This Oral History interview was funded in part by a research grant received in 2021 from the Government of Alberta through the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.
Park Warden Service Alumni Society of Alberta
Oral History Project Phase 11 – Autumn 2021
Telephone Interview with John and Wenda Taylor
November 17, 2021 – 10:30 am MST
Maitland Ontario and Invermere BC and
Interviewed by Susan Hairsine
SH: Place and date of birth?
John: I was born in Toronto, August, 1947. So … I guess I’m starting my 75th trip around the sun.
SH: Where did you grow up?
John: When I was born my parents had a small farm which then was on the outskirts of the city. It was near Thistletown, a small rural agricultural village. When I was young the farm was sold under threat of expropriation. The city wanted to expand, so Dad had to sell it. Thistletown really no longer exists. The farmland is covered with highrises and many thousands of people from all over the world live on that farmland now. It’s quite startling when you drive by there and think that used to be the farm. Anyhow, after that we had many moves to suburban houses always on the fringe of the city and later on I moved to several Ontario cities and finally to Calgary.
SH: Was your family an outdoorsy family? You lived on the outskirts of the city … What did your dad do?
John: Yes … I would say we did lots of outdoor stuff. I was the oldest of five kids…four boys and one girl. Mom taught me how to canoe at an early age. Dad was always taking the family fishing, hunting and camping. If we weren’t doing that we were mucking around in the bush. We had traplines for muskrats and snarelines for rabbits … doing the old Davy Crocket thing. I don’t know what people thought of us, but I guess nobody could see us. We made our own fishing tackle and archery equipment. One brother tied all our flies. We had a good time. If we weren’t in the bush we were playing some sport….hockey, baseball or skiing.
Somewhere around age twelve a friend and I started doing canoe trips in Algonquin. One of our dads would drive us to Algonquin Provincial Park, dump us off with the canoe and off we went for a couple of weeks. Nobody knew where we were or what we were doing. No phones, no adults … we were just gone. It’s amazing that parents allowed us to just disappear for weeks in a wilderness area larger than Banff National Park. I don’t know if it would happen in this day and age. In retrospect those canoe trips were very important … you developed travel skills and a sense of confidence in a wilderness setting.
SH: How did you become involved in the Warden Service? Which national park did you start working in?
John: Two lucky things happened. We had made several trips out west as so many kids my age did in their early 20’s. We hiked a few of the mountain parks … a couple of weeks in Yoho and Jasper. A late August trip into the Tonquin was memorable. It was nasty weather, nothing but rain, sleet and cold; the trail was mud wall to wall. We were huddled under an overhanging rock, wet and cold when this warden came riding by high and dry under his slicker, trailing a couple of pack horses. He said hello and headed down the trail. I remember thinking … now…that’s a nice way to travel! We continued on that night and pitched our tent. I’m not sure if we pitched it where we should have pitched it, but it sleeted and snowed, just a miserable night, and across the meadow I could see the lights of the warden cabin. I thought, “hey, that looks pretty comfortable over there.” Anyhow, the next day I happened to run into the same warden as he was tacking up bear signs along the trail. I asked him about the park and his job. He was very patient and answered my 101 naïve questions. About twenty years later I learned that warden was Gord Anderson. I’ve mentioned this to Gord in the past, but of course he didn’t remember. He probably talked to so many kids back then. At any rate that meeting with Gord got me thinking about the Warden Service job.
The second lucky thing happened a year or two later in 1975 while going to school in Calgary. I happened to sit beside a guy named Dave Cardinal who at that time was a seasonal warden in Waterton. He got telling me about his job and asked about my background and finally said, “You know, you should throw your name in this upcoming seasonal warden competition.” So I applied and got an interview with Jim Sime and Mac Elder. A few weeks later I got a call from Jim Sime, the Warden Service Co-coordinator in Calgary and off I went to seasonal warden school in Jasper for three weeks and then on to Waterton as a seasonal warden. So I guess I sort of owe the start of my career to a chance meeting with Gord Anderson in the Tonquin and a chance meeting with Dave Cardinal in Calgary. Pure luck, eh!
(Every few years I meet up with Mac Elder in Cochrane AB. Mac is getting on in years but I still tease him that he can’t complain about anything I did in my career because he hired me. Of course he says he can’t remember that interview!)
I always thought I was lucky to start my career in Waterton. It was a smaller park and had a really great staff … Max Winkler, the Chief Warden along with a crew of experienced wardens Keith Brady, Brian MacDonald, Derek Tilson, Frank Coggins, Bob Bach and Sid Mortimore … these guys were all super mentors for me. There was so much to learn. Those were good years in Waterton. I was kept on during the winters, so a seasonal job turned into a 12 months job.
SH: So Wenda had come west with you, or had you met her when you came west?
John: We moved west together and were married in Waterton by a former warden named Leonard Gladstone who was the local Justice of the Peace.
Wenda: I grew up on a farm near Stratford Ontario. Our western travels brought us to Calgary. I was teaching in Calgary at the time when John hired on in Waterton, so every Friday night when he was working down in Waterton, I would hop in my vehicle and head south, a three hour drive to Waterton. Then I’d return every Sunday night back to my job. Waterton was such a new education for me. It gave me a whole different way of looking at Parks and people. The Parks family was just wonderful there. They not only provided social support but also a sound education in all things “park”. Julie Winkler and I hiked, kayaked and explored together. She even arranged for the two of us to visit a nearby Hutterite colony. All part of my continuing education.
John: That’s a recurring theme for every park . The Parks family is second to none. You can move across the country as we later did, but it’s like you are moving two doors down to another set of relatives.
SH: That’s a nice analogy.
John: Waterton was a small community and you got to know everybody, especially in the winter when there were only a few residents.
Wenda: And along with the Parks family, the longer we stayed, the more we got to know the surrounding ranching folks. We moved before we were able to get more involved but that was a very positive experience as well.
John: There are big ranches just outside the park and we got to help out on brandings and other ranch work. That was really neat. The ranch and park communities were small and tight knit and we had a good time there. Hey, I even got to play Santa Claus one year.
Wenda: Yes it was a local Christmas concert held in the Waterton community hall. John was Santa Claus and he officially arrived up on the roof making the noise of the reindeer hooves. I can still picture his arrival inside as he went up to a seated Max Winkler, pinched Max’s cheeks and asked “And what do you want for Christmas little boy?” That was a crowd pleaser!
At that time we were living in the Fish Pond residence and we didn’t have a Christmas tree. Frank Coggins said “I’ll make sure you have a tree”. So the fully decorated Christmas tree from the Christmas party at the hall, arrived at our home the next day, in the back of Frank’s truck! It was a very special tree that year for us.
John: I have to insert a Frank Coggins story here.
