Thank you to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies for granting permission to the Park Warden Service Alumni to post this interview on our website
Park Warden Alumni Society of Alberta
Oral History Project Phase 8 – Summer 2018
Interview with Eric Langshaw
Interviewed by Christine Crilley-Everts
August 1, 2018
Eric and Rosemary at the 2009 Warden Service Centennial in Banff.
Place and Date of Birth: Trochu, Alberta. March 29, 1947
Occupations: Eric began his career with the national park warden service in 1972. He was hired to work in Lake Louise, but was sent instead to the newly created Pacific Rim National Park. There he spent two wonderful seasons. After which time, he returned to the mountain parks, first Banff and then Yoho, where he became actively involved in public safety and wildlife management. In 1979, Eric charged the Chateau Lake Louise with improper garbage disposal which lead to the beginning of improved garbage management in national parks and the institution of bear proof garbage bins. He is also responsible for designing the large white elk signs used on highways throughout Canada to help reduce wildlife mortalities.
Additional Information: After leaving the warden service, Eric pursed his love of photography and created a video production company, Canadian Wilderness Videos, with his wife Rosemary. He is also the author of numerous books on the wildlife, flowers and geology of the Canadian Rockies.
“If I could start please with your place and date of birth?”
(0:16) I was born in Trochu Alberta, March 29, 1947. I grew up in Trochu.
“How did you then get involved with the warden service?”
Well, I went to university, got a degree, a bachelors of science. I was working towards a master’s degree in theoretical physics, when I saw an ad in the paper for a warden service job. They were doing interviews in Calgary. I had always been a real outdoors person, so I thought, “What the heck? Why don’t I throw in my application?” Unbeknownst to me, they wanted to interview me! I went to an interview in Calgary at the old Summit Hotel. Andy Anderson was one of the interviewers and I’m sure Andy rued the day that he hired me! Anyway right away almost, I placed really well on the eligibility list and I was offered a job…in Wood Buffalo. I thought, “There are no mountains there, just buffalo.” And I said, “You know, I really want to work in a mountain park.” They said, “Well, you know, it will be years before (that happens). You work your way up the list to get a mountain park (position).” I said, “Oh, ok, well I guess I will wait.” Well, a month later, I got an offer in Banff! So that was very interesting. (It was) not Banff, but it was in Lake Louise.
Larry Gilmar and I were just heading out into the backcountry, on the first backcountry trip I was going to do on horseback. We were just about to leave Lake Louise to go up the Pipestone when one of the wardens came driving up and he said, “Oh, they want you on an urgent telephone call from regional office!” So I got off my horse and went down (to the warden office) and he said, “Harold Dougan out on the coast has been sick.” I think it was Harold who was sick? Anyways they needed a warden in the new Pacific Rim park out there. So 1972 that was.
(2:25) And I had never even heard of Pacific Rim, but I thought, “Adventure? What the heck!” I packed all my stuff in my car and drove out to Pacific Rim. It was my first wonderful new experience on Vancouver Island! We had no training for what we were going to get into there, other than basically we had to clear all these people that were camping on the beach, (clear them) off the beach. We were not very popular because of that! Because, everybody for years and years had camped on the beach and driven on the beach and had fires. That was our main job for that summer, was trying to clear the beach of people who were illegally camping. Then we started learning, they started giving us courses, diving courses. I took the diving course as well, with a couple of the other guys. It was wonderful because there is no better diving in the world then (off the coast there). The Broken Group is where we did our diving…
John & Marie Nylund photo – 1970s.
(3:42) Anyways…I went back to Lake Louise in the fall and I was posted to go to the Crossing (Saskatchewan River Crossing) all by myself. In the middle of nowhere, you know what the Crossing was like in the winter…I was literally by myself and there was nobody around, except me. I thought, “Oh, okay, well more adventure!” And I hadn’t been there more than a day and…I was making supper and I heard a really garbled radio call. I turned the radio up and listened. It was a helicopter pilot calling for help! It was Jim Davies and they had been relocating a bear up on Bison Creek, way high off, just above the Siffleur. The bear had attacked Wilf Etherington and killed him. Then when Jim tried to get Wilf onboard the helicopter, the bear attacked the helicopter (but) Jim managed to swing the helicopter around and knock the bear off. They were with the photographer, what was his name now…. Anyways, Jim came down and he said, “Meet me on the road and bring your rifle!” “Oh god, what is it that’s happening…” So he came down and took me on board, flew me up and dropped me (there). He said, “I can’t come back, I’m out of gas!” “Okay! What’s going on?” “Well, a bear just killed that guy up there and you’re going have to look after him (the body)…and I will be back as soon as I can.”
