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 – Winter 2013
Interview with Gord and Sharon Anderson – Valemount, British Columbia
Interview conducted by Christine Crilley-Everts
February 22, 2013
Sharon and Gord Anderson in the Tonquin Valley and then at their home in Valemount British Columbia
Place and Date of Birth: Gord was born August 15, 1943 in Bjorkdale, Saskatchewan and Sharon was born May 23, 1945 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Occupations: After spending time with an uncle in the backcountry of Jasper National Park, Gord decided to pursue a career in the warden service. Following the completion of technical school in Saskatoon, he started as a seasonal warden in Banff in 1969. The next year Gord, his wife Sharon and their young son Travis moved to Jasper where they remained for the rest of their career. For the next 28 years he held a variety of interesting positions including being backcountry warden and working in resource management where he participated in a two year bear study with the Canadian Wildlife Service and the first prescribed burn in national parks. He also served as a liaison warden with Parks and the Canadian National Railroad, and worked in the enforcement and operations departments where he mentored many a new warden. He remembers fondly the time he spent working in the backcountry and with the local wildlife.
As Gord’s active partner, Sharon loved the warden life. In addition to manning the cabin with two young children while Gord was in the backcountry, she answered visitors questions, sold fishing licenses, and acted as support during rescues. She also worked as a hairdresser and was very involved in the Jasper community through the local school and public health authority.
In retirement Gord and Sharon keep active with their grandchildren, horses, and the local arts community.
Additional Information: The opportunity to raise their family as part of the warden community, in the mountains surrounded by nature and the wildlife was a highlight of their career. Their love for the outdoors was passed on to their children Travis and Rundi. Rundi became a warden and worked in national parks on the west coast for 17 years. She and Gord became first father/daughter wardens in Canada. The Anderson’s continue to be committed to the warden community and way of life.
Gord, Rundi, Sharon and Travis Anderson – 2010
(0:15) “Gord, What was your place and date of birth?”
Gord – Bjorkdale, Saskatchewan. 1943, August 15.
(0:26) “And Sharon?”
Sharon – I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. May 23, 1945.
(0:39) “Did you both grow up in the prairies?”
Gord – Yeah, you could say that. I finished high school (there) and then ended up sort of directly into Banff. I spent part of the winter in British Columbia and then came to Banff in the spring of 1962, I think it was.
“What brought you to Banff?”
Gord – I had a sister and ex-brother-in-law, Norm Smith, living there. He was loosely associated with the warden service. It sort of led me to becoming a warden. He actually was a warden at one point in Blue Creek in Jasper and he worked in Banff as a summer warden for George Balding. I guess that is partly how I became interested in the warden service. I got to know a lot of the guys there at that time.
“Did you two meet in Banff? Were you working the summer?”
(1:31) Sharon – Yes, well actually at the time we met I was working fulltime. I became a hairdresser out of Calgary and my grandmother lived in Banff and owned a store there. I used to go there in the summers and work in her store. Then I went to school for hairdressing out of Calgary and then came back and worked in Banff. I met Gord at the ski hill actually, Lake Louise. Gord was a patrolman at that time.
(2:15) Gord – Yeah, one of the guys that I worked with and one of the girls that she worked with kind of got us together…The rest is history!
Would that have been in the mid 1960s?”
(2:28) Sharon – We were married in 1967 and we went together for a couple of years before that, so it was 1965 I think.
“So Gord you say it was your brother-in-law who got you interested in the warden service?”
(2:47) Gord – You know through my career I never gave it a heck of a lot of thought. My first exposure to the warden service was in 1958 and it was with the same brother-in-law, but it was after his short career at Blue Creek. We made a weekend swing through Banff and Jasper. In Banff we didn’t meet any wardens, but in Jasper we actually visited three. I spent some time with George Wells who was a warden in Jasper. He was a second generation warden and we spent some time waiting for a bear in a campground and all that sort of stuff. I was 15 and that (was pretty exciting). So that all kind of got into my psyche I think. It was only five years later that I really started getting involved and trying to get into the warden service.
“So you started to get those skills, required to become a warden?”
(4:06) Gord – Well, I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, so I knew a little bit about horses.) Then when we came to Banff, I got into the skiing thing right away. I actually worked as a ski patroller in Lake Louise under Bill Waslenchuck and (warden) Andy Anderson. I got to meet Andy very early on in Banff and ended up working for him off and on several times. As a seasonal warden, I worked for him one summer too at Lake Minnewanka. The ski patrol (job) helped build my skills there. But the end result was I still had to go back to school. I did a two year diploma in Renewable Resources out of Kelsey in Saskatoon. I was one of the early generation of tech school grads to be hired into the national park warden service…I basically got hired over the phone by a personnel manager in Calgary, Al Barr. That was my first job as a seasonal and I went to Minnewanka under Andy Anderson in 1969…The year prior 1968, I worked for Hugh Jennings as the Sunset lookout man. It was a short season there.