Frank and I are out on patrol. So we drive down into this picnic area on a one way gravel road, and it’s tight down there. You just have to go down as slow as you can. Frank is driving and I’m in the passenger seat. Well much to our surprise we get down there and there’s large group of motorcycle guys … big burley, scary looking guys … yup … Hell’s Angels. As a matter of fact we’d had warnings from the RCMP that they were heading our way. Anyhow, we get down there and they surround the truck. We couldn’t back up, and couldn’t go forward, we’re trapped. Frank rolls down the window and one 300 lb, muscle bound guy comes over to the truck carrying this big bowie knife. So he’s brandishing this big bowie knife and he says, “You know we might think about taking your scalp.” I hope it didn’t show but I was pretty darn scared at this point. But not Frank. Cool as a cucumber, he took off his hat and with a big smile, leaned his baldhead out the window and said “Go ahead”. Well that just broke them all up, I’ll tell you. So there was my lesson for the day … a little bit of humor can get you out of some pretty tight spots. Derek Tilson was a master at this technique.
SH: Good one … Wow. So you met a warden in the rain but what made you want to join the Warden Service?
John: Well, even before I met Gord Anderson in the Tonquin, I was interested in parks and protected areas. I had joined conservation groups, written letters commenting on environmental issues, studied the National Parks Act and Policy. Basically my values were in tune with what I learned about parks and their management. It just seemed like a good fit … helping to protect what I thought were great resources. So there you go. It all came together with the Gord Anderson and Dave Cardinal meetings.
SH: What different parks did you work in? How did they compare? Do you have a favorite?
John: As mentioned I started out in Waterton as a seasonal warden, then moved to Kootenay Crossing as a permanent warden, then on to Gros Morne, Rocky Harbor as an Assistant Chief, then on to Saint Lawrence Islands as the Chief Warden, and then on to Jasper as an Assistant Chief Resource Management and then on to the Ontario Regional Office in Cornwall. So we did a lot of back and forth across the country.
SH: What were some of your main responsibilities over the years? You’re going to have a lot.
John: We talked about Waterton, which for me, was a learning situation. I didn’t know much about anything and the permanent wardens knew it. So I asked a lot of questions, did a lot of listening and tried to learn as much as I could. Those guys were just super as I said before, every one of them had skills in different areas and were happy to share their experiences with me. I spent about three years there and during that time was exposed to a full range of warden duties … trapping and relocating bears, moose, skunks … dealing with many campground problems … fish stocking … climbing and rescue schools … several bear maulings (one fatal) … several poaching incidents … horsemanship and lots of backcountry travel … and of course the routine paperwork. Just a bit of everything … even a two week assignment in Point Pelee to help out with the huge influx of fishermen during the smelt run. Don Mickle and I were the reps from Western Region along with guys from all the other regions. I think we had about 20-25 wardens there … and needed them all. (End Section 1: Tape 19:05)
On to Kootenay Crossing … that was my second position. Again it was Jim Sime that called me and said “We are going to offer you a full time permanent position at Kootenay Crossing.” I was absolutely over the moon about that … so happy … just wow!!! I think the classification then was a GT-2. They kept changing classifications all the time. I kind of lost track of it. I think the seasonal positions at that time were PRC8’s and then changed to GT1’s and it went on like that for awhile.
Heading out from Marble Canyon Warden Station circa 1979. John Taylor, Peter Enderwick and Doug Wilkinson. The warden station, like so many others, was demolished in the late 1990s.
SH: Okay so what were your responsibilities at Kootenay Crossing?
John: My responsibilities were to manage the warden station, the government horses, the backcountry, the warden cabins and the bear management program. I also had a supervisory role in so far as several seasonal wardens assigned to Kootenay Crossing. Because Kootenay was adjacent to Banff, Yoho and Assiniboine it seemed a lot bigger than it was … you could travel through Kootenay into any one of those parks … we would often cross Goodsir pass into Yoho or sometimes over Ball Pass into Banff … lots of places to go there both in the park and the surrounding area.
When I started in Kootenay (1978), Ole Hermanrude was the Chief and Terry Gibbons, Hans Fuhrer, Brian Sheehan, Byron Irons were the experienced full-time wardens. Later Peter Whyte became the Chief when Ole retired. Peter Enderwick and Doug Wilkinson moved into the Crossing after Bill Browne moved up to Marble Canyon. Peter, Doug and I did quite a bit of traveling together. I’ve heard some wardens talk of Kootenay as a “sleepy park” … not much to do. I never found it that way. Kootenay Crossing was a busy spot … lots of poaching, bear problems, vehicle collisions and vehicle/ wildlife collisions … backcountry issues … never a dull moment … that’s for sure.
Wenda: While we lived at Kootenay Crossing, we started our family.
John: Oh gee, I forgot that. Yes our kids were born there … well in Calgary, but we were living at Kootenay Crossing. That was a great place to have young kids. On days off we were able to take them by horse to many spots in the backcountry. We would saddle up a couple of horses, pack up the kids and all their paraphernalia, and all four of us head off to Floe Lake. Wenda would ride with one in a snuggly and I would have the other one in the saddle in front of me with a packhorse trailing behind us.
Wenda at Kindersley Pass, Kootenay National Park, circa 1978.
Wenda: I’ll tell you a story about Comanche, my favorite horse. Just as we were ready to head up the trail to Floe Lake, Comanche started prancing around, ears back, very agitated. Because I had my little baby on my chest I just panicked and I yelled “Stop that!” He immediately stopped and I looked down to see a wasp stinging him, right on his neck. He was such a gentleman. It’s as if he knew there was a precious load on board and he had to be good.
John: Comanche was a great horse. Anyone who knows Kootenay, knows those valleys are very deep and very steep. Anything that goes off the side of the trail there can go a long way down fast. We put a lot of trust in those horses.
Wenda: When we first moved to Kootenay Crossing, Lilo Fuhrer really helped me get settled into station life. She and Hans had lived at several warden stations including Kootenay Crossing so she knew the ‘silent partner’ routine. We went on hikes together and she introduced me to many people in the Columbia Valley. Later their young son was a good playmate for our kids.
Kootenay Crossing was where I came to appreciate the term “the silent partner”. While John was at work, I was at work too. When he was away in the backcountry or on training schools, I would often be the only one at the station and would have to deal with whatever situation came into the station … vehicle accidents, bear problems, stranded motorists, fishing licence sales. Some very interesting stories, in which I met a lot of very wonderful people, some scary people, but all in all it was a real character-building time for me. We didn’t have phones, we didn’t have TV. We had to radio through West Gate to get any services, such as medical appointments, messages to family etc.
Life at a warden station could make simple acts more complicated. When Cheryl Sheehan suggested I join her swim club in Radium, I found myself driving 35 minutes south, in all kinds of weather, often in the dark to go swimming. As well, I drove the girls to Invermere to attend playschool where we met more kids and parents. It was sure nice when Pete and Lynn Enderwick moved to Kootenay Crossing. They had a young family about the same age as ours … playmates for the kids and welcome company for me.
John: Often we’d be going down that highway heading to Banff or Radium and no sooner had we left the station and we’d come across a crippled elk, moose, or deer. We’d have to turn around, get the warden truck and put the animal down. There were so many incidents like that … finding a safe place to dump all the road kills became an issue re attracting bears and other scavengers … in fact we even tried incinerating an elk carcass in the beehive (large wood burner) at the Radium sawmill. That worked but you couldn’t count on it being accessible when you needed it. Now part of the highway is fenced off and hopefully the number of wildlife/vehicle incidents has been reduced.
