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 Fall 2018
Interview with Garry Forman
November 28th 2018@ 1100
Interviewed by Monique Hunkeler
Place and date of birth? Garry was born May 2nd, 1944 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
MH: Where did you grow up?
Garry: I grew up south of Moose Jaw on a farm and was there for the first 20 years then headed to Calgary and elsewhere. After completing my flying training, I worked with Alpine Helicopters for three years and then moved over to Bow Helicopters. They aren’t in business anymore but were a subsidiary of Bow Valley Industries.
I moved from Calgary to Golden and worked out of the base for 2-3 years and then the opportunity came to go to Valemount which was a lot smaller (and) which didn’t excite us. It was an opportunity to work in Jasper a lot so we decided to take it. We thought we’d last 3-4 years but that was in 1975 and we are still here.
MH: How did you become involved in the Warden Service? Which national park did you start working in?
Garry: Parks Canada had a bunch of studies and work to do in the park so Bow Helicopters got the contract, so we worked for them flying rescues, bear studies, trail work and all that kind of stuff they used to do.
Bow helicopters sold their company in 1979 and I made a move to get our own license and whatnot, however in the interim I worked for a company named Shirley Helicopters for a few years – they were out of Edmonton and still did the work for the parks. Eventually we got our own license for Yellowhead Helicopters. The family is involved with it so we have expanded it quite a bit. (Garry was involved with the Warden Service through his flying.)
Garry Forman and the Yellowhead Helicopters’ crew 1970s.
MH: What different parks did you work in? How did they compare? Do you have a favourite?
Garry: I worked in Jasper mostly and a bit of Banff. They may have been in and out of Kootenay and Yoho but mostly Jasper and Banff if they needed help with rescues. I guess I have to say Jasper was my favourite park.
MH: What were some of your main responsibilities over the years? 0452
Garry: One of the first major jobs in the park was a grizzly bear study. That went on for, I believe, 4 years. Spring and Fall we would get involved in that (Canadian Wildlife Service was involved as well) and it was very interesting work and I learned quite a bit about bears. We did that, and of course in the summer there was trail work and general park duties and then of course the rescues. I did a few rescues. I don’t have a lot of memories about that. Once you got into it you just did what you had to do and so on.
MH: What did you like / dislike about being involved with the Warden Service? 0612:
Garry: They were a good group of guys for sure and I was younger then and learning all the time. I did enjoy it I have to admit. I don’t have any bad memories, put it that way. (Part B was what didn’t you like about the Warden Service) Nothing I didn’t like but It was a typical government job and in the beginning I would question why they did things like this or that but after a while you realize that this has been going on for years the way they do things and you just do what they wanted to do because that’s how they do things. It’s like that with any government job.
MH: What were some of your more memorable events being involved with the Warden Service? 0728:
Garry: On the rescue side, working with Willi Pfisterer quite a bit was interesting and always fun listening to some of his stories. I have a lot of fond memories working with Willi, back in the 70s and early 80s. When we got going on our own we hired a local guy from Jasper and he took over a lot of those jobs because I got more involved with running the business and I stayed flying mostly in BC here. The business just grew and grew to the point now where we are actually mainly in Prince George.
MH: Can you tell me about any rescue/wildlife stories that stick out in your memory? 0904:
Garry: We had a guy down in the Brazeau, we called him the Brazeau Bandit and he was running around with a handgun. We went searching for this guy but we never found him. I don’t know where he went but that was exciting for a little while. We flew Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau up to Edith Cavell area and the wardens took him mountain climbing. There were interesting things that went on.
1026: We had a guy in the parks, one of the wardens and he was a pretty good artist. He did a lot of cartoons and things and I’ve saved these over the years. They were pretty funny some of the things. He used to call what I was doing a flying circus because there were so any different things going on at the time. It’s a lot different now. Garry can scan and email them to me.
There are a lot of different stories with Willi. When they were climbing Edith Cavell with Pierre E. Trudeau, they would do jokes back and forth all the time because Willi got along with him so well. The one thing that Pierre said was, “Hey Willi what happens if the rope breaks?” and Willi came right back and said, “That’s okay I have another one at home”. That’s the kind of fun these guys had all the time. (I asked what Trudeau was like) He was very personable, easy to talk to, no issue at all there.
Other Willi Stories: Willi’s daughter wrote a book about Willi, Mountain Climbing is 50% Uphill. It’s a really good book with a lot of stories in there about Willi, that I remember.
I thought of another discussion Willi had with Pierre Trudeau when doing their climb. Willi said “You need another department in Ottawa” Pierre said “What would that be Willi?” Willi said “The Department of common sense, and I would be the Minister” Pierre came right back and said, “You are over qualified”.
One of the things I just thought of, Alfie Burstrom was the dog master in Jasper and he had a dog named Ginger that was really quite famous because the dog did so many rescues and things. They decided to try flying the dog in a harness and it hadn’t been done before that we knew of in Canada. Alfie made a harness for Ginger and we hooked him up underneath the helicopter and went with the sling rescue system and of course they had no idea what would happen. They were worried the dog may get excited and bite Alfie but he just loved it… I think that was the first time that was ever done as far as I know.
