SH: And you don’t have a rifle and it’s just you?
John: Oh no, no. So I grabbed the net, and I throw it in the back seat with all my saddles and pack boxes and stuff like that and off we go to Scotch Camp. (Tape 24:07)
Part 3: 3:35 pm Tape 00:06
John: That summer when Ledwidge was up at the Crossing with me, Suzanne was working at the East Gate and there was another girl there, a naturalist, working at the house. All of a sudden they come running up to Marc and I and say there’s a bunny in the outhouse (hole). So we walk over to the outhouse and looked down and sure enough there was this poor little bunny, fairly wet with droopy ears, looking up at us. So we hummed and hawed, trying to figure out how to get bunny out of the outhouse. Trying to throw sticks down there and different things like that. It wasn’t really climbing the stuff we were throwing so we got some …. I can’t remember if it was a climbing sling or a binder twine or a piece of rope from the barn, and we lassoed the bunny and pulled him up. And he comes up all poopy. That was sort of another outhouse experience. There’s more coming too.
SH: Oh, I can just picture it. So you pulled the poopy bunny up and then what?
John: We just let him go. It was up to him. We’d done our part.
After that I got a winter job or maybe just went down to Lake Louise for the winter that year and then I worked in Lake Louise in the summers, and got a winter job at the ski hill, so I had a summer job and a winter job. I was working with Clair, so when I wasn’t in the backcountry we climbed a lot. We had a Wednesday climbing crew; that was (Gord) Irwin, (Marc) Ledwidge, Al McDonald and I. We had the same days off. We always sort of piggy back a helicopter ride somewhere …. Go climbing Mt. Forbes and all these good spots, we could go and have a lot of fun on days off doing that. That went on for five, six, seven years. Lots of good times.
One winter we went up – Morton, wanted to go with David Simpson – they were planning on going up the Howse River on skidoos. So we went up with them. The Howse River comes into the North Saskatchewan just past Saskatchewan Crossing and so you can skidoo up the gravel banks or gravel bars for quite a ways, but every so often you had to cross the ice. At this one spot there wasn’t much ice, it was mostly water. I’ve got a picture somewhere and I’ll try to find it later. Morton had a skidoo, an old Alpine, one of the big ones. He had packs and food on it and skis sticking out. I don’t think he had a sled on it, but anyways, he thought he could cross the water. He thought it would be either shallow enough or he could go fast enough on an Alpine. And he didn’t, and the water was much deeper than he thought. So he tried to go out there and the skidoo just sank and he had to get out as good as they could. They ended up coming back to the Crossing. So the skidoo is sitting in the river up there. And we went back the next day. So maybe I wasn’t there when he actually did it but went back for the rescue.
SH: The skidoo rescue?
John: Yes, which I had some pictures of. There’s the skidoo and all you can see is the top of the windscreen and a pair of skis sticking out. Because Jay had been driving; it was his judgement to go out there. We said, No, you’re going to go out there with the hip waders on and hook a rope onto it, and we’re going to tow it out with these other skidoos.” which we did. It worked pretty well. We drug it out of the river onto the sandbar. We took off the sparkplugs and emptied the water out of it, and pulled it a few times and it started. Those old machines were ….
John: Yes, at least I thought it started, maybe it just fired, but we got it back to the Crossing. But they never had their trip to Howse River. So that was a skidoo rescue. (Tape 06:42)
Another time we were having a New Year’s party in Lake Louise and it was probably downstairs in the Lake Louise Inn, but it was a community party. We had a… we put some money in and bought a ticket for a couple to go to Mexico I think, one of those kinds of things. You leave for Mexico after you raffle it off. But just about 10 o’clock we got a call that some guy had fallen on Louise Falls. So the wardens there we had to go rescue him, and get all our stuff. I can’t remember whether we skied in or skidooed, across the lake to Louise Falls. Dark, and cold and we were kind of half cut, but this guy is dangling up there. I don’t know whether I was gullible or naïve, but there’s Irwin and Clair, guys who are pretty handy. They scampered up there and set some ropes up there. So they said “Okay John, here’s about three or four ropes, and some stuff we’re going to need. Put it in a pack and climb up. And I wasn’t a keen ice climber. So all you could see at night is your headlamp, which is about a foot and a half circle diameter, and that’s all you can see as you’re going up. So you’re clunk, clunk, clunk up there. It was fine, got the guy out, but not my idea of fun. I’ve never liked ice climbing much. (Tape 08:49)
Then one summer in Lake Louise we got a call, and it was fairly late in the evening. Eric Langshaw and his girlfriend had been up at Bow Hut, or else they’d come across the ice and he’d fallen in a slot crevasse, just above Bow Hut as they’re coming down. Late in the afternoon the snow is so soft. So she hiked out to the highway and contacted somebody or else come down to Lake Louise and got a hold of us. There wasn’t anybody else in town except Clair and I. So we could get a helicopter so we flew up to Bow Hut and we see a slot, a hole in the snow, where the woman had described it, and a rope sort of trailing out of it. So just two of us so we had to set up and went down and we hooked him up. But poor Eric is just frozen. He’d been in there most of the day. So got him out, flew him out to get warmed up. But he was just standing on a little thing, a chunk of ice about as big as that notebook.