(6:10) Sharon – He was a character.
(6:11) Gord – Yep, he certainly was!
“So you worked the season at Minnewanka and then did you go back to ski patrol?”
(6:21) Gord – I went back to school. Then the next year I came back and they plunked me right in Banff…Billy Vroom, Ed Carleton all those guys were there, Jack Woledge. Jack actually took us up to our accommodation when we arrived in Banff. It was an old “mansion” on Cave Avenue. We were the last people to live in that thing. Sharon lived in the “mansion” until October 1970. I had already transferred to Jasper, July 31, 1970. They tore it down with a bull dozer after Sharon moved out…
(7:31) Sharon – At Minnewanka we lived in the old log house, not the big house. We lived in the old log house right across from Andy and Barb. It was possibly the original warden residence for the district. Then Toby Burkes and Jan lived in the little cabin there. They had their kids there, Camilla and Jordie…And that was the year that I had Travis.
(8:06) Gord – Our adventures with Toby that summer…We could give you a whole chapter there!
.“Sharon, were you prepared for the warden life? Did you have any experience with horses?”
(9:27) Sharon – Actually noI didn’t live on a farm, but I spent a lot of time on a farm. So I wasn’t really afraid of the bush and things like that. But I really wasn’t sure about cooking on a woodstove and travelling with a child. But I was game for it and I had some good mentors, Shirley Klettl was great and Sandra McClain really helped me a lot. The warden wives that had the experience passed it on and they were great. It was just awesome!
(10:14) Gord – Barb (Anderson) was a real mentor too, she told us stories about her experience in Cyclone and that.
(10:22) Sharon – They were always supportive. I am thinking of more than stories, I am talking about real support.
(10:32) Gord – She definitely was that.
“Because you were canning?”
(10:39) Sharon – She (Barb Anderson) was just an amazing, amazing person and so willing to share…The same with Sandra McClain. She was the one who really taught me how to cook and prepare food for the backcountry. Well, yeah! She taught me how to can even meat, pork chops and fish. She taught me how to can it so that you could take it into the backcountry so that you had good food…My parents had always canned. It wasn’t foreign to me, but we had never canned meat because we didn’t have to. I learned a lot from Sandra that way and Gord (McClain) was a good mentor for Gord (Anderson). They were just a really good resource for us. They were like great teachers and they are still good friends, which is nice after 40 years.
“After that summer in Minnewanka did you stay in Banff for a few years?”
(12:09) Gord – No, the summer we were at Minnewanka was 1969. The following year there were competitions… I think the competition was in the spring before the schools were finished, but I was reassigned to Banff again. I went back to my basic job there…I was only there to end of July and then I was promoted to Jasper. But most of my summer in Banff up until the end of July was in the backcountry working with guys like Randy Chisholm and Alf Raabis, I don’t know if you have ever heard of Alf? Jimmy Robertson, Billy Vroom, Ed Carleton…At the end of July, I was promoted. I think Dale, and I, and Alf Raabis all came to Jasper at the same time and that is where I remained for the rest of my career. From 1970 until 1998.
(13:43) Gord – We moved around within Jasper park and had lots of interesting assignments. That is why we stayed there. We went to Banff thinking, “In five years we will go somewhere else you know.” I was actually slated to go to Glacier in about 1972 I think, no it must have been 1971 because I went from a PRC2 to a fulltime position within the year. I went through two promotions I guess. The chief at the time in Jasper, Mickey McGuire wanted somebody to go to the backcountry and he felt that I was the best candidate that is why we stayed in Jasper. But I think initially I was supposed to go to Glacier if I remember right. Then as time went on, I had interesting assignments and the kids grew up to school age and the Jasper school was really good so that was another influential factor that kept us there…we’d heard stories from friends of ours that went north or went east or whatever and they had a heck of a time getting their kids good schooling.
(14:58) Sharon – And we had such a good community. We had our community of warden families and we had a community of people who did not work for the service, so it was strong. It was a nice community.
(15:14) Gord – But we sure missed Banff for about the first four or five years. Every time that we would go down that highway and saw those familiar mountains and what not and the people.
(15:28) Sharon – Well, both of us kind of grew up there too you know. We really went there as young adults, so a lot of our footloose and fancy free days were spent there!
(15:41) Gord – That is where we came of age.
“So your daughter Rundi was born in 1972?”