Telephone Interview with Jackie Keesey
June 22, 2014

(0:15) I was born in Nokomis, Saskatchewan on August 23, 1948. The first seven years of my life we actually lived in Govan, but the closest hospital was Nokomis My father farmed and then went into municipal business. Later on we moved around the province of Saskatchewan a fair amount. I really call home North Battleford because that was kind of the last place we lived and my parents spent the longest…

“Growing up on a farm, did that prepare you for the warden life? Did you have outdoor experience before you met Greg?”

I didn’t live on a farm. My dad was a grain farmer and we actually lived in the town of Govan and his farm was just a little ways out. We did have the usual harvest chores of taking lunch to the field and that kind of stuff…I had done some outdoor activities as a youth, a little bit with guiding, but it was mostly just a short stint with ski club or something like that, (was what) I had done prior to actually moving out to the districts with Greg.

“Were you excited to go to Kootenay?”

(1:38) I was! Actually, my dream was to marry somebody and move to the mountains, would you believe it! Having never thought that would ever happen. But l loved the mountains. I was only out with my parents twice and I remembered it and I loved it. I was hoping that at some point in time I would be able to do that. Anyway then I met Greg in college. He was taking renewable resources and I was taking dental assisting. The group of us from both classes used to hang around together and that was how I met him and from there it is all history!

“When you moved to Kootenay what were some of your responsibilities? Greg said they sort of got two for the price of one and I have heard that from other people too with the warden’s wives.

(2:25) That’s right because when the wardens weren’t at the station, if you were, and if there was a radio call, you were expected to answer it. If there was a phone call you were expected to take it and any messages. You were kind of like their home secretary or office secretary. If people came to the door and he wasn’t there, then you dealt with whatever it was. You might sell a fishing license. You might be giving a hiking permit or whatever. Because the office was part of the house, they pretty much expected you to cover the bases when the warden was out and away from the house. Lots of interesting experiences happened in that regard! And our son was born when we were at Marble Canyon and my mom came to help me out for a couple of weeks because I had had a pretty traumatic birth with him. So she came to help me out and I had to teach her how to answer the radio and answer the phones so that she could help with the office if I was lying down or feeding the baby. And she was from the city, she had no clue, (but) she learned fast!

“Was your son born in Invermere?”

Yes he was, he was born in Invermere and we lived at Marble Canyon.

Jackie on patrol at Floe Lake with Greg – 1972

(3:48) In February of 1974, our son would have been just over seven months. We moved out there and I was pregnant with our daughter at the time and she was born in August of 1974. We didn’t get to go and see the house when we were moving to this park. They said, “There was housing available.” And we took whatever it was. It turned out to be a 14×56 mobile home. We holidayed at Greg’s parents on the way out there. So when we got there the van had already been there and had unloaded. There was way more stuff than there was room for in the trailer. There were boxes piled everywhere and they had unpacked, which I didn’t expect that they would do. They had good china all over the counters, all over the tables, sitting on the couch…There were dishes, pots and pans everywhere! All these boxes and then right in the middle of the kitchen floor was a bag of garbage from Marble Canyon. Yeah, a big black plastic bag of garbage! And the Chief Warden came and rang the doorbell about ten minutes after we got there and was coming in for coffee. You can imagine how fast I had to find coffee! Yeah, that was quite the experience. I walked in the door and thought, “Oh no! This is what we are going to live in?” I hated that mobile home. I was so scared of it because the furnace was right next to the baby’s room and I was just so afraid that if there was ever a fire, I would never get to her. It just frightened me to stay there. So the first chance that there was a house, we took it. So that was great, we got more space and a place to put our stuff, it didn’t have to be parked in the shed.

“What made you keen to go to Pukaskwa? Greg said that it blew his mind when you said sure!”

Oh, I just thought this was going to be a wonderful adventure! (I had never been to Ontario before. I had never been east of Saskatchewan. Going anywhere was going to be fun. We had been talking to other wardens who had moved to lots of different parks and I thought, “Well, this is the way our life is, this is going to be wonderful!” The fact that we were actually moved to a town too. We lived in the town of Marathon. That was nice. We could actually walk down to the store and stuff like that. It was great!

“And you were able to work in Marathon?”

I did for a while. I continued on with some dental assisting while I was there, until my daughter was born…I had taken nursing and I had worked as an unregistered nursing aid because I didn’t get to write my exams, I was sick. I worked as an unregistered nursing aid before dental assisting so when I got to Marathon I was able to work at the hospital because I had had training in maternity. I worked usually just on call, but I usually worked maternity as an unregistered aid and went in and helped the nurses with any deliveries that were coming in. It was exciting, I always liked it. I had a wonderful babysitter, a gal who lived next door who could just pick up at home and do anything that happened. If needed, she could look after the kids, she did laundry, she did dishes, you name it. She just took over the house if Greg wasn’t home, so it was great. I usually tried to take my calls when I knew Greg would be home from work…but once in a while I got called before. Then later, I started working at the doctor’s office doing dictation typing on the charts. That was nice because it was a part time job, so I could do two hours in the morning when the kids were at school and two in the afternoon while they were at school. I never did do that much work until the kids were both in school fulltime. It was nice to be able to have the time at home with them when they were young.