SH: Wow, lucky!
John: Ya he was. So that was life in Lake Louise and then we moved to Revelstoke in 1988. (Tape 10:52)
SH: What different parks did you work in? How did they compare? Do you have a favorite?
John: So I worked out of Glacier in 1988.
SH: Were you a wildlife warden then?
John: No, not really. Everybody was doing everything. We did a lot of climbing and skiing in the winter. Miscellaneous little projects. That’s when we were writing RDNA’s and all that crap. Then after a while Eric had been down in Mount Revelstoke and he wanted to work up at the (Rogers’) Pass. He was living down there. So Higgy (Brian Higgins) was here, and he wanted to work in Revelstoke. So he was the Revelstoke Warden for awhile, but he got tired of that after two years, and then I said I’d work in Revelstoke and that’s sort of the early 90s and that’s when a lot of the wildlife projects started happening, and then I became fully immersed in that and didn’t have a lot to do with the rest of the Warden Service. They were cooperative projects, multi agency things, with Forestry, Columbia Basin, Fish and Wildlife. I was one of the main guys doing all the field work.
SH: Was caribou an issue at that point?
John: Caribou was the first big project here. That was full on pretty much summer and winter. In summer we were doing a little less, but we were doing a lot of field work doing habitat use and availability studies. During the course of that I have another outhouse story.
We used to live down the street, just on the other side of Airport Way. Our next door neighbor was an English school teacher and he came one evening and said “We’ve just been to Evan Lake and there’s a marmot stuck in the outhouse. We tried to get him out but we couldn’t do anything”. So I said, “Okay, I’ll go up there in the morning and see what we can do.”
Erick, my son who is 6’5” now, was about five or six years old. I said “Erick we are going to go up and do a wildlife rescue up at Evan Lake”. So we hike up … you know Evan Lake, it’s about a 6 km hike, fairly flat. So we got up there fairly early. Nobody else is on the trail. I don’t even remember if the Parks gate was open or if they had a gate then. We were the first people up there and we go over to the outhouse and you can see where my neighbor had tried to stick poles down the back, there was a little hole, where the marmot had climbed in, but he wasn’t climbing up. He was looking at you with these pleading eyes and drooping ears, just covered in poop.
So I said “Erick, we’ve done this before, we can lasso him. I’d taken up some climbing slings just in case. So I drop a loop over him and got it up over his arms, and pull him up. And he was covered in wet, ugly shit. The outhouse is about 400 feet to the lake. I can remember holding this marmot straight out from my body on the end of this rope, getting as far away as I can, but he’s flying around, flinging shit everywhere. Erick’s gone at this point. So I go down to the lake, douse him a couple of times, in the lake, and then undo the rope and let him go. But of course I had these old rugby pants on and a warden shirt, and I’m covered in shit. And Erick says “Dad, dad, you’re messy”, or something, I can’t remember. But anyways, there’s a big rock there so I take off all my clothes down to my underwear, and start washing them in the lake. It was a nice morning, sunny but nobody was there. I’m sitting there on this rock with no clothes on waiting for my pants to dry a little bit. A sort of embarrassed little boy. (Tape 17:32)
SH: Well the one thing I remember about you John, is one time we got to use the cabin in Mount Revelstoke, and we stayed up there, and Ian (Pengelly) said, “Well you can tell John Flaa built this cabin because the bunks were so high and so long”. It was a cabin built for giants.
