MD: Were they mainly public safety calls, or enforcement calls?

Gord: A bit of both. We tracked quite a few bad guys too – stolen vehicles and whatnot – searching for dope and stuff too. There’s always something going on. They used to do these road checks up at the summit of Rogers Pass – Transportation, RCMP – a thorough vehicle check for everybody. And that got quite exciting! One time, the paddy wagon was full, and they still had six guys standing on the grass, so I was just standing there with the dog, keeping them from running. So that worked out fine, ‘cause they were scared. Most of them had probably already been bit once, so they already knew what was going on.

MD: Do you have any photos of yourself working – say, with the dog?

Gord: Yes, there’s a few kicking around. (talking about the photo of Andy Anderson) Yeah, I used to smoke a pipe too, until Mulroney raised the price of pipe tobacco, so I quit! I’ve got something around somewhere – I’ll have to look.

MD: What year did you retire?

Gord: 1998. I got the golden handshake. But having done that, I had too many jealous friends around this town – every time I turned around, I wound up with another job. Because after I retired from Parks, I stayed pretty busy right up ‘til I just officially retired from driving a propane truck, May of 2018. After I did that, I drove a school bus, and fire watch down at the mill – went logging for a while. And then the one year – just before the Twin Towers came down, we drove across Canada. My wife started answering the phone in May, and said, “No, he’s not working this summer.” And we took the trailer and the kids, and drove all the way to Newfoundland. That was a fun trip.

MD: And your kids are all grown up now?

Gord: Yes – one in Calgary, and one in Edmonton, both in Health Services. And my Mom is still alive – she’s in Canmore. She’s going to be 99 in October. That place burnt down when she was in there – luckily she had just moved into a different room. They had to close off that whole section. And then she spent a year in Cochrane.
(Mrs. Peyto passed away on December 12th, 2019 at the age of 99 years).

MD: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that…

Gord: Absolutely not! …There’s all kinds of stories; it just depends on what kind of mood you’re in, and what type of story you want to tell. Well, some of the trips, when you’re supplying trail crews and stuff – it wasn’t too long before the trail crews found out if I was packing the groceries in they’d better pack their chocolate bars in themselves or they wouldn’t make it! One time I packed a crew into 14 Mile cabin on the Beaver, and they were actually a Junior Youth group – they were all 16-year-olds. We got in there, and the first thing this one kid did was lit a fire in the wood stove in the oven! So that didn’t work out too successfully, so the guy that ran the show, I said, “Good luck to you – you’re going to have fun!” The second time I brought the stuff in, the horse flies were really bad, so I told him when I took the pack boxes off, I said, “OK, I want ‘em empty and I want them out of here because I got to get going! So I had three horses and I had them all unpacked, and I turned around for the empty boxes, and there are none there! So I walked in the cabin, and they’re taking the stuff out of the pack boxes, and putting them on the shelves where it’s supposed to go. I grabbed the first box, flipped it upside down on the floor, and the second box upside down on the floor, and out the door I went. I got that horse packed up, and I turned around, and by then they had the hint, and I got the empty boxes. The next time I went in there, it was kind of a dull day – there was no horseflies – I rode in, unpacked the horses, and I looked, and I had an empty box to pack up again, and I got my lunch and my coffee, and went in and sat in the cabin, and had lunch. And this kid was looking at me, and said, “We just can’t well bloody figure you out!” I said, “Whaddaya mean?” “Well, the last time – blah, blah, blah, you wanted the boxes straightened out, and this time, you don’t seem to give a shit!” I said, “Do you see any horseflies out there today?” Sometimes, it’s just the little things that stick in your head – making fun. There was a lot of times you kind of wish you were somewhere else, but you didn’t have a choice, you know? Sometimes when the shit hit the fan, it really started to turn awkward.

MD: Well, you had some pretty rough stuff to deal with.

Gord: We had quite a few traumatic things happen up there. You’ve got to have a certain amount of skill, and a certain amount of luck too. If you get the breaks, you’re good, and if you don’t – we hit the trees in the helicopter one time. I thought, “This could get interesting real quick!” Crashed another time because a pop can rolled in and jammed the rudder pedals. We were just landing with the 206 and broke actually the main frame of the landing gear off the helicopter. It kind of teetered almost to go into Bear Creek Falls, but it settled down – so sometimes you get a little lucky. It was just me and the pilot, Bernie Gagnon. That was in 1971. It was a bit spooky. But that was fire-fighting in those days – it was a Jet Ranger. When he landed, it hit really hard in the back end, and it actually broke the frame. So he just kind of wired it together, and he flew it back to Calgary that way. He said, “I just have to be real careful how I land.” It was just a bad thing happening at the wrong time – he should never have had the pop can rolling around – but that’s what caused it.

MD: Did you ever learn how to fly yourself?

Gord: I could steer one, but I didn’t have… like a 204, Freddy Baird taught me how to do that. But that was just going up or down a valley or something. My younger brother was a pilot, but I wasn’t. But boy, it’s sure nice to have them (helicopters) show up when you need them. The one time, we were slinging up on the Swiss Glacier – Mark Savage was the pilot. He says, “I think we’ve got a bit of a problem here.” I looked up and there was smoke coming out of the helicopter. The battery shorted out, and we kind of landed quickly, and we got out from underneath it. He got that fixed up and then away he went.

MD: You were living on the edge here…!

Gord: …for a while. You take the odd run through an avalanche here and there too – for the hell of it. But it always seemed to work out. One time, we were going up for the start of the deep snow school, and it had really snowed a lot, and we were going up through the windfalls, and just the vibration, all the banks were sloughed, and Willi looks and says, “Oh, this could be interesting!” We had fun.