“In terms of raising kids in a national park, what were some of the benefits?”

(8:17) Well, I guess there were some, although I don’t think my son thought so at the time. But since he has moved out of the park he has realized what a valuable experience they had growing up in national parks. He’s often thanked his dad for the job that he had and for the places that we were able to live. So that was very nice and he is also married to a park warden! But I know when he was 18, he couldn’t get out of the park fast enough and he swore he was never going to be back living in national parks again! He was sick and tired of being expected to be the glowing example to every teenager in a national park! He wanted to skateboard and he couldn’t skateboard in the park. There were so many rules and regulations. They were not happy at times, but by the same token, they water skied a lot and Greg had a boat and a motor for them. He and his friends would just take off and go down to the beach and they would go out and water ski for the day. So they knew that they had a lot of advantages to being in a national park. And Suzanne the same, she had lots of different jobs. But I know that they didn’t like riding the school bus as much as they had to. In Waskesiu they had to go from Waskesiu to Christopher Lake which was 50 kilometers one way for elementary school and in grade nine they went to Prince Albert, from grade nine to 12. They were bused from 7:15ish in the morning until quarter to five at night…they were busing 100 kilometers to high school so it made it challenging. Especially when they were very active in extracurricular activities. Scott played volleyball and he was in track and field and Sue played basketball and was in track and field. They could curl in Waskesiu, but that was about it. They went to scouts and guides in Waskesiu because I made sure that scouts and guides happened and got leaders so that the kids had something to do in town to keep them out of trouble. We did a lot of that. I did those things with them because Greg usually had to be out at Kingsmere, or out in a district, or be gone somewhere, so that was pretty much my job to do with the kids and keep them going. The extracurricular activities, jeez, we were always driving on weekends, going to volleyball games and tournaments and basketball and god knows what else. Then of course they had school friends that lived outside of the park. Until they could drive and we felt them safe on the highway, we pretty much had to make those trips everyday that they wanted to do something. It proposed a challenge for sure. But it was one thing that we just decided we were not going to keep them from doing those things. It wasn’t their choice to have to live there, so then we had to make sure that they still had the opportunities.

“Did your responsibilities change as a warden’s wife in Pukaskwa and then in Waskesiu?

(11:26) Yes, because I didn’t have to deal with the home office, right, the same as I did out in Kootenay. My responsibilities changed big time there, unless I went out to Kingsmere district and then sometimes when we were at the cabin there might be somebody pop by, but very often I was out in the boat with Greg or he would just go on his own. He was actually quite disappointed that I didn’t go with him more, but the kids were teenagers and I felt it was more important to be at home than to be out in the district with him. I wanted to keep my kids on the straight and narrow at home!

“Were you happy to be back in the prairies, after being in Pukaskwa?”

(12:12) Ah, yes because it brought us closer back to family. We had been trying for quite some time to get a transfer before it actually came through. It came through at the right time because my sister unexpectedly passed away in August and while we were home for her funeral we found out that the Chief Warden had been able to get a transfer arranged (for Greg) to Prince Albert, which was only three hours away from my mom and dad. We knew when we left that we were going to be back in six weeks which made it so much easier for their transition and for myself. So it was good and then Greg’s parents were in Regina. So we weren’t very far from any of them which was very nice. It was important to be back where the family was.

“Of the three parks, do you have a favorite?’

(13:02) I think that I liked Kootenay, but we spent a lot of years in Waskesiu though, we were there almost 14 years and I certainly liked it. I have tons of friends from there and stuff, but I really like the mountain surroundings of Kootenay. I think they would run pretty close hand and hand…Waskesiu and Kootenay.

“Any lasting memories of your time with the warden service?”