John: Oh ya, I refurbished it. (Tape 17:56)
John: One time Eric Dafoe and I – I was doing wildlife by this time and doing all kinds of stuff, and we were interested in goats – we were doing little goat plots all over the place. We’d get dropped off by helicopter and then walk out. We got dropped off on some of the ridges above …. Cabin there south of Bostock?
SH: Flat Creek?
John: Ya, Flat Creek. The ridge on the west of Flat Creek. And then, from there we were going to climb … this ridge and then we were going to climb around this whole basin and then climb Mount Fortitude, and go back to our camp, and the next day we were going to go down through this 10 or 11 kilometers of slide path down to the Incomappleux and get picked up by helicopter there in two days on one of the gravel bars. After we climbed Fortitude and there was nothing to that, we went back to camp and had a nice evening, and then we started going down to the Incomappleux and it was all alder for about ten kilometers or whatever it was, 30+ degrees, devils club, stinging nettles and mosquitos. It was … Dafoe will tell you, he’ll remember this day (SH – I spoke to Eric Dafoe later – he did remember this day and said it was a really tough trip as described).
About six o’clock or something we get down to this valley, and we get down to the Incomappleux (River) and we’ve got to cross it to these sandbars, gravel bars to get picked up by the helicopter. And we were just punched because you couldn’t stop to eat. The bugs were so bad and your whole body was just tingly from the nettles, and you had that and you come up to a cliff and you can’t see it because of the alders and you’ve got to set up a rappel and you rappel down, and you’re traversing, because you have to keep going along, because it’s straight down. Huge, huge alders and hot. And we got down and it was kind of flooded there so we were walking in the water in the valley bottom. We get to the edge of the Incommapleaux and we are looking at the creek and we were just at a stage when you just want to get somewhere. You hadn’t eaten all day and all you want to do is make a bowl of soup and lie down. I can’t remember if Eric said he was going to cross at this one spot, and I said no I don’t want to cross there, or the other way around but anyway… No, I said I was going to cross where we were and he said no he wasn’t going to go there, he was going to go upstream and find another spot. We had big packs and ice axes and ropes and shit like this. We weren’t rational at this point in time. We just didn’t care. Okay you go fuck off, I’ll do my thing you do yours. I remember getting across the river and of course coming around it’s a little deeper on the inside, so you sort of flop down in the water and climb, struggling up on the rocks with your pack and just lying on the bank exhausted. Half in the water and just too tired to take your pack off. After awhile Dafoe sort of comes down and just collapses beside me. It was an okay place to camp so we put a tent up and all we could stomach was a bowl of soup, ox tail soup, I remember it. So we had that and woke up in the morning and had breakfast and knew we were going to get picked up at 10 o’clock. There right beside our tent was the biggest grizzly bear print you’ve ever seen. (Tape 23:34)
SH: That would have been a bad end for your bad, bad day.
John: For the bear. No patience and ice axes in hand.
It just continued on with grizzly bear west slope study, in that era in early to mid 90s, it was a great era I felt here for the park ecologically because, there was often these introverted periods in parks where Banff couldn’t even put a bear in Jasper and they did different studies and there was zero coordination, and the boundaries, that’s where you stopped doing any work. And at this period, we had the whole North Columbia because we were working with Forestry and these other agencies, and I was allowed to go down to other areas like the Flathead and do some work and gain skills. We were allowed to that that. After that in the late 90s it started to claw back in and back into sort of short term studies rather than long term stuff, which was unfortunate. But we did the bear work and then the wolverine work, so that was all kind of going on. (Tape 25:30)
Tape 4:01 pm (00:01)
SH: We’ve sort of covered a lot of this but what were some of your main responsibilities over the years?
John: Well I went from early Saskatchewan Crossing where you’re doing everything, and we had no training at that point really, you just kind of faked it. I remember there was a cook at Jimmy Simpson’s Lodge.
SH: Num Ti Jah?
John: Yes, and the night before the fishing season opened, I went up and I was walking around the lake and I caught him fishing before the season opened. There was lake trout in there. I started talking to him “You can’t do this” and gave him a ticket and I got him to confess that he had caught a few other fish and he had them in the freezer at the lodge. So we went to the lodge and into Simpson’s kitchen freezer and I seized these fish. I didn’t know what we were doing but anyways, they were mighty tasty. I never really did a lot of law enforcement work. The only other … no there’s nothing else. Other than we caused some areas to be closed to ski touring and stuff like that and we patrolled those areas.