There was an interesting incident at Marble Canyon campground. Late one summer a two-year-old kid was reported missing from the campground. Apparently the parents took their eyes off him for a second and he was gone. Well we did the initial search and found nothing, and then started calling in more resources, still nothing. Before long we had about 30 searchers, search dogs, and helicopter support. It had turned into a major search. After two days of searching with all those resources … nothing. The whirlpools at Marble Canyon were dragged and the area surrounding the campground thoroughly searched and re-searched … nothing. The night temperature had dropped close to freezing … and the kid was wearing only a light shirt and pants. Hypothermia was a distinct possibility. We were beginning to think that a bear had grabbed him or he was caught in a whirlpool or someone had abducted him.
To make a long story short, a tourist driving along the highway saw the kid walking through the ditch right in front of the campground. He was fine … just hungry. What we found out was that he had tucked himself under a log in some deep moss and somehow survived the night. At least that was the best we could figure … still a bit of a mystery. I guess the lesson learned was don’t give up too soon. It was a huge search effort but we couldn’t find him even with all those resources when he was really only 100 -150 yards from the campsite where he was last seen. (Tape 10:19)
SH: Wow. Okay Gros Morne. What did you do in Gros Morne?
John: After a thirty day cross country drive with two little kids, we arrived by ferry at Port aux Basques and then continued up to coast to Rocky Harbor … our new home and my new job … Assistant Chief Warden Rocky Harbour Area.
What a different landscape, the ocean, deep fjords, a very unique culture and a very different way of doing things. Gros Morne at that time was a newly established, still developing park and was going through some growing pains. It was under an establishment agreement which provided certain rights to local residents. They could log and snare rabbits in designated “harvest” areas. The park’s establishment had been controversial from the outset. Some residents accepted it and some didn’t. You had to pick your battles.
Moose were introduced to Newfoundland and had flourished … there was a large population of moose in the park and surrounding area. The locals had been hunting moose for decades in what had “suddenly’ become a national park where moose hunting was now prohibited. So … as you can imagine, poaching was commonplace. You could go out just about any day and find five gut piles somewhere along the road or just back off the road. Dealing with the “harvest” areas took a large chunk of our time but trying to get a handle on all the poaching … well … this developed into a kind of cat and mouse game between the wardens and the would-be poachers. We went to all sorts of extremes trying to catch poachers …hiding up in the hills at night waiting to hear guns shots or see ski-doo lights. We did catch a few but they always had the upper hand. They knew the lay of the land and they were always watching us. Looking back, I think they enjoyed toying with us.
We did a lot of house searches in Gros Morne. We’d have information that so and so had shot a couple of moose or caribou, so we’d get the necessary warrants and search their house looking for quarters, or big chunks of meat. We’d search all through their house, their basement and sheds, and then after all this intrusion, the owner would sit you down and offer you tea and biscuits. Now don’t get me wrong … some of the poachers were pretty rough characters … and physical threats were not uncommon … but the vast majority of the community were just really great people, they really were, and I can’t speak too highly of them.
Wenda: That was a wonderful thing about Gros Morne. I picked up a teaching job in the preschool there. On the one hand we had this very closely knit Parks family with whom we did so many different things, but on the other hand I got to know many locals because I was teaching their children and they opened up their homes and their hearts. They were wonderful people. One of the warden wives, Dianne Carr, was born and raised in Newfoundland and was able to help the “come from away” folk to understand the local culture, unique language and ways of doing things. Like so many other parks people we lived with over the years we have stayed in touch and remain good friends with our Newfoundland “Codmudder”. (That’s Codmother to the “mainlander”).
John: Again great staff there. Paul Galbraith was the Chief Warden when I arrived and later Bob Haney took over from him. Permanent wardens in the operations section (Rocky Harbour area) were Dan Reeve, Carl Betts, Gerry Carr, Rick Brunt and (I think) Roger Baird (dog master) along with 5-6 seasonal wardens who moved between operations and resource management sections.
Peter Whyte brought the Banff warden breakfast tradition to Kootenay so we started up a warden breakfast tradition in Gros Morne. It was very popular and, I think, helped foster some “team spirit” with non warden staff. Anyhow, Gros Morne was a very social place … lots of great house parties … many fond memories … long lasting friendships … time well spent.
I have to mention the Gros Morne budget. Because it was a newly formed park and under a development agreement, the money was just flowing there. It’s kind of embarrassing to say, but it was hard to spend all the money we had. We had to really work at it. It was stuff that we needed … climbing gear, ski gear, protective gear … but sometimes it seemed like a full-time job spending our budget. (Tape 22:09)
SH: Wow. So from Gros Morne over to the “J” Park?
John: Not yet … from Gros Morne we went to St Lawrence Islands National Park (now renamed Thousand Islands National Park) where I was the Chief Park Warden taking over from Andy Corrigle who had just retired. This was absolutely the opposite scene from Gros Morne. St. Lawrence Islands National Park was a well established park (since 1901) with only a few permanent wardens … Hugh Bremner, Tom Burton, Bud Andress and a number of seasonal wardens in the summer … and a very limited budget.
This park and the surrounding area had a long history as the summer playground for the rich and famous … from Montreal, Toronto or the USA. The well-heeled visitors were interesting from a PR and law enforcement perspective. Often they didn’t take too kindly when the guys in green had to enforce regulations. A unique thing about St. Lawrence Islands National Park was the multi-jurisdictional aspect. The Canada/US border runs right down the St. Lawrence River, winding around and through the park islands. You had to really keep an eye on where you were to know whether you’re in Canada or the States or in the park or on private land. Anyhow on that river you had the RCMP, the OPP, the Canadian Coast Guard, the US Coast Guard and Parks Canada. Each organization had different responsibilities but we all had a good cooperative working relationship.
St. Lawrence Islands National Park was known for its unique wildlife especially its amphibians and reptiles. Interesting studies were underway on the black rat snake, a large tree climbing non-venomous constrictor. Many snakes had been equipped with transmitters allowing park staff to follow their movements and map out their travel routes and critical habitat. These critters went to the same place every year; they followed the same route, climbed the same tree and then returned to the same hibernaculum. Pretty darn interesting!
Wenda: We lived at Mallorytown Landing on the St. Lawrence River enjoying river views from our windows. The girls took their first swimming lessons taught by a lifeguard at the little beach there. Often we’d go over and play on the rocks at the edge of the water. Once when the girls and I were laying on the rocks to dry out from a swim, we discovered that we were sharing the rock with a black rat snake. We would often see them in our backyard. Once when I tidied up some plastic toy replicas of various snakes, one of the snakes slithered away! A black rat snake was lying in amongst the kids’ toys on the warm sidewalk. They didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them.