(13:35) Oh, I could tell you a few stories. I wish I had kept a journal actually and I thought about it when we were first married, then I thought, “Oh, there will be things that happen that you will never forget.” But you do! We had lots of experiences like people coming by. When we lived at Marble Canyon, the parks people would always plow out the yard, we would get a lot of snow up at the canyon. We would have people that would pull into the yard and then stop and pee in the driveway because they didn’t think anybody was home. Greg would say, “But the lights are on and the curtains are open, what made you think no one was home?” Things like that! I had one experience at Kootenay Crossing where we had a big sow bear come and knock on our back door. I had been baking all day and getting ready for some company. It was hot so I had the windows open. Greg was home and he was in the tub. I was cleaning up after supper and there was this pounding on the door. I couldn’t see down to the doorway until I actually got about four feet from the door when I went around the corner. I kept saying, “I’m coming! I’m coming!” I kept trying to get my hands out of the dishwater, so I headed down the stairs, “I’m coming! I’m coming!” There’s this banging on the door and then here is this big black bears face outside the door! I guess he smelled everything that I was cooking that day and decided he was dropping in for supper! So I just let a scream out of me and Greg came bouncing out of the bathtub naked and scared him away. That was one of our highlights! Another time was when we got woken up around 11:30 at night by a girl pounding on the door. We had a creek that ran right by the house at Kootenay Crossing and she pulled in and banged on the door asking for a glass of water to take her birth control pill! I felt like saying, “Go stick your head in the creek!” But I didn’t. So you get a few experiences like that, that really do stick with you! We had a lot of adventures and a lot of fun. A lot of good times and you know (despite) the challenges that you have living in that type of environment it is great, it really was more fun than it was anything else. I enjoyed the fact that as a warden’s wife (and family) that we could accompany Greg out in the backcountry whether he went on horseback or whether we hiked or whatever. I would hike to the weather stations with him sometimes just for the exercise. Or we would take a horse and packs and we would ride up to Floe Lake from Kootenay Crossing. So that was one of the reasons that Kootenay was so nice. That was before I had a family and I could do those things. Then after we had a family we lived in town which was great for the kids. There was sometimes when all of us would go out to Kingsmere with him too, on a weekend or something like that. And certainly the kids got lots of time with him with fishing and things that were really outdoorsy…

“Did you ever worry about Greg out on the water or in the mountains?”

(17:14) Oh god, everyday! I worried when he went up in helicopters and I worried when he was out on the lake. I know one day, I think he had just gone out fishing on his own and he wasn’t home and he wasn’t home. I think Scott was about 18 months, Sue would have been about six months. I can remember just finally calling one of our friends and saying, “You have to go and see if he is coming in. It’s after dark, he’s not home and you have to find him. I have to know.” Of course without cell phones or anything back then, you had no way of knowing whether they were in trouble or not. He was coming home. He was just off in the boat, but he was well after dark and I was starting to get concerned…I worried all the time when he was in helicopters and when he went out on fires and stuff. You were always kind of concerned, that was for sure. But it was also nice in Kootenay because we could hear things going on from the radio. So it kind of kept you alerted as to what was happening when they were out on rescues or whatever they were doing. You could kind of hear what was going on. But in Pukaskwa and Waskesiu you didn’t get that kind of information because you didn’t have a radio at home. When I was in Waskesiu, I also worked for the Parks myself in the finance department. I did revenue and accounts receivable for several years and I was secretary for the maintenance compound for several years. So with all that when I was at work things were fine because you got information right? But when you got home you didn’t. You sort of relied on your warden neighbors to keep you updated as to what was going on. Yeah, you do worry, because they do go out on a lot of high expeditions and you really need to worry about their safety as well. But I also knew that he was well trained and that he wasn’t silly. He would take care of himself as well. There were lots of times he said family was in the back of his mind as well when he was out there. More after he was a dad than anything, it comes to ring true…that I’ve got to be more careful because I’ve got to be home tonight. I’ve got more to look after than another adult.

“But overall Greg said you really enjoyed the warden life?”

(19:52) Yep, we sure did! I don’t regret ever going into it. Certainly like I said, there were days when there were challenges, but you have those, it doesn’t matter what career you choose or anything else. Days go by and every family has to deal with things. But I am sure we had a much easier life than a lot of people and we certainly had lots more experiences and opportunities than many people get. Like Greg always said, he got paid to go on holidays. It was a way of life and other people work hard 50 weeks of the year for two weeks of holidays like that and we got paid to have a holiday 50 weeks of the year at home!

“That is a fantastic way to look at it.”)

Yeah it was great

(20:55) I don’t think so. (In response to the question, “Thank you, you have answered all my questions, is there anything that you would like to add?”) I think like any wife you carry on the things at home, but the fun of the situation was being able to be a work partner, as well as a marriage partner. When you are in the districts and in the national parks you very much are dependent on each other. Although the government got two for the price of one, it was an experience and I would never want to change anything. So that was great!

(21:33) I do…and the book on Waskesiu women…(In response to the question, “Do you have the book Silent Partners ?) (Ann Dixon who was married to warden Fred Dixon wrote and self published the book Silent Partners. It is a collection of stories from women whose husbands were part of the warden service.) I think we came into the warden service at the time, where slowly after we got settled into it, there was a transition where they didn’t move wardens as often as they used to. Lots of people talk about being in eight or nine different parks in their career and we were only in three. Maybe by choice, but also it was because you had to apply for positions and go through competitions and stuff. You didn’t just get a transfer and get moved around. I think for that reason we did not move as often. But we were still quite happy with the parks that we were in. There was no problem with that. But we didn’t get quite the same experience as some people who were in a lot of places and had certainly they did a lot more backcountry than what we had to do. Some people were able to do more, but we were happy with what we had…You make the best of where you are, that is what I always said!