SH: So you did lots of wildlife, a generalist, backcountry and public safety.
John: Yes a lot of different stuff in Lake Louise.
SH: What did you like about being a warden? What didn’t you like about being a Warden?
John: Oh, just the lifestyle – it was perfect. The era that we were able to work in other than the last couple of years, was just unbelievable. Lots of adventure, lots of comradery and lots of challenges, physically and intellectually. The wildlife stuff. You learn how to be patient and cooperative …. sometimes.
SH: What didn’t you like about being a warden?
John: I was really lucky. I had a really good, fun career and worked with some really great people. The last year or two it went for shit, and I don’t think I could work at that point in time and we were really, really lucky to get the buy out. (Tape 03:48)
SH: Okay memorable events? Do you have more memorable events, because you have told me some really great stories?
John: Well there’s some I’m not going to tell you… About Clair and Marc and Norcross and stuff … If we had a few drinks.
SH: Okay we could talk about how the Warden Service changed over the years.
John: For me, I came in at the end of …. I was lucky enough to have functions and responsibilities and opportunities that didn’t hinder things I wanted to do for most of my career and just at the very end when they’re telling you that you can’t go ski touring, you can’t do all this other shit. That’s when things started separating off. Twenty years of ski touring in Rogers Pass you need a mountain guide to go with you.
SH: Yes, all that Occupational Health and Safety Challenges
John: Doing all that caribou work and all that, we skied down, you know we skied down every mountain in the Columbias. Because doing all our habitat work we had to go on site. That’s the main one, it’s the last little one and they say it makes it safer. We were doing a wolverine study, the DNA stuff, and you want to set up where you want to put them, and it’s, “No. You can’t go there and you can’t go there.”
SH: But that’s where the wolverines are.
John: And then you have to have somebody but “No we can’t give you anybody now, because we’re busy with our stuff.” So when you try to do that they don’t realize that science is a little bit different.
SH: What about the Warden Service was important to you?
John: It was a wonderful career, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We went from the Rockies and the East slope and at that point in time, that was perfect and then moving here with the kids and live in a community and still do all this different kind of work, and with different agencies, great people and that was important. And with other people and trying to spread the word and make sure people had a good impression of Parks Canada.
SH: Who was the Chief Park Warden when you were here (Mt Revelstoke/Glacier)?
John: First was John Turnbull of course.
SH: Oh Turnbull was still here then? John: Yup he was here for a fair while.
SH: And then Roger Eddy?
John: Well Roger Eddy was up at Rogers Pass. He was never the Warden Service Manager. Then Bill Browne and Murray Peterson for awhile.
John: Then Ian Brown, Woodsy, John Woods for awhile (Tape end 09:11)
SH: Are there any legends or stories associated with the Warden Service that you can share? Is there anyone from the Service that stands out in your mind? (Tape 4:15 pm) 0005
John: One of the people who stands out the most is Clair. We had lots of good fun in the mountains.
SH: Is there anything about the Warden Service, as you knew it, that you would want future generations to know?
John: It’s good for people to read Sid Marty’s book, some of those books. It changed a little bit …. my activities in the Warden Service were a little bit different than that. That was all big park stuff. Then mostly district stuff there. Just that what I’ve seen in the last 10-15 years of working, was it slowly became more regulated and rule based. For a while there it was just, you did the best you could, however you could. But as people come in even now, and the last year or two when I was working, you get the kids coming in, they think it’s the best job they’ve ever had in their life, but they have no idea what it used to be like. How good it was.
You’ll have (Jay) Morton and (Sid) Marty and all those guys that were in the district system, they’ll think their era was great which it probably was, but I think for me, you know I liked it more with the technical stuff and wildlife. With computers and all that you’re challenged intellectually (Tape 02:37)
SH: What made the Warden Service such a unique organization?
John: I guess in spite of some hindrances and low spots, it was fairly adaptable. It did manage to adapt through the people.
SH: Do you have any lasting memories as a Warden? Favorite park, cabin, horse, trail, humourous stories, etc.
