MD: Could you tell us a bit about the first long line you did?

Gord: We first started long-lining – started out at the airport in Banff. It was kind of the deal where we would fly underneath any helicopter where the pilot would sling us. Jim Davies was the first one that did it – he’s excellent. Away we went on that one. Trained a pilot out of Revelstoke named Freddy Baird, and he wasn’t that keen on the idea – he didn’t like the idea of slinging. But shortly after that, we were on a Friday evening – I was going to go to town – I was in my bathroom having a shave, when Mike McKnight barged in the door, and said “We’ve got a rescue on Sir Donald.” And I immediately cut my throat!, and we got organized. Fred Baird came up and flew us out, found this guy on the bergschrund of the Uto Glacier. So we got the long line, got it set up, and he slung me in with a mountain stretcher. And when I landed and got in there, I put the ice axe in to anchor myself, and then it went into two feet of snow, and then into air. So we didn’t bring anybody else in due to weight, and then Freddy came back in after I loaded the body up, and we managed to get out of there. But after that, Fred was quite impressed with the long-lining, and he did a really good job – any time we needed him after that. That was the beginning of it. And then after that, we had to do some (long-lining) on fires to get injured firefighters out – but mainly it was for mountain rescue. There were some pretty good pilots who were doing it. When I got into the dog section, Don McTighe was our local pilot here. I’ve been on several rescues with him, and he liked my dogs. My second dog, Saxon – as long as Don was in the helicopter – when I put the dog in, it was fine. But one night we’re at the airport here – we’re getting ready to go, and Don forgot something, and he jumped out of the helicopter, and Saxon was already in, so when Don decided to re-enter the helicopter, he had a problem – because he was no longer part of our helicopter! So I had to get a hold of Saxon, so he could get back in! But it worked out well.

MD: Did you sling with the dog?

Gord: Oh yeah…the dog has his own harness too, and it’s just a matter of getting the right adjustments, so that everybody’s comfortable. They just ride basically on your lap. And the two Shepherds were really good, but the last one – he wanted to look everywhere – he wanted to look up at the pilot, over my shoulder – he was a typical teenager when he first started. On Mt. Whyte, at Lake Louise there, I was just getting set up to sling, and the dog would sit beside me, and then when I’d hook in, he’d just kind of jump on my lap. But for some reason, this time, when the rig came in, and I hooked on, Baron just jumped way out, and then slammed into my chest, and Lance Cooper – the man of many words, says, “Haven’t seen that before.”, and off we went. Lance was a hell of a warden, and a hell of a pilot. He did a lot of the avalanche control work at Sunshine. He knows both sides of the fence. (warden, and pilot).

MD: There’s a memorial coming up for Lance – are you going to go to that?

Gord: Oh yeah…I went to Tim Auger’s too, but I got the wrong day, and I was there, and nobody else was. The day that he actually had his memorial service, the weather was the shits, so I didn’t get there. I did go to a private one for Tim at Norquay on the wrong day!.

MD: Any other wildlife or enforcement stories that stick out in your memory?

Gord: Bear maulings – like the one that happened to Barbara Chapman where I had supper with her the night before, and then I picked her body up on Cougar Valley the next day – that was a bit of a hard knock. And there’s a lot of stories that have gone on over the year. The Warden Service changed from hiring people with common sense to hiring ones with a degree and hoped they had common sense.