John: Again, St. Lawrence Islands National Park staff were very knowledgeable and skilled. I was always impressed with their boating skills. You’ve got to remember that you’re out there on the river and you’ve got the current and the wind and often you’ve got to fit your patrol boat into a very tight spot. On one end of that tight spot you’ve got a hundred thousand dollar boat and the other end you’ve got another hundred thousand dollar boat … you might have a few inches to spare at either end. If you happen to tap one of those expensive boats, and damage the gel coat, well you’re in for a lot of big expenses. Night navigation through the islands was another impressive skill of the St. Lawrence Islands National Park staff. Threading your way though that maze of islands with many shoals and currents during a dark moonless night took special skills. Those wardens knew that river like the back of their hand.
Another interesting thing happened at St. Lawrence Islands National Park. The Park was chosen as a pilot project for the Departmental Office Technology System (DOTS). So one day a computer landed on our desks. None of us had any experience with desktop computers. Basically DOTS was a word processer with email capacity. This was the first computer system in Parks Canada, as far as I know. But more important, it was the start of something that would soon revolutionize how wardens and other park staff worked.
Again …great staff … beautiful setting … fond memories … time well spent. (End Section 2 – Tape 30: 29)
SH: Okay so are we at the end of St Lawrence Islands? Do you want to move on to Jasper?
John: Yes … let’s move on to Jasper. So while I was in St. Lawrence Islands National Park, I got a phone call from Don Dumpleton the Chief Park Warden in Jasper asking if I’d be interested in moving to Jasper. So I said “Well yes, sure.” So … off we went to Jasper in the summer of 1988 … another adventure … another big change … from a small park to one of the larger parks with a lot of staff many of whom I knew from my time in Waterton, Kootenay, training schools or the annual Parks hockey tournament in Invermere.
My job as Assistant Chief was to head up the resource management section … a very busy section. Over the years there were many planning documents, wildlife/human conflict issues, environmental assessments, vegetation management, fire management, fisheries management, sewage management. Many research studies were underway or initiated dealing with caribou, wolves, fisheries, harlequin ducks, fire history. There were lots of interactions with universities and their research proposals. The push to greater ecosystem management added new complexity to all resource issues and necessitated close working ties with surrounding businesses and communities. More meetings, more emails, more reports. The resource section was lucky to have an experienced group of supervisory staff … Al Stendie, Wes Bradford, Dave Carnell, Brian Wallace, and later Steve Otway leading a large group of permanent and seasonal wardens, fire crews and trail crews. And of course Louise Coleman-Bradford as our librarian/secretary to keep us all in order. Eventually we managed to expand the resource section to include a GIS specialist (Helen Purvis) and an aquatics specialist (Ward Hughson). Lots of work … but never enough people.
A little after hours aquatic survey at Caribou Lakes, Jasper National Park, circa 2005. Photo by Rod Wallace.
I always felt like the warden staff and their families were a welcomed part of the Jasper community. Wenda was teaching at the elementary school so that was a great way to meet people. I coached a kids’ hockey team, played old timers’ hockey and helped organize old timers hockey tournaments. Our goalie, Mike Peterson, head of Jasper Park Lodge maintenance, was able to get us some really special deals for tournament players. Needless to say, Jasper’s old timer tournament became quite popular with players and their wives from McBride, Valemont, Hinton, Edson, Clearwater and other places. I think this sort of thing was important as it really helped to integrate Parks and the Warden Service with the community in and around the park.
An annual fall event held at the Range … ‘Warden Days’ … hosted by the Jasper wardens … allowed wardens to demonstrate their skills by way of friendly competition in horsemanship, fire suppression, search and rescue, marksmanship etc etc … all followed by a barbeque, barn dance, bonfire and morning breakfast. The event was very popular with the Jasper community, wardens from other parks, retirees … and according to the young kids attending … more fun than Christmas itself ! A great chance to visit with old friends and retired staff, swap stories … and further community relationships. Sadly ‘Warden Days’ is no more. It was cancelled after the handgun fiasco.
Building a new hitching rail at Welborne (Muskeg) Cabin, Jasper, circa 2004. Doing minor maintenance on warden cabins was something all wardens seemed to like. Wardens had pride…lots of pride in caring for those cabins. Photo by Rod Wallace.
Despite the constant flood of paper and meetings, I did manage to squeeze in a couple of weeks of backcountry horse trips every year. I think I travelled most of the main routes … North and South Boundaries, Rocky … and some less travelled routes. It was great to get back on a horse again. I was also able to help in several rescue/recovery situations and participate in some search and rescue schools, firearm training and law enforcement. I was determined to stay in touch with all the operational aspects of the job. This was important to me.
Here I’ve got to tell you a story. I’d borrowed two of Brian Wallace’s horses, Kevin and Leah, and was traveling the south boundary by myself. I’d stopped at Isaac Creek for the night and turned the horses out in hobbles. In the morning I discovered that Kevin had caught a branch in his hobble that had cut his lower leg a bit. So I put Kevin in the corral and saddled up Leah. I planned to across the Brazeau to visit old ‘Trapper Bill’ in the Province. This was sometime in September and it was cold so I was dressed for warmth, parka, chaps.
A couple of cool ones at the end of a long day. John Taylor and Rod Wallace at Caribou Inn, Jasper, circa 2002.
There’s a well worn crossing point straight out from the cabin. You cross a gravel bar, wade the river and climb up a short but deep cut in the opposite bank. The water was about halfway up the side of the horse as we crossed. We cleared the water and Leah started up the deep cut in the bank. She was almost up the bank when she started to slide back toward the water. She tried again but slid back. After the third failed attempt I decided to step off on one side of the cut and lead her up. This time she almost made the top but started to slide back. Then she made a lunge which threw both stirrups up on the side of the cut. When she came down she drove one hoof clean through the stirrup. Immediately she reared up on back legs and did a full back flip landing in the deepest part of the water. So there was Leah heading down river on her side completely submerged except for her head turned up to the side. I watched for a few seconds and she somehow managed to scramble up on a gravel bar. There she was standing on three legs, shivering, her front hoof still caught in the stirrup. So … Leah on one side of the river, me on the other. Shit! In I dove stroking as hard as I could to reach that gravel bar. I got over to Leah and managed to work the hoof out of the stirrup … it was really jammed in there. We were both wet and cold so we went back to the cabin and dried everything out. The camera worked, the rifle worked, and Leah was unscathed so it all turned out fine. That was an interesting one.
SH: I’m sure we’ll get into more stories, but then you moved to Regional Office in Ontario? What year would that have been?
John: In September 1996 I left Jasper to work in the Ontario Regional Office, Cornwall. We bought a house in Maitland and I commuted the 90 km to Cornwall. There was a good warden presence at the Ontario Regional Office … Peter Whyte (Kootenay) head of the resource section, Jerry Carr (Gros Morne), Phil Hammond (Glacier-Revelstoke) and Ian Brown (Northern region). Knowing all these people or having worked with them in other places exemplified the Park family thing. Very welcoming.
My assignment was to develop an ecosystem monitoring program for Georgian Bay Islands National Park. I first made a few trips to the park to meet with the staff and get the lay of the land. Hugh Bremner (St. Lawrence Islands National Park) was the Chief Warden … more trails crossing.
