Park Warden Alumni Society of Alberta 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 – Spring 2014
Interview with Greg and Jackie Keesey – Summerland, British Columbia
Jackie was interviewed over the telephone June 22, 2014. Her interview transcript is included after Greg’s.
May 18, 2014
Place and Date of Birth: Unity, Saskatchewan. November 14, 1947.
Occupations: Greg started working as a seasonal warden in Kootenay National Park in 1969, after completing the Renewable Resource Technology Program in Saskatoon. Following four years in the mountains, he headed east with his young family to work in the newly created national park Pukaskwa. In 1983, he returned to his prairie roots to work in Waskesiu where he remained for the rest of his warden career. In Waskesiu, his focus was law enforcement, public safety and communications. Greg retired in 1998, after 28 years as a national park warden.
Additional Information: Greg and his wife Jackie thoroughly enjoyed their time with the warden service. For Greg it was not a job, but a way of life. The variety of the work, the beauty and wonder of the wilderness, and communicating with locals, as well as park visitors, were highlights of his career. He also enjoyed the people he worked with in all the national parks, training schools at the Palisades and the Point Peele smelt run.
“If I can start please, with your place and date of birth?”)
(0:17) Unity, Saskatchewan. November 14, 1947. I grew up there until I was 16.
“What led you to the warden service?”
I left home and went to university, to Simon Fraser and didn’t do so well there. So my dad helped me get enrolled in the Renewable Resource Technology Program in Saskatoon. It was a program that a lot of the other wardens went to. I spent my two years, 1967 to the spring of 1969. It is funny how I got started because it was quite by accident. I met my wife (Jackie) at the beginning of the second year and we formed a ski club at the Renewable Resources course and we went to Banff, to I believe Johnson Canyon Youth Hostel in about April of 1969. Every morning we walked by the warden station at Johnson Canyon and when we were there it was just such beautiful, beautiful weather. We would go for a walk in the morning before we went skiing and every time I went past the warden station, it was all boarded up. I thought how sad that was. It (looked like) such a nice place to work (but) never thought for a minute that I would work for national parks because I really knew nothing about them. I went back to school and near the end of the year, just before we graduated agencies went around to start hiring. Lo and behold national parks wanted a seasonal warden in Kootenay National Park. I wanted a permanent job, but didn’t realize until the instructors indicated that there were 43 of us (applying) and these people might hand out about eight jobs and then the rest of us would have to find our own. Part way through the interview day, I walked into the head instructor’s office and said, “Vance, could I get involved in this interview?” I was wearing running shoes, an old t-shirt and jeans, everybody else had spit shined shoes and were wearing nice suit jackets, Brylcreem (a British brand of hair styling products for men.) in their hair and everything. I walked in and he said, “Yeah, you are number 12.” Well, I ended up getting the job. I believe I was the first graduate from that course, that technical course and I believe maybe of any of the technical courses to get a job with Parks Canada. Gord Anderson got a seasonal Park Warden Job in Banff that year. Then of course the next year, quite a few of the fellows followed me, people like Lloyd Freese, Al Stendie and a few of the others after that. So I got to see a whole bunch of my fellow classmates after that. It was basically an accident, but a good one.
“Was your wife in that course as well?”
No, my wife took a dental assistant course. That started at the beginning of the second year. I met her and we went together that year and when I went away to start my warden job, she was in Saskatoon and I was in Kootenay for two summers. I was a seasonal for two summers. At the end of my second summer in 1970, I latched on to the permanentPRC-8 job and in September we were married. When I returned I was posted to Marble Canyon with a permanent job, which was really, really good timing. I think that we were at Marble Canyon for about a year and a half. Neil Woledge was my Chief Warden. No, in the beginning Bill Hollingsworth was my Chief Warden. Then he left the service and Neil Woledge took over…
“From Marble Canyon did you stay in Kootenay?”
We stayed in Kootenay. We were told one day that next week the garbage truck would be there to pick us up to move us to Kootenay Crossing. So when we went shopping we had to find all sorts of odd shaped boxes to pack up all our stuff. The garbage truck was just a flat deck with the stake body taken off. We managed to pack everything we had, which was almost nothing at that time. We didn’t have two nickels to rub together! We loaded up in the garbage truck and went to Kootenay Crossing for about a year and then one day we were told that the garbage truck was coming the next week and we were moving back to Marble. I told the Chief Warden, that I wasn’t moving in packing boxes anymore. I wanted some real boxes and he wouldn’t let me get them. But I went to the finance officer and she says, “You go into Calgary and find those moving boxes. You can get them used at a good price and you give me the bill.” So we packed in regular boxes and moved back to Marble and I think that we were there for about one year and that was our stay in Kootenay.
“Did you enjoy that?”
Oh, we enjoyed it at the time. We had no money, we had very few belongings, we were newly married, we didn’t have any kids, and it was an absolutely wonderful experience, brand new to both of us. Unfortunately, Jackie had been trained as a dental assistant and she couldn’t do her work out 50 miles from Banff or 30 miles from Radium Hot Springs. But when we were in Kootenay Crossing, she actually worked for a dentist in Invermere for a few months. It was a wonderful experience.
(7:15) Well, Byron Irons put out a feeler for anybody in mountain parks wanting to trade with him, he was in Pukaskwa. I got a call on the radio one day from Neil Woledge asking if I wanted to move to a national park in Ontario. I said, “How long do I have to decide?” And he said, “I want to know tomorrow.” So I went back to Marble and asked Jackie if she wanted to move to a new national park in Ontario and give it a try. She said, “Sure.” Which blew my mind, I didn’t think for a minute that she would want to do that. I went in the next morning and we called Mike Schintz and he talked to me about a few things. Then in February of 1974, with a little red car, a couple of dogs and our new son who was about six months old and a whole bunch of homemade wine that was half brewed on the top of the car, we moved to Marathon, Ontario and I worked in Pukaskwa for nine and a half years.
“Mac Elder really wanted me to talk to you about it because it was a new park.”
Actually, the park was started in 1971 and I got there in 1974. So it was really, really new and non gazetted. A bit of a challenge after working in a gazetted park with lots of Calgary tourists going down the road to Invermere. It was a lot of highway work that we did in Kootenay. In Pukaskwa it was pure wilderness. There were no roads into the park, no public roads. Our only access into the park was by four wheel drive from an Indian Reserve at Mobert, or by boat or by air. It was quite a different experience.
“Going back a bit, growing up did you have any outdoor experience or horse experience?”
(9:42) That’s an interesting question because at my interview, I hadn’t done many of the things they asked me about, like climbing or horseback riding or anything like that. But my answers were, “I am interested in trying, it sounds exciting.” And that sort of thing. I think they probably felt that I could learn. I had done a little horseback riding in my home town, but not a lot.