The whole dog business too…like it was kind of funny, the way I got in to that. The way it worked – when I was in Jasper – I was out on days off, and I came back, and I went in to the compound where…I stayed at Tangle Creek, and I was going into the cook shack to have a coffee and a cake or something. And I got in about 8 o’clock at night, and the cook told me that the grader operator (it’s just before Christmas) saw a car go by on the big hill on the Icefields, and it slowed down, and threw something out the window! Luckily, the grader operator, he thought, “That looked weird.”, so he stopped, and then he got out and had a look. And over the bank was a little pup, just maybe 6 or 7 weeks old, that somebody had thrown out. It was minus 25 Fahrenheit, wind blowing, so he got the pup and brought it back to the bunkhouse to Tangle Creek. Of course, they’re not allowed to have dogs there, so they kept it over in the Cat shed. I got home that night, and I already had a dog, but I could have one because I was renting a trailer, so I went to the Cat shed and picked up this little pup, took it over to my place, and said, “OK, you can stay here ‘til I go on days off, and then you go to the SPCA!” So 10 days later, I still had the dog, I was going on days off, and that little bugger had wormed its way into my heart, so I gave my old dog to my brother, and kept the little one. And then in 1979, we were going to have the Wardens’ Deep Snow School in Glacier, and the officials at Western Region cancelled the school, ‘cause there was no money for training. So Willi Pfisterer phoned me up, he says, “ I’ve got some guys up here on holidays, do you think we could come and have a visit?” And I said, “Sure.” So being as it wasn’t an official school, we went up and I brought my dog along, so Tangle’s riding in the front seat with Willi and I, and Pfisterer’s totally pissed off, and he says, “Je-sus, he brought his god-damned dog with him!” So we got up to Fidelity, and we went over and started skiing down the south run. Willi skied down and stopped, and I skied down and stopped, and Willi said, “I guess we’d better wait for the god-damned dog!” The dog comes sliding down across our skis and I looked at Willi and I said, “ I guess we’d better wait for the god-damned skiers!” So we made that run, and we made two more runs. Tangle had a rest, and then we went up again, and we were skiing down through the windfalls. By this time, Willi was quite impressed with Tangle, who was a little kind of a border collie – I used to use him for chasing bears and anything else. And anyhow, so we started skiing down through the windfalls, which are a pretty tricky place, and got down to the bottom, and Willi goes, “Where the hell’s the dog?” So I said, “I dunno – she’ll show up.” (Willi says) “Well, you better go back up!” She’s goin’ to be stuck!” He was really concerned. So we could hear the Snow Cat coming to help – Mike McKnight was driving it, so we were waiting at the Bostock turn-off, and the Cat comes down around the corner, and there’s Tangle sitting in the front seat! She had walked out and sat in the middle of the road, and stopped McKnight and got a ride down! But that night Willi was talking about it, and he says, “You should be in the dog section.” So the next year I was. Tangle was never a search dog, she was just my dog.

MD: I love the name.

Gord: It came from Tangle Creek, ‘cause that’s exactly where it was. (where Gord found her) I had her ‘til she was 16 – 17 years old – tough as God’s head. But we used to have another one – I don’t’ know, we kind of collect these things – but this one come out of Invermere, was a stray, and it almost looked the same as Tangle – another border collie cross, same colourings. We were going out on holidays down the western United States, and these people kept coming up and saying “What type of dogs are they?” Finally I got pissed off, and rather than say they’re just mutts that look alike, I said “Oh, they’re very rare, they’re South American Lizard Hounds.” And that shut them all up, and I didn’t have to say anything else. So that’s how that worked out.

MD: So how do you think the Warden Service changed over the years?

Gord: Now, I’ll say, “What Warden Service?” It’s totally changed. When I joined, several guys have said this too, I won’t be the first one, “ I’m going to miss the outfit I joined, but I’m sure as hell not going to miss the outfit I left.” It has changed so much over the years. And everything has to change I guess, with technology, but it’s just not my cup of tea anymore. Everybody has their own little niche, and that’s just where they go. They don’t seem to want to help anybody else out. I think we used to operate, like when the shit hit the fan, we got a pretty big crank to get it turning. An example of that was that avalanche at Healy Creek, where the Alberta Parks were in there, and all the wardens from every park came – everybody helped out. That was the hardest avalanche I think anybody worked. It was just one of those things, you know. Like that’s the first time the dogs got kind of tricked for a while, but in the end it was the dogs that found them too.

MD: Why was it so hard?