It soon became really obvious to me that the success of any park based monitoring program wasn’t going to be viable unless the park had two in-house, dedicated staff, namely an ecosystem biologist and a GIS specialist. So on behalf of Georgian Bay Islands National Park, I started lobbying for these two positions. Fortunately Peter Whyte and the rest of the resource staff in the office were on board. Money was the issue. To make a long story short we were able to convince a resource specialist (Paul Zorn) from the Cornwall office to move to Georgian Bay Islands National Park to work on the monitoring program in house. Peter also agreed to have the Cornwall GIS specialist (Justin ??) support Zorn’s work in Georgian Bay Islands National Park. I guess you would call this a pilot project that worked well. Zorn and Justin made terrific progress … far better than I could have ever hoped to make on my own.
This was about the same time that Ottawa started ramping up the ecosystem monitoring program on a national basis. With Peter’s blessing, I stayed focused on finding funding for monitoring and GIS specialists for other Ontario parks. And we did make headway in recruiting in-house specialists for Pukaskwa, St Lawrence Islands,
Georgian Bay Islands, Bruce/Fathom Five and Point Pelee if my memory serves me correctly. I spent a lot of time organizing and participating on interview boards for resource specialists and park wardens.
I found myself attending meetings in Ottawa for either operational or resource issues. Now I know some wardens may not want to hear this, but there were many good people working at PHQ. I’m not referring to the upper echelons of power … because I wasn’t dealing with them … but rather resource specialists, planners and others. I was impressed with not only their subject expertise but also their political savvy and ability to find person-years and dollars. I know our success in hiring park ecologists and GIS specialists for the Ontario parks probably could not have been done without their support.
Throughout my time at the Ontario Regional Office, Peter allowed me to maintain my warden status. He knew how important this was to me. I took all the annual warden training in terms of firearms and use of force; and every five years, the law enforcement refresher. Peter always put the well-being of his employees and family first. He was always a great boss, in Kootenay and in the Ontario Regional Office.
Retaining my warden status worked out well in that I was able to get involved with an assortment of operational and resource issues in all the Ontario parks, the two heritage canals and some historic sites. So I was able to explore all these neat places, meet the staff and provide a little help where I could.
SH: What did you like about being a warden? We’ll start there.
John: That’s an easy one. I believed in the concept of national parks and protected areas and I felt I was contributing to that. I liked the variety of the job and the mobility to be able to work in different parts of the country. I liked the values of the people with whom I worked. Everybody was on the same page no matter what their job or in what part of the country they lived. I liked the camaraderie within the warden service and between the wardens and staff in other sections. I liked the fact that I could help people whether it was through rescue work or simply providing information. Wearing a warden uniform came with a lot of responsibility and there was always an obligation to live up to that responsibility. I was proud of the warden history and proud to have been a small part of that history.
Hey … on a less philosophical note … the backcountry travel, the horses, the cabins … spectacular!
SH: What didn’t you like about being a warden?
John: Another easy question to answer. Putting down wounded or problem wildlife, dealing with human fatalities … no one liked that but it was a necessary part of the job. The mountains of paperwork and seemingly endless rounds of meetings could be overwhelming at times along with the red tape of government bureaucracy. I was the acting Chief in Jasper for a year and got first hand exposure to paper, meetings and red tape. (Tape 21:07)
SH: What are some of the more memorable events of your Warden Service career?
John: That’s a tough one … there are so many. Well the first ones that come to mind are those two phone calls from Jim Sime re positions in Waterton and Kootenay. My head was in the clouds for a time after both calls.
Peter Enderwick riding Dallas, John Taylor riding Quaker, Doug Wilkinson riding Poppy. Trailing horses back to the Ya Ha Tinda, circa 1983.
My involvement with horses was perhaps my favorite aspect of the job. I really had no horse experience when I started as a warden. I was lucky though as I had a lot of good mentors in Waterton. And fortunately the horses at Kootenay Crossing were all pretty much “bomb proof.” I spent time with Slim Haugen then the manager at the Ya Ha Tinda. I guess he recognized my interest and eagerness to learn and gave me a lot of good advice. After a
year or two he assigned a well broke three year old to Kootenay every year. So over time Kootenay received 3 young horses … Neon, Nan and Quaker … all welcome additions to the park. Johnny Nylund the barn boss in Banff was also really good to me giving advice when needed. And of course when I got to Jasper there were lots of people who knew their way around horses. One couldn’t help but learn stuff traveling with experienced horsemen like Brian Wallace, Dave Carnell or Rod Wallace. Yes … working with horses was definitely a favorite and memorable aspect of the job.
One of my Jasper backcountry trips, I met up with the entire Winkler family … Max, Julie, Terry and Ursula and their two kids, at the Brazeau cabin. Terry was the South Boundary warden that summer. I’d heard so much from Max and Julie about their time as a district warden in the Brazeau. So it was neat to be back there with them in the same spot. That was a definite highlight for me.
I’ll mention another story here, and Wenda can chirp in if she wants. While at Kootenay Crossing, Wenda and I would sometimes haul horses back to the Ya Ha Tinda in the fall via the Cascade fire road.
Wenda: Well it was interesting because the old stock truck broke down half way up the Cascade. We determined that the cable joining the accelerator pedal to the engine had snapped. With me, I had my backpack, in which I always keep a bag of everything from binder twine to bailing wire, safety pins…..
We used the binder twine?
John: Yes the twine, and we hooked it up to the end of the broken cable and ran the twine through the window. This was an old truck that you had to double clutch. So with Wenda running the gas and me running the clutch and steering, we managed to limp up the hills and arrive at the ranch safely. On our way I think we encountered five grizzlies that day … some standing up sniffing the wind, post card perfect as in some of the Bill Vroom photos. Beautiful animals.
Wenda: It made me appreciate the binder twine.
SH: Wow, so you drove your truck up the fire road, not trailing your horses up the fire road?
John: That time we were trucking them back to the ranch for the winter. Later we started trailing them back via the Pipestone. I did get in on one of the spring horse drives though. We trailed all the Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Glacier horses from the ranch to Banff via the Cascade. Must have been 30+ horses. It took two days and about ten wardens, Johnny Nylund and a few other park staff. Good memories.
SH: Can you tell me about any rescue/wildlife/enforcement stories that stick out in your memory?
John: Sure. We’re back in Kootenay and I was coming off Numa Pass heading down to Floe Lake cabin. I was by myself riding Nan and packing Dell. Numa Pass can get some heavy weather and that day it had closed right in … you couldn’t see your nose in front of your face.
Numa Pass, Kootenay National Park. John Taylor riding Neon, and leading Dell, circa 1980. “Larry Halverson took this photo during our horse trip from Helmet to Floe Lake. A fun trip and hey, Larry’s a good cook!”
Trail markers consisting of small metal triangles on a steel post had been placed along the traiI. The triangles were yellow and clearly visible on a day with good weather. So I’m coming down off the pass with the packhorse tied off trailing behind me. About half way down from the pass I thought, I’d better grab hold of Dell’s halter shank so she doesn’t take off and continue down the trail past the cabin and out to the highway. I reached around and grabbed the halter shank. As I turned forward I caught a glimpse of a marker going between Nan’s front legs. At the same time I felt her bunch up and heard this ripping sound, just like the sound made by ripping a piece of canvas. I got off the horse fully expecting to see guts hanging out. She had a pretty good cut just behind the elbow (in her armpit if you will) of the front leg. It was bleeding a lot but the cut was not too deep. I got the bleeding stopped and we walked the rest of the way back down to the cabin.