John: No, I can’t think of anything. (Tape end 03:16)
SH: Do you ever miss being a Warden? (Tape 4:20 pm)
John: Not now. I enjoyed doing a lot of the physical stuff, I wasn’t the toughest guy out there, the fastest person on anything, by any means, but I enjoyed getting out and I could usually last as long as necessary. I couldn’t do that now, and I have no desire to. I like to be in my bed at night. I have no desire to winter camp.
SH: Do you have any photos of yourself as a Warden that you would like to donate to the Project, or that we may copy? Do you have any artifacts/memorabilia that you would like to donate to the Project (Whyte Museum)
John: I know we’ve got some in the photo albums and I might have some lose ones upstairs.
Note: John gave me some NPC buttons from old uniforms and two shields. I will send these to Marie.
SH: What year did you retire? What do you enjoy doing in retirement?
John: I think I’ve been retired for about seven years. You know what … last night I just got this. (John shows me his retirement plaque.) Look at this – from Stephen Harper. That’s what this park is like. It was sitting in a box in the HR Office for six or seven years and they hadn’t given a fuck about it.
SH: I’m putting that in your story. So you had 32 years of service.
John: Yes. No (retirement) date on this. (John and I discuss possible retirement dates). It was likely 2012.
After I retired I worked on different projects like caribou stuff and that was over five years. And that was over two years ago. So, likely 2012.
SH: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think I should know about the Warden Service? And what do you like doing in retirement?
John: I do a lot of cycling in the summer and skiing in the winter. Road biking, bike touring.
SH: Do you go places around here or abroad?
John: We go places. We’ve been to Europe we’ve been to Cuba, we’ve been around British Columbia a lot. We’ve been to the Yukon.
SH: Obviously Suzanne likes it too. So you ski at Revelstoke?
John: Ya, that happened the year after I retired I think, or the year before. It’s been down 11 years so maybe it was a few years before. Good ski hill two minutes away.
SH: Is there anyone else I should talk to?
John: Have you talked to Eric?
John: Langshaw and Dafoe. Bob Hansen, Clair Israelson
John and I discuss possible people for awhile. (Tape ends 08:12)
John tells another story …. (Tape 4:29)
John: I forget what month it was, but all of sudden it snowed about a foot. It’s August or July – one of those snowstorms. Bill and I were cleaning up, putting up firewood or something at Cyclone and all of a sudden (Dale) Portman rides into the yard and unsaddles his horse, and pulls a couple of bottles of whiskey out of his saddlebags, and the sun goes down. We go in and cook supper and play cards all night, it’s snowing all night and (he) has to go back to town to work. So he’s up and about whatever time in the morning, getting all ready, and snow is just pounding down. And he doesn’t have any gloves, because it started snowing that night. It wasn’t snowing when he came in. We gave him an old pair of socks, those grey work socks for his hands, and he was just looking like shit, feeling like shit, and riding out with these socks on his hands, from Cyclone.
SH: That’s a good story. I’ll add that one in. (Tape 01:28)
Johns last story: (Tape 4:33 pm)
We were working in Lake Louise, Clair, me, Portman and maybe Norcross. We were waiting for a helicopter around 4:00. But the helicopter is late, so we go have some dinner and some beer and the helicopter comes a couple of hours or so later and takes us to Abbott Hut for a climbing trip.
But we’d been drinking for a long time, So we fly up, get dropped off and just as we arrive Gord Burns and Kathy Calvert arrive. We’d already eaten so they had their supper. And then we sit in this hut until about 4 in the morning with a storm raging outside, playing cards, drinking and being totally obnoxious, because there were other people there … which was the worst part of it. But then we get about two hours sleep and we’re out the door before anybody else is up
SH: So they can’t glare at you.
John: Ya and we do the traverse on Mount Victoria.
End tape (01:03)
This interview was conducted by Susan Hairsine.
Susan Hairsine worked for Resource Conservation and Operations in Mt. Revelstoke/Glacier, Jasper and Banff National Parks, as well as for Public Safety in Western and Northern Region for over 30 years. She obtained funding for an oral history of Parks Canada’s avalanche personnel and oversaw the successful completion of the project. Her experience working with several the interviewees during their careers has been an asset to the current project. She was also the Executive Assistant to the Chief Park Wardens of Jasper and Banff National Parks.