So, he disappeared. Bang! It was quiet, nothing. But I could hear this bear rummaging around in the bushes down below me. “Did I bring my gun? Did I bring the right bullets?” All of that! So the bear started coming up towards me and I fired off a couple of shots right in front of him because at that moment, I didn’t necessarily want to kill the bear. Maybe an hour or so later, the helicopter came right back up and I think it was Monty Rose…and somebody else, I can’t remember who else the other person was? Jim took him down in the helicopter over the bear and they shot the bear and then came down to get me, to see if I was still alive! Poor old Wilf…the bear had really mangled him pretty badly. So we had to get him out of there and it was a bit of a messy time. Parks really was at fault for allowing this all to have happened. They didn’t have an armed warden along (and) they should have. This bear had caused a lot of trouble. The bear was blind in one eye. There were a whole bunch of things like that, that just were not good. I don’t know, there was a court case later about it and I don’t know whatever came out of the court case. But Wilf Etherington’s wife, I think didn’t get her fair shake on what happened after that. Bill Smaltz was the photographer’s name. He went on to do the movie Bears and Man for Parks and that was what he was working on at the time when the bear killed Wilf Etherington. Wilf by the way was a wildlife biologist. Actually, my first work with bears was with Wilf. He’d given a bear course about two weeks before that in Banff and I got to know him there.
(7:36) That’s when I really took an interest in bears. I just didn’t think Parks was dealing with bears right. They were shooting them. Any bear that caused a problem, generally they shot them. I thought, “Well, there’s got to be a better way of dealing with this.” So over the next couple of years that was my focus.
(7:59) The next summer, the same thing happened again. Another one of the warden’s was sick in Pacific Rim, so I went out to Pacific Rim for the summer again. I think I stayed until November that year covering for (him)…who was I covering for there? Harold Dougan probably, I think it was at the time. After that I went back to Lake Louise. The next summer I was incredibly lucky, they were looking for wardens to mentor young native people from Brocket (Alberta). I stuck up my hand because I thought this would be really interesting…I got placed with a fellow by the name of…Jerry Potts…anyways and I really hit it off! We were sent to the backcountry together with our horses and pack horses. We spent the summer out in the Cyclone area, all the way down to Scotch Camp, and from Scotch Camp up to Indianhead. Jerry and I had some really wonderful experiences. I learned a lot from him about native culture. What they thought about bears and stuff like that. Jerry was I’m sure (wary of bears) especially grizzly bears because they are very big in their spiritual world. I remember we had gone up to a place called Divide Pass which is way up in the North Boundary. We had set up a camp there, it was hunting season. Probably, September or October and we had a tent set up. We were cooking supper. I remember what we were cooking! We were cooking pork chops and the horses started making a lot of funny noises and were being really skittish. We were sort of on a hillside looking down and the brush was probably six feet high and all of a sudden two grizzly bears poked up their heads out of the top of the brush! This was just an incredible experience! Jerry, he didn’t know whether he should do something with his native spirituality or get the hell out of there! He wanted to get the hell out of there! So the next morning we packed up and went back, I believe to Scotch Camp and did another patrol up maybe through Ranger Creek or something like that.
(10:44) The end of that summer, I kept trying to tell my boss that Jerry really needed to stay outside. He wasn’t going to deal with being in an office well at all. They just wouldn’t listen to me. I kept saying, “Give him an outside job.” I don’t care whether it’s learning to ski at the ski hill or what. But they put him in an office job and he quit. That was really too bad because I thought it was a wonderful program and if it had continued they would have been ahead of the game dealing with natives today. You know it would have been an early lead into what they are trying to do now.