I tied off the horses and I thought I’m going to have to try to stitch up this wound. So I got the needle, thread, antiseptic and hot water ready. I was just about to start, not really knowing what I was doing, and wondering if I could pull this off, when I noticed four hikers approaching, two men and two women. All four were dressed in scrubs, like hospital room scrubs. They were coming up to camp at Floe Lake. They came over to me and asked what was going on. I explained what happened and what I was about to try to do.
One of the men said, “Hey we’re surgeons, and these two ladies are operating room nurses. Do you want us to sew the horse up for you … we have all the equipment with us?” So I said “Sure!” They had topical freezing, antiseptic and a suture kit. They did a great job. Coincidence!!
So the next day I’m going down the headwall at Floe Lake and it’s a steep headwall that switches back and forth. I’m leading the injured saddle horse and the packhorse is trailing behind. I see this man and woman and two young kids coming up the trail. When we met up they asked why I was walking the horse. I said “The horse had cut itself badly the other day and I thought I’d give him a break coming down”. They said “We’re dental surgeons, would you like us to sew it up for you? We have a suture kit and all the stuff right here.” Another coincidence, on back to back days running into groups of medical professionals with complete suture kits ready to go!
Crossing Goodsir Pass, Kootenay National Park, circa 1979. John Taylor and Peter Enderwick. Photo by Hans Fuhrer or Terry Gibbons.
Wenda: This tells you a lot about the people who hike in the backcountry.
SH: Or did in those days.
John: Anyhow I took that horse down to the vet later on and he said, “I don’t have to do anything, they did a great job.”
SH: I was once on that headwall and ran into a guy with bare feet. He walked the entire Rockwall trail in bare feet.
John: I’ve got another funny story on that Floe Lake headwall if you want to hear it.
John: One very hot summer day a friend and I were riding up to Floe Lake. We got halfway up the headwall and came across this guy leaning against a tree. He looked like he was really hurting. He had his pack off and he was out of breath. I stopped and asked if he was okay. He said “Ya, I think I’m okay.” I asked if he’d like a lift up to the top of the headwall. He said “Ya, okay.” So we put his backpack on one horse and put him on the other horse and led him up the headwall. As we got near the top we heard a women shouting downhill chastising him for taking the “easy way up”. We unloaded him, went about our business and went back down.
Comanche and Dell arriving at Floe Lake with 4 passengers. circa 1982. We put a lot of trust in those horses. Photo by Doug Wilkinson.
The next day Wenda and I were hiking up the headwall with our 14 month old daughter who I had carried most of the way in a backpack. A couple of switchbacks before we got to the top, I took her out of the carrier and just let her walk up ahead of us. She was wearing a little backpack, shorts and hiking boots … a miniature hiker. Just as she got to the very top of that headwall who was starting down? Yeah, the same man and woman from the day before.
The woman took a long hard look at the miniature hiker and said, “Well look at that Joe … even she can make it up here by herself. How does that make you feel Joe.” Funny … yeah … but I did feel sorry for the guy!
SH: Great story. Do you have another story? (End Section 3: Tape 34:35)
John: I’ll tell you a little poaching story from Kootenay Crossing days. This story starts with Wenda so I’ll let her start.
Wenda: We were asleep when I was awakened by gunshots and I was sure it wasn’t a truck backfiring so I woke John.
John: I got up and said “No it’s probably just a truck braking, coming down the S turns at Kootenay Pond’’.
Wenda: I was pregnant at the time and feeling a little kicking action so I wasn’t sleeping very well at night. So I was sure I heard more gunshots.
John: So the unborn child woke Wenda and Wenda woke me a second time and I decided I better go out and check. It was snowing heavily that night. I turned north and just in front of the horse pasture I could see a newer Ford Thunderbird parked at the side of the road. That was pretty weird. I pulled up beside and just as I got out of the truck …. “bang, bang, bang” …. gun shots right beside me. I literally dove back into the truck and started driving up the road with my hand on the gas pedal, crouching down. I went up the road a bit and called down to Brian Sheehan at Sinclair Canyon and told him what was happening. I turned around driving slowly towards where I had seen the parked vehicle. It was gone but I could see taillights heading south. I turned on my red and blues and followed the vehicle staying back a good distance. When Brian approached from the other direction, lights flashing, the vehicle pulled over. Over the loud speaker, I told them to stay in the vehicle and we waited until the RCMP arrived. Later Gord Peyto and his dog arrived to gather casings and the rifle they had pitched out the window.
While standing in the deep ditch, right beside the warden station, these two guys had shot several elk grazing in the pasture. They probably had not seen me when I first drove up beside their vehicle. The next day we found more elk that had been gut shot and wandered off into the bush. Anyhow, those are the poachers that I like to say my first unborn daughter caught.
SH: Were they just shooting for fun?
John: Well strangely enough, these guys worked in an abattoir and they said they were just shooting to kill something for fun. Hard to imagine. There’s some strange people out there!
Wenda: That T-bird was parked in the government garage for quite a while.
John: Yes we had it for about a year. It belonged to one of their fathers so I don’t think he was too pleased about that. We tried to have it forfeited in the trial but at that time the judge wouldn’t go for it. They were fined and lost their firearms but not the T-bird.
Kootenay had several avalanche areas that crossed the highway … the Assiniboine slide paths and Mt Whymper slide paths. Hans monitored these areas so … every so often Hans would ski up to his monitoring sites with one or two of us, dig a snow profile and then ski out. If warranted he would arrange for heli-bombing. I’ll never forget my first bombing run … Whymper slide paths … Hans and I in the back seat of the chopper … rear doors removed. My job was to cut the fuse to length and hand it and the explosive to Hans. At the right moment Hans would light the fuse and pitch the explosive. Then we would circle waiting for the explosion. I could tell Hans was really enjoying himself. And so was I … pretty exciting stuff. What I hadn’t counted on was all the fumes from the fuses plus the circling. After the sixth bomb had been thrown and we’d done about sixty tight circles the fun factor started to fade. I’m not sure if it was the fuse fumes or the circling but I couldn’t even look at a chopper for weeks without feeling nauseous.
In February 1979 we got word that four skiers had been caught in an avalanche in Stanley Glacier Basin. One skier was buried to the waist, a second skier buried to her neck. Other skiers in the area helped dig them out. The third and fourth skiers could not be seen. A team of wardens from Banff arrived and did an initial search. I guess one of the dogs located the third skier (fatality) under a couple of feet of snow. The searchers could not locate the fourth skier.
