their families. Of course, I’m being idealistic – to a degree … but I’ve made lasting friendships – people I’ve worked with in the Outfit from Yoho, and of course here in Waterton – we still get together! We are celebrating the goodness of each other and our careers still – our friendship through it. Not many organizations are that way. Or perhaps there are? I hope so.

Do you have any lasting memories as a warden?

Oh my gosh – no one thing that’s always standing out. I’ve got my extensive photographic – print/slide/digital collection, my work notebooks, and my personal diary that I’ve kept up 99.9 % of my days since I was in my early 20s. So, if I want memories, I sure can scare them up easily. We can forget so much. I really treasure my pictures and my journals! Yea, and I think I mentioned it earlier …I have “warden dreams” …too often …precarious situations in precarious places! Crazy!

Do you ever miss being a warden?

No. I appreciate the great career I had and now I’m enjoying my retirement. I’m 65 in a couple of months. There are some of us who never made it to 65. Every day is a blessing really and I hope I’ll be blessed with a few more good years …many, let’s say! I hope my knee holds up though. I’ve had consult with the knee doctor on a couple of occasions. “Keep active …keep it strong!” At this age it is as important as ever to keep active. Not having to go to work every day allows me to focus on that – and the opportunity too for good rest and relaxation – as well as some volunteerism.

What year did you retire? What do you enjoy doing in retirement?

I retired 30 years to the day from when I started in Waterton April 22, 1991 …retired April 22, 2021. Following others’ advice, I took on very little in the first year of retirement. I had my major heart surgery in October 2022 and that took some time to recover from. Now I’m good to go! I’ve been volunteering for Waterton’s Cultural Resource Management lead. This helps provide some continuity to the program as I couldn’t pass the torch to anyone during COVID. My position was staffed a year after my retirement. I’m available to answer questions or do some small research projects for Dylan Frank – the new CRM program lead, and Brad Romaniuk, the Resource Conservation Manager, and other Waterton staff. During my years in CRM, I worked hard amassing digital files and continuing to build the archive. I know my way around it …so can access information easily – and show Dylan the ropes somewhat. I’m very happy to help.

Bob Weaver contacted me early in 2024 regarding the assessment/restoration of federal heritage plaques. The Parks Heritage Conservation Society – comprised of retired Parks staff – look after these brass plaques marking national historic persons, places and events. I’m just getting to know our role in the program now. Alice and I will take on the 38 or so plaques here in southern Alberta – from Crowsnest Pass in the west to Dinosaur Provincial Park and Medalta Potteries in the east …Fort Benton – Fort Whoop-up trail marked at Coutts; Waterton’s three plaques …and many in Lethbridge and other points throughout the south. It is a worthwhile endeavour. We’ll enjoy it.

On a weekend morning, Alice and I are often away with the Chinook Outdoor Club. A group of a dozen or so will be out in the Sweet Grass Hills, Milk River Country – Writing-On-Stone, in Waterton or Glacier, or in the Crowsnest Pass area – some great destination …summer and winter. Like minded souls out enjoying the day together. The club has been active for 50+ years. Alice’s mother was a founding member.

And I do volunteer visitation for Alberta Health Services 3 days/week – set my own hours. My dog Oka and I visit folks in the acute care ward of the Pincher Creek Hospital. Windy Slopes Foundation stock my “gift giving” cart with magazines repurposed from the local library, word puzzle books, coloring books and crayons, coffee/tea/snacks or other items such as sox and slippers – tooth brush/paste …things someone might need if they never had time to pack a bag before arriving in the hospital. And we visit. I’ve seen how people really respond positively …it makes me feel good. I enjoy the social time very much. And it takes me back to my warden days where we’d be in that role of caregiver / consoling … first aid and public safety. And I do like the energy of the hospital … very professional and “warm hearted”. Good people working there! I first got to know the hospital here when we’d take patients in from Waterton in the ambulance.

But what I most enjoy doing in retirement is getting up in the morning and putting the coffee on for Alice and I – then sitting down with a big mug of the dark brew, listening to CKUA and brushing my dog! When we are ready …out the door for an hour-long dog walk around town. And we most always have a friendly chat with some neighbor. I like this little town – Pincher Creek. One stop light. Everything accessible on foot. And near to my beloved park trails where I count every day a lucky one when I’m able to walk them. Here’s to the heart and legs staying strong! Every day is a gift!

Thanks for this opportunity to share my warden service career story.