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 2012
Telephone Interview with Gordon and Sandra McClain
Interview conducted by Christine Crilley-Everts
March 4, 2012
Five Amigos at Warden Days in Jasper National Park 1993
Brian Wallace, Gordon McClain, Al Stendie, Gord Anderson and Dale Portman
Place and Date of Birth: Gordon was born June 3, 1937 in Raymond, Alberta. Sandra was born June 4, 1939 in Edmonton.
Occupations: Before starting with the warden service, Gordon did a variety of work including carpentry, farming, working at the fish hatchery, as well as working at the experimental farm in Haines Junction. In 1964, he started with the warden service as a seasonal warden in Jasper National Park. After ten years working in the back and front country of the park, he moved to Pacific Rim where he worked until his retirement in 1991. Sandra was trained as a lab and x-ray technician. As well as working in different hospitals, she worked for Parks on their switchboard which was located in the Jasper fire hall and did all the jobs associated with being a warden’s wife.
Additional Information: Gordon and Sandra live between Lake Cowichan and Duncan, British Columbia. They keep busy with their garden and grandchildren. Gordon enjoys antler carving, leather work and island life.
(0:00:19) Gordon – I was born June 3, 1937 in Raymond, Alberta. My parent’s names were Delia and John. My dad was a mechanic and my mother was a nurse in a mental institution. Sandra was born in Edmonton, June 4, right behind me in 1939. She was a lab and x-ray technician and she had to come from Edmonton down to Raymond to work in the hospital. I was in carpentry and I had an accident and ended up in the hospital. She had to x-ray me and she had her hands all over me, of course and that’s where it started!
(0:02:21) Do you have children?
Yes, we have a boy and two girls. Our son is in Lethbridge and our two daughters are up here in Lake Cowichan, just beyond us. So they are close. We have two granddaughters in Lethbridge. Karen, my other daughter at the lake, has two boys. And my son in Lethbridge has one granddaughter, so that is our great-granddaughter.
What did you go before you became a warden?
(0:03:21) Well back then you just worked at whatever you could pick up eh.
We were farming and I worked at the fish hatchery out by Caroline, the government fish hatchery. I worked on a large pig and cattle operation at Camrose. Then I applied for the warden service and I came third on the competition and they said, “Well, it doesn’t look like there is going to be anything moving in the next year. If you can pick up other work somewhere, we would encourage you to do it.” So we had a chance to go up to the Yukon, up to the experimental farm, north of Whitehorse. We were up there for a year and then we got a call from Jasper. “If you want a job, get your buns down here.” We had our young boy with us and our oldest daughter was born in Whitehorse.
(0:04:56) Yes, I started in the Pocahontas district in Jasper as the summer warden. Back then it was a grade one or a warden one. You were seasonal, then warden one, warden two and then up the chain. The first summer I was a warden one and I assisted Larry Tremblay out of Pocahontas. He was the district warden…
(0:07:43) I started in Jasper in 1964…in Pocahontas. Then I went to the Rocky River and then the Snaring district. That was right in the time that they were doing that big change over with centralization. It was a new era coming in. They had area managers, front and backcountry. So I kind of oversaw the north boundary that would have been Willow Creek, Blue Creek, Devona and Snaring. Those were the areas that we were covering back then. After that, I went to town for four years and then we transferred out here to The Rim (Pacific Rim National Park).
Did you enjoy the change?
(0:09:17) Yes, quite! Jasper and Pacific Rim are different parks”). I could see a change of administration taking place and I thought about it for quite a while. I could personally see problems coming, so when we had an opportunity to go out to The Rim we went.
(0:09:52) Yes, we were in the backcountry districts with our children. Jacques Lake was the Rocky headquarters and by then we had another daughter. So we had our boy and two girls. Mony the boy became the age to go to school while we were at Pocahontas, so he went out to Wetaskiwin to his A
(0:10:53) In 1974 we went to Pacific Rim and…I retired in 1991. They had that big buyout that year and quite a few guys left. Boy, that’s 20 years of retirement already in and I feel great! We’ve got a real nice place here in Duncan. We have our own garden. We grow our own vegetables and fruit. We go fishing every fall. My brother comes out from Alberta, so we fish in the fall. There is so much fruit out here that I brew my own wine. I am into antler carving and leather work and just keeping busy! Yeah, I used to have two days off!
(0:13:12) One thing, when that competition came up for Jasper, both Sandra and I had raised our own horses so that was kind of a bonus eh, because that was required for backcountry travel. So that worked out okay. Oh yeah (they missed the horses when they went to Pacific Rim). It was getting to be a way of life. You look for them in the spring and then you were sure happy to see them go in the fall.
Did it take a while to adjust to The Rim?
(0:14:09) I replaced a warden out there (in Pacific Rim) by the name of Art Handley. He left so there was a vacancy and I went out. The year before Ole Hermanrude, he was the chief warden out there (he had worked in Jasper). Jack Holroyd, I knew him from the Jasper schools and stuff. He was the Superintendent. And Frank Camp. His dad kind of chaperoned me when I first went to Jasper and Frank was out there then too. So friends and personalities were already here. It was just getting used to your environment. I enjoyed boat work and water work and the seafood! So it didn’t take that long to fall in hand eh!
Did the weather get to you?
Well surprisingly the first two winters were just gorgeous. Oh man! They kept talking about this rain and cold and dampness. I said, “Well I don’t know where it is.” Because those first couple of years were just gorgeous. We lived right on Wickaninnish beach there for the first year in one of the appropriated homes and the kids were in the water all winter.
Was it the outdoor life that got you interested in the warden service?
(0:16:03) I don’t know what really got me triggered into it. I remember a friend of mine being a lookout man for a summer. I think it was up around Waterton somewhere. He came back with all these stories about wardens and horses. “You know, jeez.” I thought maybe someday…Then it just fell into place. We always hunted and fished as kids, so we were out of doors.”
What did you like best about being a warden?
(0:16:46) Well, I’ve always liked people and communicating. That was one of your duties, PR. We had some real good ones and a few of the others ones you know. It was just an enjoyable job. I don’t know of a day that I didn’t enjoy going to work. I had the odd headache and stuff, but that didn’t stop me!
Was there anything you didn’t really like about being a warden?
(0:17:42) There probably is, but right off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything. Personnel don’t really come into it. You could have your likes and dislikes on that, but it has nothing to do with the job itself…Oh just some of the yahoos that we encountered daily on Long Beach. I got out there just at the tail end of the hippy era. That was kind of an eye-opener! Other than that just trying to convince some guy that he had done wrong before you have to go through charges and stuff. Educating that way was easier than having them turn on you and getting mad. It was just a little different. I don’t think that I ever really regretted joining the warden service.
Are there any memorable events from your warden career?
(0:19:15) Not really any memorable, but a lot of enjoyable events. Just putting on some of the farewell parties for some of the staff eh. We did Mac Elder’s retirement and that was a real good one…Oh yeah, we (Gordon and Mac) had a good relationship.
Are there any wildlife stories that stick out in your memory?
(0:20:19) At Rocky Forks, that was one of the cabins, I was going to jingle the horses…and I walked through this stand of small pine and I had this funny feeling that something was following me. I thought, “Uh-oh, I better keep walking.” And it kept following. I ducked around behind a tree and turned around and there was a little calf elk following me! He couldn’t have been more than two or three days old. I think she probably put him down and had him stay put. I happened to be on the trail and he might have thought that I was her. He looked so lost! I just pushed him off into the bush and kept going. I didn’t want to tangle with her!
Elk Calf at Rocky Forks Meadow