This was a massive slide made even worse by the threat of unstable slopes above the search area. Soon we had about twenty wardens from Banff, Yoho and Kootenay on site. We probed until about 9 pm without luck and skied out to the trail head in the dark. It was really eerie working under those unstable slopes above us, especially in the dark. There was really no escape route if another avalanche started. The next day the search was delayed … the weather had closed in, snowing heavily. The following morning the slopes were bombed. This dumped another 8-10 feet of snow on the site. More searchers arrived from a warden ski school being held nearby. Now there must have been 20-30 searchers probing the site along with several dogs. A body was finally located by probe buried under 12–15 feet of snow … close to where one of the dogs had previously indicated. It took 2-3 levels of wardens to pass snow from the bottom of the pit to the top. Not a happy ending.
Looking over the Sulphur River Valley near Glacier Pass. JNP. Circa 2004. Photo by Rod Wallace.
SH: Another story?
John: Sure …how about a climbing with Hans story. Hans (Fuhrer) took me to a lot of places mountain climbing that I would never have got to otherwise. I was always happy when I got to the top but even happier when I got down. Anyhow, Hans and I are going up Stanley Glacier and we’re planning to circumnavigate the peaks above the glacier. There’s this one spot where a snow ridge, a very knife edged snow ridge lies between two small peaks, about 50 feet apart and there’s a huge drop on either side of this sharp snow ridge … hundreds of feet on either side almost straight down.
I’m looking at Hans and said “Hans, I’m not feeling too good about crossing this.” Hans decides that we’ll short rope to cross the ridge. So we rope up and then he says, in a very serious tone in his Swiss accent, “Well John if I fall off this side, I want you to jump off that side.” I said “Are you kidding me?” Hans weighed about 140 pounds and I weighed about 220 pounds. I thought, “Well this is going to work isn’t it.” So anyhow, we tiptoed across that ridge and all was well. Hans was over there before I got across with a big smile on his face and said, “That’s not so bad eh?”
From Mount Ball, looking out to the Rockwall, Kootenay National Park, circa 1979. Photo by Hans Fuhrer. It was always great climbing with Hans … learning from an experienced mountaineer.
SH: He is funny. (End Part 4: Tape 6:45)
SH: How did the Warden Service change over the years? You and I spoke a little more about going into a little more depth about reorganization or that period as you saw it, as a manager. Could we chat about that?
John: Sure. Well I guess we all know there are three things in life that are inevitable … death, taxes and change. The history of change in the Warden Service from 1901 to the late 90’s has been well documented in two books both titled, “Guardians of the Wild” by Burns and Schintz (1999 and 2000). (I think these two books are must reads for all wardens.) So I’ll mention the changes I noticed over my 32-year career from 1975 to 2007.
Implementation of the 1968 Sime-Schuler report was well underway when I started in Waterton. Most new recruits had one or more university degrees in one of the natural sciences. But the vast majority of the new wardens were very green as to the more practical, hands on, aspects of the job. So a good symbiotic relationship developed between the older less educated but well experienced wardens and the new young wardens with some book smarts but no field experience. I think we helped each other but it wasn’t an equal partnership. I know from my own experience I needed their field experience far more than they needed anything I might have learned in school. I can’t image how things could have worked without the experienced senior wardens.
Another very notable change was a slow but steady trend from warden generalist to a warden specialist. In 1975 all new seasonal wardens in Waterton were expected to participate in all functions. The same was expected of most senior wardens. So I guess you could say at this point in time we were generalists. And this was particularly important in smaller more remote parks, with fewer staff.
All aspects of a warden’s job slowly became increasingly complex and science based. Enhanced law enforcement knowledge and skills were required to deal with changes in legislation and investigative techniques. The public safety function saw a new emphasis on accident prevention, risk management and changing search and rescue techniques. Resource conservation became more focused on an ecosystem approach. Added responsibilities such as environmental assessment and the never-ending need to produce and update credible planning documents for all functions put further demands on the warden service. It became difficult to maintain the level of knowledge and skill demanded in the three main functions … law enforcement, public safety and resource management.
Over the years there was almost a natural drift to specialization, especially in the larger parks with numerous staff. Some wardens seemed to prefer one function over another. One warden would be highly skilled at mountain rescue but not that interested in doing law enforcement or vice versa. Everyone knew who would be leading a difficult rescue. Everyone knew who would be taking the lead in a bear mauling incident. But I have to point out that even into the 2000’s most wardens had sufficient training and abilities in all functions in order to play a support role in any incident. This was particularly true in smaller parks…. one warden would lead and others could provide support. Even at this time all wardens were required to take periodic refresher law enforcement courses, annual firearm training, annual use of force training. In addition there were always many in house training schools dealing with public safety, search and rescue, wildlife immobilization, horsemanship, wilderness first aid, glacier travel, and resource management. I guess you could describe wardens up to the mid 2000’s as generalists, able to contribute in all functions. But also, there were some wardens particularly in Banff and Jasper that specialized in one function or would be the lead in one function.
Another big change was related to the explosion of technology. I mentioned before that the first computer came into the office in St Lawrence Islands in ‘86 or ‘87. Within ten years computers were in every office. And associated with those computers came amazing technology that allowed us to do so many things not previously possible … remote sensing, GIS, etc., and of course information at our fingertips. All great stuff … but the technology came with some downsides … an avalanche of daily emails to answer, so many reports to read, so much data to analyze. Wardens were spending more time in front of a computer and far less time in the field and to some extent, risked losing contact with the very resources they were protecting. Were we in control of the technology or vice versa??
Some spinoff effects were starting to show in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Backcountry cabin use declined and some fell into disrepair. Later a few cabins were turned over for public use. Horse use, once the main method of warden backcountry travel decreased to the point where park herds were reduced or completely eliminated. Horses are no longer in Kootenay. The forest has reclaimed the pastures. Government tack was sold as surplus equipment. Warden stations have been demolished or re-purposed. Marble Canyon and Sinclair Canyon warden stations were torn down. Kootenay Crossing Warden Station has been re-purposed as a fire command centre complete with the most hideous entrance gate possible! This same trend has been repeated in many parks.
SH: I don’t think anyone lives at Kootenay Crossing anymore either.
John: The three houses are still there but the station … well it’s a sad state of affairs. When I think of the way things used to be …. very demoralizing.
So during the first several decades of my career this combination of increased job complexity, higher educational standards, advancing technology and specialization slowly but dramatically changed the Warden Service. But all this was small potatoes compared to what was coming … the handgun issue. Who would have thought that a union – management pissing contest would lead to the sudden end of a century old Warden Service as we knew it.
The handgun issue started in the late 1990’s with a warden grievance based on the need to carry a handgun for officer safety. This was a hugely divisive issue within the Warden Service. Wardens who were focused on law enforcement thought handguns were essential. Others thought it was unnecessary. After almost 10 years of grievance and court proceedings Parks Canada senior management made the decision to strip the park warden of all responsibilities except law enforcement. Even before this final decision was made, wardens were temporarily taken out of uniform and relieved of all law enforcement duties. RCMP were hired to cover all law enforcement in the parks for at least 2 years … at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers of many 10’s of millions of dollars. And this expenditure didn’t include the multi-millions spent by management on travel, meetings, court preparation and associated expenses. From beginning to end the total cost of the handgun decision must have been staggering.