(11:25) Let’s see, after that I had done a lot of skiing and climbing so I went on the avalanche control at Lake Louise for that winter with Clair Israelson and a bunch of the guys who were all skiers and we had a really interesting (time). That was when I worked with Jim Murphy, I think that was my first time working with Jim…Jim and I worked together and we really hit it off! We did a lot of avalanche control. The real incident that comes to mind was Clair was a bit of a hard boss. He would drive you hard pretty well all the time and Clair was always right. So this one day, Jim and I had gone up to Eagle Ridge to test it out and we got part way down and we really didn’t like it. It felt wrong to us. Avalanche control was part science and part feeling. We thought, there is something wrong here. So we took our skis off and walked down to the bottom…to the avalanche control shed at Temple. We said, “Clair, that whole area doesn’t feel right. We think we should bomb it.” “Oh, it was bombed two days ago and nothing came down.” We said, “We are really convinced that there is something wrong.” “Oh, okay well you know its quitting time and it’s going to be overtime etc, etc.” So we got out the Avalauncher and went out just north of Temple and on the first shot the whole mountain came down! Clair sits there looking at this and looks at us and he says, “That’s what you get paid for!” We got buried in avalanches a couple of times, but nothing really serious. It was all part of the adventure!
(13:33) That summer, Peter Fuhrmann wanted me on mountain rescue. I had had a really bad accident the year before. I had broken my neck and my back flying a hang glider. I was paralyzed on one side and I still am as a matter of fact. But I’ve learned how to use my legs and stuff properly again. I can climb really well and ski really well, even with just the one leg. I went out with Peter a few times and he thought that I was doing really well and certified me as the second rescue leader. I did that for a year and did all kinds of rescues. I liked the work, it was very stressful work. You know, you’d get one rescue done and you’d be up all night doing that and the next morning just when you are getting in the shower there would be another rescue! So you would be out for another 24 hours. You know what July and August are like! It’s always been like that.
(14:37) I did several serious winter trips with both Willi Pfisterer and Peter Fuhrmann. One on Mount Columbia I remember was with Willi Pfisterer. Another one with Peter Fuhrmann, I think on the Wapta Traverse. Your dad (Keith Everts) was on that one. I’ve got some wonderful pictures of your dad face planting! Anyway, I could ski pretty well and Keith was just sort of getting there. They were tough trips some of them. Sixty or seventy pound packs and you would be out for seven or eight days with these trips and you would cross the glacier in all kinds of weather…I did a lot of the Bow Hut trips myself and the Bow Peyto trips. I really enjoyed that work! So I was out with…who was I out with…Clair, on one of these trips and it was late in the spring and we were coming down from the Bow Hut and set off a really big slide! Both Clair and I just about got dragged down. But thank goodness we were following good techniques and didn’t. I think it was just a few weeks before that we had done another trip…I am backing up a little bit here… with Peter and we were crossing from Balfour Hut to go out and we got caught way high on the shoulder of Mount Balfour in a blizzard. So we had to dig in and set up camp for the night because you couldn’t travel. It was friggin cold that night! Oh, it was horrible! Nobody was having fun! In the middle of the night, you know the wind was whistling and everybody was miserable, sitting trying to keep warm and we hear Sid Marty at the top of his lungs…”Fuhrmann, Fuhrmann you hear me? Never again Fuhrmann! Never again!” This was Sid Marty! Well there is a corollary to that story, the following summer we were on a climb with Fuhrmann up on the south tower of Eisenhower now Castle and we were on the last pitch going up the face and a lightning storm moved in. There was lightning everywhere and we were all expecting to die at any moment, lightning coming roaring down the rope to you! Then the clouds moved in and we couldn’t even see each other it was so thick. And we are trying at least to get down to a ledge where we can sit out the storm. And through the fog comes this voice, “Fuhrmann, I said it before and I’ll say it again…” Sid Marty again! We made it safely off by the way. Jim Davies of course was a great helicopter pilot. He pulled us off in just horrendous winds…To this day, I can’t believe what a good pilot Jim was.
(18:13) You know that episode I told you about with the bear? It was Jim Davies and Jim and I formed quite a bond over that as you can imagine. Jim after that decided he would never fly anywhere again without having his own gun in the helicopter with him…not a great place to have a gun, but he wasn’t going to have a bear (try to) tear at his helicopter in mid sky again.
(18:42) Then I really got the chance to take on wildlife management. I really was very interested in wildlife management. I started a whole bunch of different studies. One was with grizzly bears and I got the job of doing the bear management in Lake Louise. And you know, I was bound and determined that we were going to treat bears better than we had in the past. This is where the big thing with the Chateau Lake came up. Chateau Lake Louise was not looking after their garbage and I was trying to the keep the bears away from the Chateau because they just kept mismanaging their garbage. I think that they were doing it on purpose. I can never prove that, you know to attract the bears so the tourists could get the pictures. So this one day I had to go up there and the bear was right in the yard and there were tourists all around, this big grizzly bear. It was just going here and there, getting food here, getting food there and I’m trying to stay between the bear and all these tourist who just wanted pictures.