Gord: The weather changed conditions at the time. We were starting shooting in Rogers Pass when it happened. I left the summit of Rogers Pass – a loader came down and cleared an avalanche for me to get out – and I got out and I was driving east and they had the highway blocked near Golden, and luckily I had an RCMP radio channel, so I called them and they held the traffic so I could get by that, and had a clean highway all the way to Banff. So that worked out good, but what happened that night, the weather went from way above freezing to minus 30. The temperature just dropped out, and you could only search for so long, you had to go warm the dogs up, and warm yourself up. But when the slide came down – it was a climax avalanche, it left litter about a foot – spruce boughs and stuff – about two feet down in the snowpack, and the bodies were buried about 5 feet down, and so this layer just camouflaged everything, and plus it froze rock solid. And the only probes that would work in the snowpack were the old style solid steel Bilgeri probes, and those ones would work, but nothing else did. And then the co-operation, everyone finally got the job done, but it took a while!

MD: How many days?

Gord: I think it was three days all told. The only one that survived was the one that did not continue on the trip. But they’d done everything correctly, they’d crossed the avalanche path, they were in the timber, they had stopped for a break, and that’s when the slide came down through the trees, and it took them out.

MD: What year was that?

Gord: I had Saxon, so it was ’86 – ’88, somewhere in there. I trained Saxon in ’85, so it’s between ’85 and ‘91.

MD: The one where the high school kids were killed, that was long after you’d gone?

Gord: That was the year after I retired – I was lucky to miss that one. That was Balu Pass. I know Ritchie Marshall quite well, and he started the search – he was there, and saw the whole thing happen.

MD: What about the Warden Service was important to you?

Gord: I liked everything about the old-style Warden Service. When I was in Glacier for a long time, I lived at the East Gate, which was the last District, I’d guess you’d call it. And then slowly everything got centralized – that’s the way it went. I lived at Rogers Pass for a while, and then moved out to the East Gate. At the East boundary of Glacier Park, there were trailers down there. There was an A-frame house – that’s a little side story there…the guy that designed those – they only built two A-frame houses in the Park Service – one was at the Summit, they tore it down and got rid of it, and one was at the bottom of the Beaver – they got rid of it too. If you put the potatoes in the corner cupboard of the kitchen, they’d freeze…so, a quality house! In order to get a double bed into the bedroom, you had to take out the living room window, cut the main frame, take out a side window, and then put the bed into a loader bucket, and put it into…kind of an interesting house!

MD: Are there any legends or stories associated with the Warden Service?

Gord: Nah…none. Just things that happened, happened.

MD: Anybody that sticks out in your mind?

Gord: Oh, Willi Pfisterer. We used to go on kayak trips too, like down the Fraser, the Athabasca, and the Columbia, then the Thompson. Peter Schearer, he was the head of the National Research Council – Keith Everts worked for him, Donny Mickle worked for him, and I worked for Walter Schleiss and Freddy, of course. They were all in Rogers Pass, and Willi used to work up there too, at the time. They were all good friends. Peter Schearer, Willi, and myself – we started going on river trips together. We started with – I had a canoe, and they had kayaks, and everybody was individual – we had our own tents when we camped at night. We’d get up in the morning and all make our own breakfast – and those two, they’d get up one morning – they’d have Swiss “kaisersporn” (pancakes), and the next morning you’d have Austrian “kaisersporn”, and a great big Jesus argument every morning between the two of them! That’s the way it was – it was just a fun time. I used to go along, and Willi says, “Yeah – it takes three – you’ve got to have an Austrian, a Swiss, and a Canadian referee!” Everybody makes the team go.

MD: Is there anything about the Warden Service as you knew it, that you would want people in the future to know?