1509: There’s all kinds of stuff once you start thinking about it. I guess the one thing that I realized was that when you got involved with rescues and started working with Willi and a lot of the guys, we were in a system back in those days where you could not release the rescuer. We were hooked solidly together. If something happened (ie an engine failure), you had to make the best of it together. I never would have wanted to release somebody. I preferred that system but now they have a system where they can release the rescuer which I wouldn’t want to live with that personally. (Asked if he’d had any scary situations while slinging). Not really. Some of the jobs with the weather could have been a little taxing but not really. There were some tight corners and you sometimes wondered why you were there but you had a job to do, so that’s why you were there.
MH: How did the Warden Service change over the years? 1708.
Garry: During my time there was a push to build trails and bridges and hiking stuff in the backcountry, but I understand there’s not very much going on with that anymore. It’s changed, nobody likes to see change but change happens.
MH: How did your relationship with the Warden Service change over the years? 1748:
Garry: I got into more of a management role and got out of the flying end of it. It’s been quite a few years now but I still keep in touch with the odd guy. The Chief Park Warden, Don Dumpleton, stops by on occasion. We have one of the wardens who lives nearby, Gordie Anderson and he’s been retired for years and years. Parks doesn’t really have a contract heli company in this area anymore. Work for parks slowly seemed to go away. If we had a rescue pilot, we did more for parks. People retire and leave, so we have a hard time to get someone who wants to do rescues in the area. We have a guy who has all the potential to be a good rescue pilot but doesn’t have the experience yet. So we are just waiting, we’ll try to bring him up to speed. We have Mt. Robson nearby and there is always something going on there.
MH: What about the Warden Service was important to you? 2050:
Garry: The safety and preservation of the parks is important. Wildfire management is just another arm on all that. I don’t know…it’s all good.
MH: Are there any legends or stories associated with the Warden Service that you can share?
Garry: Willi Pfisterer stood out…others – met up with Peter Fuhrmann a couple of times. There were different wardens we were involved with – the Israelsons. I worked with most of them a bit off and on but Willi is the guy who sticks out in my head the most. He was quite the character. He retired out here too, until he passed away. He was a 20 minute drive from Valemount. He used to stop at the hangar and say let’s go for lunch. Toni Klettle – I did the odd thing with him.
MH: Is there anything about the Warden Service, as you knew it, that you would like future generations to know? 2346
Garry: I don’t know if I can make a good comment on that. What I see now, is I’m just another tourist. I don’t have much to do with it anymore. I enjoyed it that’s for sure.
The one thing I will say, regarding rescues, once you got to know the guy on the other end of the rope, you had to trust him that he knew what he was doing, and he had to trust me with what I was doing. You needed a trusting relationship and that was the one thing that I remembered quite well.
As far as the Jasper group – Todd McCready – worked 12-13 years for Garry. He worked in the park a lot so He would be a good one to talk to. He has lots of stories. He did a lot of good stuff.
MH: What made the Warden Service such a unique organization? 2620
Garry: Most of the guys were there because they liked what the parks stands for. I don’t think anyone joined the warden service for the money. It was what they really enjoyed and there is something to be said for that.
MH: Do you have any lasting memories as an Associate with the Warden Service?
Garry: Favourite places was pretty much everywhere in Jasper (4000 square miles) Stayed at a cabin during a bear study – Cairn River Patrol Cabin up the Brazeau. We stayed at different cabins over the years those memories stick out. Was always going to go on a horse trip with the wardens but never got around to it.
The world is changing all the time and maybe not for the better.
MH: Do you ever miss not being associated with the Warden Service? 2845
Garry: I think of it once in a while. It was fun. I guess it’s just too many years have gone by.
MH: Do you have any photos of yourself that you would like to donate? Artifacts?
Garry: Will look for the cartoon photos and send them along. Lots of pics (slides) around the bear study. Would have to look up and see if he has anything that would be of interest. Will try and see what he could do and will send them to me (Monique). Thinking more of slides – not sure what to do about that…send them to me and I’ll get them printed. (Not a lot of the rescue pics because he was flying.)
MH: What year did you retire? And what do you enjoy doing in retirement?
Garry: I am not retired – still working some…depending on who calls! semi-retired. Have meetings every Tuesday with the management team. Puts two cents worth in on occasion. Go to Nevada – they are golfers. Jimmy Suttle was in charge of trail crew. Kept in touch with him and golf with him. He was an organized guy. Liked to work with him.
MH: Anyone else to interview?
Todd McCready – 250-566-9976 (Todd has bee interviewed) Jimmy Suttle, (Jim is on the list) Don Dumpleton – 604-847-9112 (Don has been interviewed)
Warden who drew cartoons was from Jasper – John Strachan (note from Marie Nylund: John has passed away on June 5, 2011) Todd Is in Valemont. He retired from flying and did other things. We lost a good guy there.
John Strachan cartoon.