MD: Was Willi based at the same place as you?

Gord: No no, he was in Jasper, but he came down to Glacier for the deep snow school stuff. One year – the years all run together – but we had been skiing in the Bostock at the bottom there – the timber was getting pretty thick. There’s a trail and you ski out, and everything’s fine. But we finished the deep snow school, and the next week I was up there, and I caught a ride up with Snow Research, and I thought I’ll just nip over to Bostock, and there had been a massive avalanche. The head wall had come down. It had ripped the trees out everywhere! And I thought, “Holy Crap!” This is a week after we’d been skiing there! So I skied down and had a look at the whole thing and went out the trail and phoned Willi, and said, “Hey, you’d better come and have a look at this!” And he drove down and we got up there and skied down again, and he said, “Jesus – this will really improve the skiing, huh?” It opened the valley right up. Willi had some really tough times too, you know? Well, when Peter Perren and Tim Auger had that fall on Logan there. That was incredible luck. And the luck of it to have the 212 to get them, and then the weather socked in, and if they hadn’t got them out when they did, I don’t think Peter would be walking around today. They were just so fortunate – if it hadn’t been for Peter getting Tim out, and Tim being unhurt to look after Peter – holy shit! Scott was the other one too – we started doing the water searching too with the dogs (using the dogs searching for drowned victims). That was interesting too.

MD: How do the dogs do that?

Gord: Baron got really good at it. The scent comes through the surface. He actually found a guy in Hector Lake, and I marked the spot, and the divers came and they couldn’t find the guy, and then just as we were ending it up, Terry Willis was in the helicopter, and he’d just lifted off, when from overhead he saw the body – it was about 10 feet from where the marker was that I’d thrown out there, and he said “We got him” and he went to shore, and got in the raft and went out to get him, and he was gone – couldn’t find him again. But we never did find him after that. But Hector Lake is Bow River mud – it’s hard to see in there. Anyhow, that’s the way that one worked out. But the dog gave a solid indication, and then Terry saw him. What Terry said was that if he’d known it was going to be such a problem, he still had his dry suit on – he could have just jumped out of the helicopter and grabbed him. But hindsight’s 99%…

Another good story…we were up at Sapphire Col – like you’ve got stuff to share, sort of thing…the weather was kind of iffy, and we were in the hut having lunch – Terry left his pack outside, ‘cause there wasn’t that much room in there, and I had Max at the time. I think Willis at the time was working for the National Research Council. Anyhow, he left a great big chocolate bar out in his pack, and Max got into it – ripped the shit out of it! Chocolate isn’t the best thing for dogs, but it didn’t seem to bother him. And then Terry started ragging on us, and so we ragged on him for not sharing!

I went to – I call it the Bay Street Massacre – but it was the Bay Street avalanche in the Bugaboos. They called me to that one, and I got in there – flew in the helicopter, but when Saxon got out of the helicopter – he got out in the middle of a the slide, and I thought, “That’s kind of weird”, and he went maybe 10 or 15 feet, and started digging, and there was a broken ski there – he sliced his pad wide open, and I thought, “This is going from bad to worse!” So anyhow, he was bleeding a bit there, so I kind of got that stopped, and kept searching, and what we were looking for was a half of one body that actually got dragged through the trees, and was split in half. And the dog indicated a spot, but the timber was piled really high, so I marked the area, and that was that. What with the bleeding paw and everything else
– Jon Bezzola – he was the Safety Officer for CMH, and I said, “Well, this is where she is – I’m pretty sure.” So we let that one go, and I came out of there, and the next day I went to the vet in Canmore, and said, “I’ve got a thing with my dog”, and she came out and had a look, and said “It’s a thing all right – it’s cancer of the spine.” So that was a hard one. That’s the worst thing about being a dog handler is….after the years, you’ve got to let them go. I had three dogs in total. Max, he got arthritis of the hips – so at the end , you either give them away on medical problem to somebody else, so I actually put him down, and then Scott Ward and I – we went to the Timberline and I parked my truck about a mile from the Timberline in the shade, and we went there and had lunch – I was worried about the dog getting hot, but the dog was already dead, so it didn’t really make that much difference. And then Saxon – that was another sad one, and then I retired with Baron, so I kept him, but he still wanted to work. He couldn’t figure out why I was going to work, and he wasn’t. So he started to become a bit more of a problem – especially in town here. And then Jackie Campbell, who was a Dispatcher in Rogers Pass – she lives on a farm up the Blaeberry. And when we were going across Canada, I said to Jackie, “Do you want to look after Baron for the summer?” So she said, “Sure!” So Baron went out there, and we went across Canada – we came back and then Jackie had a photo album of what Baron did on his summer holidays! So we just left the dog out there, and he’d come in to visit once in a while. And then when he was 14 years old, he crawled up into the bush out there, laid down by a creek, and died, which was a nice way to go. So that was the one that did have a happy retirement. That little change – like going to the Belgian Shepherd, that was just fun, because after two German Shepherds – they’d both weighed 90 -95 pounds, this guy was 72 pounds, but he was like a Tasmanian Devil – he wanted to be 6 different places all at the same time. It was a lot of fun.

MD: What do they use now?

Gord: They’re still using the German Shepherds.

MD: Is there anybody else you think we should interview?

Gord: Eric Dafoe – he was in the wardens for a long time, and he’s in Revelstoke. And also Hans Fuhrer.
(Eric declined a request to be interviewed).

Jan and Gord Peyto, September 2009
Jan and Gord Peyto, September 2009