Gord: It was a hell of a good outfit, and it lasted for years. And I’m not just that sure that all this modern stuff is the answer to everything. And I don’t think it is, personally. (and referring to the team approach) Everybody just pulls together. Everything else gets dropped, and you’re gone. Like, they’re not perfect at everything, but everybody’s got a strong point somewhere. So you work to the strong points, and then the machine runs. And I don’t know if you could pull that off now or not – you know, it’s hard to say. A degree of common sense goes a long way. We’ve had some pretty amazing things happen – well, Rogers Pass, with weather events, and major floods with bridges washed out, railways washed out. There was some stuff that had to get done, and there wasn’t any time for permits or anything else – just the work got done, one way or the other. You could do something – you didn’t have to have the right ticket to do it, as long as you got the job done. The best thing about Rogers Pass is that usually when something happened, the transportation corridor between Rogers Pass and where the brass nuts and tin assholes lived in Revelstoke got cut off. For example, the Wolsey Creek bridge, when it went out, everybody at the Summit – we survived without them, just as well. My favourite time, with the dogs and that, you’re always – the pressure was on you, when you’re doing it, but once it was over with, it usually worked out pretty well. As long as you didn’t worry about how everybody was relying on what you were going to do with your little dog. But they proved their worth a lot of times.

MD: Did you train any other dogmasters?

Gord: Well…we trained with them. We trained with the RCMP, and then we in turn trained the RCMP in the winter mountaineering work and avalanche work. And it was a good combination. And actually Willi came up with a really good plan, and we used to take the dogmasters and RCMP dogmasters over the 8 – pass trip (Maligne Lake to Poboktan Creek – Mile 45). And by the third day, they’re really ready to listen, ‘cause they’re absolutely wore out, because you’re dealing with a different type of mentality than a normal warden – because you’re got to get them to where they’re going to listen. And by the third day, they listened. A good friend of mine, Gary McCormick – he was a Dog Acquisition Officer when I left. Anyhow, at that time, he was the doghandler for Penticton. We were on this trip, and on the third day, I said to Gary, I said, “So, you want to do this?!” “Yeah!” So I said, “OK, now you get behind me, and do exactly what I do!” we were at the top of Elusive Pass, waiting for the rest of them for about 20 minutes, we had enough time to have a little cup of coffee and he says, “Oh, I’m not even working hard!” And I said, “That’s because you know how to do it now.” And when I was training my third dog, when Gary was the Dog Acquisition Officer, and I phoned him and told him what had happened to Saxon, and he says, “Well, I think I’ve got a dog for you, but you’d better come and have a look at it.” So “Where is it?” So he says, “Well, down in Gleichen.” Which is an Indian reserve east of Calgary. So I phoned Scotty Ward, and said “What are you doing?” He said, “Oh, not a lot.” And I said, “Well, let’s go look at this dog then.” So I drove out and picked up Scotty, and we drove to Gleichen, and we went to the RCMP barracks – so I got directions to the house. So I drove over there and I turned up this back alley, and I looked up the road, and there’s this brown mutt tied to a fence. I said to Scott as a joke, “Well, there’s my dog right there!” Son of a bitch, if it wasn’t! The handler was at home, and he took the dog out of the kennel to clean the kennel up so it looks nice when I got there. I got there a little too soon. So it’s kind of a joke that that was the dog.

MD: Was it a good dog?

Gord: Oh yeah…it was a Belgian Tervuren. And actually, they say it was a Malinois, but the coat on him made him a Tervuren actually. He was a hell of a good dog.

MD: How did they know that that was going to be a good dog?

Gord: Well, you’ve got to take them through training – they could wash out. I was very fortunate – I went in and got out with the same dog I started with each time. I know one doghandler there – he went through 6 dogs before he got out. Sometimes the dogs don’t work out, or you break an ankle, which happened to Claude Millard, “Ducky” – he’s in training and he went over and he broke his ankle or badly sprained it or something. And so the dog that he was training was still a good dog, but he goes to the next guy, and because you’re gone for 6 weeks ‘til your ankle heals, you start with a new one.

MD: How long does the training last for?

Gord: The first time is four months, and then the second time you usually get through in about three months. Because the first time, you don’t know as much as the dog does, but the second time, you should know more! But that’s one of the few jobs in the federal government where you get tested every year to make sure you can keep your job, ‘cause you’ve got to pass the validation tests. It’s good for both. But it’s always something to keep in the back of your head too.