I think it was later that evening, that same bear, at about two o’clock in the morning you know, I’m at home. I was living at Castle Junction at the time and I get this excited call from the Chateau Lake Louise. This bear is breaking the door off, the back door off the Chateau Lake Louise and trying to get in. One of the security guards has taken his .38 special and shot the bear. That’s a pea shooter, you know. A grizzly bear you don’t shoot with a .38 special. So I had to go up there at two o’clock in the morning and this bloody bear, it was the one that I had been working with all summer trying to keep it away. It was an old guy and he had broken teeth and stuff. So I called Andy at two in the morning and said, “I’ve got a terrible situation here, this bear has been shot and it’s still trying to get into the Chateau. I think in front of all these people, I am going to have to shoot this bear.” Andy said, “Yes, well I will leave it up to you. You are in charge.” So one of the RCMP there gave me great support and we got the right kinds of guns to shoot a bear and in front of all these people we had to shoot this bear. And people were yelling and screaming at us that we were murderers…horrible stuff. Anyway we dragged the bear’s carcass away. So the next day I thought, “You know, I have tried so hard to save this bear. Not only this one, but lots of others bears and I think that the Chateau should pay for what they’ve done.” I knew that if I went through the proper channels, they would never allow me to lay charges and I thought that I had a really good case. So I did some skullduggery and I went and got all the names of the people at the Chateau who had had anything to do with the garbage. They were all furious you know (because) the Chateau had done such a terrible job. They were behind me and I got statements from all of them. Then I went outside of Banff to get a signed information (document) to press charges. If I did it through Banff, they would cancel it. So I came to Canmore to do it and I managed to keep it under wraps. I got it and went up to the Chateau and went to see the manager. I gave him this (document and said), “I’m charging you with this.” The guy was such an arse hole! He ripped it up in front of me and threw it at me and he said, “I would just like to see you try.” Yes, Rogers, was his name. So then, I thought well they are still going to try (and challenge it).
I set the court date, I think it was for the next Tuesday morning. I turned my radio off and I went into the backcountry and nobody could get a hold of me! I heard the sideband radio madly calling for me and Moe (the Banff warden office dispatcher) was beside herself! I wasn’t answering! I was out of communication. That Tuesday morning, I turned up in court. The lawyer for the CPR had convinced the manager to tape the information back together and he turned it in and went through the proper process. They called me in and said, “You are going to have to withdraw this.” And I said, “No, I’ve gone too far with this. I’m not going to withdraw this. I know it means my job, but somebody is going to die and I don’t want it to be on my watch.” So they tried all kinds of things to get me to withdraw the charges and they put all kinds of pressure on. And I just said, “To hell with this! I will go down in flames if I have to!” I went to a kangaroo court at the Kremlin in Banff (the Park Administration Building) and they were going to find me guilty of insubordination and that was the end of it. But the best part of the story is that I had to appear before the superintendent and Andy (Banff chief park warden) and a couple of other people.
Jim Murphy was representing me for the union, they wouldn’t allow me a lawyer…but Jim was there as my union rep. So, they pushed this piece of paper across the table to me and said, “You have to sign this! You are insubordinate and you are going to be fired!” I take it and I read it very carefully and I turned it over to the other side and I turned it back and I shoved it back to the superintendent and I said, “I can’t sign that!” “Why can’t you sign that?” “It’s not in French and English!” Jim just about split a gut trying not to laugh! They were not impressed at all! What did I have to lose you know at that point? So anyway, about that point, the AWA (Alberta Wilderness Association) and a couple of the other environmental groups hired lawyers and went to bat for me. But the one that really worked was the head of, what was it now? Was it Canadian Parks and Wilderness or the Alberta Wilderness Association? One of their head people went to Ottawa and sat down with the minister and told him the story. The next day, I got a call from the minister’s office (to say) that I was not going to be fired and my reprimand was being withdrawn. What helped that of course was at court that morning I won the charges. I laid three charges and two of them they were found guilty of. When the judge asked CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway), it was a $750.00 fine…if they could pay, the CPR asked for time to pay! Can you believe it? So after I won those, they just couldn’t touch me, even though I knew they would get even with me eventually! But I won it and it changed bear management in the park, hugely you know. All of a sudden CP had to put in proper bear management and Banff had to start putting in proper bear proof garbage containers, that’s where that really did start.