MD: So is there one dogmaster per park?

Gord: At one time they had two in Banff. Jack Woledge and Earl Skjonsberg. And then Jack retired, and then I got the dog in Glacier. And now they’ve got one in Jasper, and one in Banff. I’m not even sure if they have a dog in Jasper anymore. One time, there was an avalanche in Deception Pass, and a skier was wiped out. It was in the spring, and I was going up the Donald Hill, going to work on a Sunday morning, and the Dispatcher called me, so I turned around and headed for Temple, and the roads were good and bare and no traffic, so I put my foot down, and I got to the Temple research hut, and Scott Ward, he left Canmore in a helicopter – granted he had to land in Banff to pick up some more gear, and flew to Lake Louise. And I walked in the back door – Scott was just putting on his ski boots! So I’d come from basically Donald to…but when I shut the truck off, it kind of clugged for a while – dieseled a little bit! Scott was kind of impressed that I got there when I did. That was kind of fun.

MD: Do you ever see Scott and his band?

Gord: Actually, when they first came out, we went down to Invermere to see them. Their first show was already sold out, but luckily they had a second show, so we saw that one. Then we saw them in Banff again, and we saw them one other time – I think in Canmore. I kind of laughed when we were in Invermere – Scott saw me and he started relating the story of the waitress in Wild Bill’s restaurant in Banff. We were in there and I ordered a Peyto burger, and the waitress says “Oh, you mean a “Payto” burger.” And I think it was Cal Syme who was sitting there, and said, “No, I think he means a Peyto burger, ‘cause that’s what he is!” But we still had to pay for it.

MD: What do you think made the Warden Service such a unique outfit?

Gord: Just the way the whole thing operated – all the guys would pull together. And it’s not only guys, it’s the wives too. Ann Dixon wrote that book, “Silent Partners” – basically that’s what they were. One time in Rogers Pass, I was at a bad accident at the boundary on the Heather Hill, and there were three vehicles involved, and had seven injured – it was a Friday night. The radio system was not great at the time – it was pissing down rain, and I couldn’t reach the summit and I couldn’t trip the repeater, and finally out of frustration, I said, “Can anybody hear me on this bloody radio?” My wife answered at the Beaver River, and she could relay up to the summit, and get things happening – we needed ambulances and wreckers. People were always coming to the door, whether you’re home or not. I’m not sure whether they thought the house was a gas station or an information booth, but they seemed to use it for both. When I moved out of the Beaver River, we bought a house in Golden – and management got quite uppity about it – kind of pissed off, because they were losing my wife as a volunteer employee! So that turned into a bit of a fight for a while, but it was resolved.

MD: Your wife’s name is Jan?

Gord: Yes. But every time you’re in those places, you get a raise in pay, and they raise the rent, and you lose five dollars out of your paycheck, so we decided to go buy a house and get organized. It was ’79 – ‘cause that’s when we moved in here. The writing was on the wall by that time. At that time, if you took Golden as the centre, and drew a 100-mile radius, you’ve got about 90% of the avalanche accidents in Canada. This is where everything was happening – plus the heliport was right here, so it worked out pretty good for me.

MD: So you stayed in Golden after that?

Gord: Yes – you could go anywhere. Like I got home one night from an avalanche, and I was already in bed at 10 o’clock at night, and I got a call to Waterton, so away you go. It’s a decent drive – I got down there at 3:30 in the morning. They had a missing person up at Cameron Lake, and it was weird, because there was food in the frying pan, there was a camera set up with a tripod, with a telephoto lens, camping gear was there – nobody was around. We got up there, and started searching around a bit – luckily the search is a multi-faceted thing, and the RCMP did some checking – the one guy was back in Canmore, and the other guy was in Fernie. What happened – they got up there, they got drunk as a skunk, and can’t relate – they had to ski in there. They’d set up their camp, drank all this rum, and then they got into a big fight, and then they both stormed off – one drove to Canmore, and one drove to Fernie. They left everything behind! So then I had to turn around and drive all the way back again!

MD: So there was no dogmaster down in Waterton?

Gord: No, there’s nothing available down there. They didn’t know what was going on. Regarding the Waterton incident, all the calls were made right, the follow-up and all the searching – that’s the way it works out. That wasn’t the only one, this happened before – at Chancellor Peak, we were looking for a guy – and it was the same thing, it turned out to be a domestic, and the guy just left his wife and kids, and went out and got a Greyhound Bus, and went back to Edmonton. The Edmonton City Police found him. We were searching up on the trails on Chancellor Peak, and I almost lost my dog on it. He jumped over the bank, because he smelled a searcher on the far side – it was Kathy Calvert. I managed to get Max back – it was a bit of a tricky wicket; it’s always a thing you can put in the learning basket. You’ve got to follow all the leads and eventually you get to the end – one way or the other.

MD: Do you have any lasting memories as a Warden, like your favorite cabin or horse?

Gord: Oh yeah…I’ve got both. My favourite horse was Bert Pittaway’s old saddle horse, Shorty, when I first went to Rogers Pass. (Bert was the Chief Warden for Revelstoke / Glacier.) I put my stamp on him, because he was trail-wise – and ugly as hell, and good as gold, you know. Really reliable – every year I took him back to the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch in the fall, and Cal Hayes would come out, and say, “Gord, well how old’s Shorty this year?” I just said, “Cal, he’s just coming 18 – not quite yet.” This went on for quite a few years. In February ( I forget the year it was) I was sitting at my desk in Rogers Pass and I got a phone call from him. He said, “Gord, I hate to tell you this but Shorty died. He wasn’t doing that well this year, so I kept him in with the mares, and your horse, that was just coming18, was 29 years old!” But goddamn, he was a good horse. And he did his job. I told Mike McKnight, when we were cutting the trail out – we were going up the Beaver, the seasonal warden and myself, and Mike was going to bring in some supplies to Twenty Mile Cabin. And Mike, being the cowboy that he was – he’d just come from Thousand Islands (NP), and he didn’t know the horses, so I told him, I said, “ Ride Shorty, and pack this one, and pack that one.” And we had this horse named Carol there, and it looked really nice, but dumber than a brick! So Mike saddled up old Carol, and went to Twenty Mile, and he came in and he was wet up to his chest. Shorty came in with a dry pack on – guess which one Mike rode out? It was a good laugh. He never made that mistake twice! Shorty just knew the trail, and knew where the bogs were, and how to get around them! A real smart horse. But shortly after I left Glacier, so did the horses. They never left when I was there, because there would have been one hell of a fight. But they didn’t last much after I was there.

MD: Do you ever look back and miss being a Warden at this point?

Gord: Ah…not now, but I did when I first left. I missed some of the calls and the excitement, and the stuff that goes on. It wasn’t really a job – it was just a way of life. That’s how you did it. I remember one time – I was at a validation for the dog, and that year it was in Kamloops. I finished the validation, and I just got home, and had all the gear still in my truck, walked in the house, and my daughter came up and gave me a big hug, and at the same time the phone rang. I answered the phone, held on to the girl, set the phone down, set the girl down, and turned around, grabbed the dog, hopped in the truck, and drove to Lake Louise, and went and found a girl that fell through into a waterfall on Mt. Whyte, and unfortunately drowned. That was a hard one to work out too. Except you’ve just got to tell phony little lies – there was a seasonal warden at Lake Louise – I forget his name at the time – I had backed up at the rescue bay (loading dock), and I said, “I’ve got to unload some of the stuff, ‘cause I don’t know how long I’m going to be here.” I had suitcases, and coffee pots, and yada-yada – all the stuff you need to live for a week. And these guys are looking at me – but all my rescue gear was underneath the box that…and I didn’t have time to unload the truck before that. Usually if you get one call, you know there’s going to be two more coming right away. Especially when the avalanche hazard was high, you just never knew, and sometimes nothing, and then away it goes again. The RCMP calls – they come in anytime.