The handgun decision and the ensuing re-organization brought change at its worst. Unlike the well thought out Sime-Schuler process of change, needed change, change sensitive to the needs of wardens and their families, change carried out slowly over many years, the handgun driven change implemented by Ottawa was swift, insensitive and seemingly brutal. The decision was devastating. Morale hit rock bottom. A few wardens were allowed to continue as wardens but only under the new regime (law enforcement only) reporting directly to Ottawa. Some veteran wardens quit, others lost their job, had their work term reduced or had to accept an alternate (non warden) position in the resource conservation section. In short, careers were changed, careers were ruined, lives were changed. All to accommodate the carrying of handguns!!
The Warden Service as I knew it was gone … destroyed.
How did this affect me? Even though the handgun decision came at the end of my career it still really hurt. I felt betrayed by Ottawa. It left me with many unanswered questions. What the hell happened? I never read or heard an explanation from Ottawa. What went on in all those backroom secret meetings? What options were discussed? Why were they rejected? How could this drastic change have been caused by handguns alone? Wardens had been authorized to carry high powered rifles for decades! Why were wardens now reporting to Ottawa rather than their park? Was the handgun issue simply an opportunity to disempower the Warden Service? Was it really just a warden-management pissing contest? Are wardens, park staff, and the general public not owed a detailed explanation??
I think there is an important story here, a complicated story with a lot of players. I really think it needs to be written by an impartial party, someone with well respected investigative/journalist skills who can ferret out all the facts, parcel them up and give us a reasonable explanation of what happened. A lot of taxpayer dollars were spent on the handgun fiasco …many tens of millions of dollars. Parks Canada sponsored the two Burns and
Schintz histories of the Warden Service. Do you think they’d pony-up for the sequel … “ The Sorry End to a 100 Year History of the Warden Service.” Probably not.
So … about 14 years have passed since I retired and the handgun re-organization started.
We still have a park warden position in Parks Canada. But it’s a very different park warden. They carry a handgun and they do only law enforcement. They report directly to Ottawa and are restricted from doing other duties. Hiring requirements are all related to law enforcement as one might expect. In fact it would appear that Parks Canada would like to hire only experienced officers from other police forces. This really worries me … will these new hires have any real interest in what parks are all about?? Or will it be just another law enforcement job? Will they become part of the park family or a separate group like the RCMP … working in the park but not really part of the park?
One thing is for certain. Neither side won. The warden service of the past is gone and a proud history has been rudely interrupted and pushed back 100 years. Prior to the handgun decision there were about 400+ park wardens who were all authorized to enforce the NPA and Regulations. I’d be surprised if there are 100 wardens under the new regime. You have to ask yourself… are the park resources protected to the same degree? Will the post handgun organization be successful? I guess only time will tell.
If there’s a good part to this sorry chapter of warden history, it’s that there’s still a position called “park warden”. Although limited in scope of duties and no doubt, tightly controlled by Ottawa, there always exists the possibility that history will repeat itself. Hey … in a macabre way the Warden Service has gone full circle in that we are right back to where we started in 1901 … law enforcement only. Things change and sometimes they go in circles. Maybe at some point in the future we’ll find a way to put the Warden Service back together … so that law enforcement, public safety and resource management can all be specialists but all be wearing the park warden uniform.
SH: What about the Warden Service was important to you John?
John: Didn’t we already do that one?
SH: Yes, you kind of answered it.
John: What Parks were all about met with my interests and values. The variety of the job always appealed to me. There was never a boring day … dealing with a problem bear, rowdy campers, helping at an accident site … every day was different … I actually didn’t look forward to days off. And the job was usually outdoors in a beautiful setting. The fact that it was a fairly physical job (riding, hiking, skiing and climbing) really appealed to me. I wasn’t interested in spending 35 years sitting at a desk. Later when I learned about the long history of the Warden Service I recognized that not only was I doing something important, protecting park resources, but also contributing something to an organization that had a long, colorful and well respected history.
And again, the park family … always so welcoming… not just the Warden Service, but all Parks staff. We got the opportunity to live and work in many different parts of Canada and work with so many different people. The vast majority believed in what they were doing and weren’t there just for the paycheque. They were willing to go that extra mile. You saw that over and over again, whether it was interpreters, maintenance crews, road crews, the office staff … all on the same page … and in every park, whether it was a small park, big park, or regional office.
SH: Good answer. 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?
John: Sure. I have to go back to the very beginning at the warden school in Jasper. For me that was a really important three-week introduction to the Warden Service. Jim Sime designed that school and he was there for most of the time. Bill Vroom also stayed throughout the course so we had several experienced wardens who had been around for a long time to answer questions and relate their many stories from the past. The Sime / Vroom stories along with those of other instructors … Willi Pfisterer, Mac Elder and Peter Whyte … made a lasting impression on me.
I spent my first three hours of my career with Max Winkler in Waterton. During those three hours Max laid down the do’s and don’ts for a warden in Waterton. Max was a big strong guy, and yes somewhat intimidating, but when I left that meeting I knew exactly where I stood and what was expected of me. Over the years, I’ve thought about what Max said during those first three hours. It was all important advice and served me well over the next thirty years.
I’ve also got to mention the senior warden staff in both Waterton and Kootenay. I think where you start as a seasonal warden and later as a permanent warden … where you start to get your feet on the ground … you always remember those guys for giving you their time and experience … a great bunch of guys. They were all instrumental in pointing me in right direction and teaching the skills necessary to do the job. (Tape 23:30)
SH: Is there anything about the Warden Service, as you knew it, that you would want future generations to know?
John: Do you mean future generations of wardens?
SH: Yes, or people in general I guess.
John: Well I’d like future generations, especially those working in parks, to know about the history of the Warden Service. It’s hard to know where you’re going unless you know from where you came. Wardens lived amazing, exciting lives, they’ve got real life stories. Check out all the books written by and about wardens and their families and their time in the backcountry, the rescues, the wildlife encounters, how things used to be done and why. And ask yourself … are we going in the right direction? Is it better to manage a park with remote cameras, helicopter patrols, drones and whatever the latest technology might be? Or could the job be better done on foot, horse or ski? There’s plenty to learn from the past. Don’t let new technology take over. It’s great stuff and gives us information that we never had before, and it’s so valuable. But don’t let it rule. Get out and hike, ski, ride… whatever means you have … just get out on the land. Sweat a little, get cold, get hot, breathe hard and get physical out there. Get away from the computer. Get your feet on the land.
Question everything coming out of Ottawa’s upper echelons and many of their park puppets. I think they have driven us into a dark period in our history … the endless new developments (eg. Columbia Icefield Skywalk), the expansion of existing developments … the business model of management driving for cash… the lip service paid to ecological integrity. The Warden Service of the past challenged many edicts from Ottawa. Will this be possible now?
SH: Good answer. What made the Warden Service such a unique organization?
John: Obviously the nature of the job, the diversity, there’s something new every day. Of course the places where it’s done…. Parks are the crown jewels of the country, I really think they are. The camaraderie, the sense of family, all being on the same page, these were all important things and made it unique.
I can’t think of another national organization that had the breadth of responsibilities carried by the Warden Service. This fact alone made it unique. Where do you find public safety, law enforcement and resource management all done by the same uniform? And the fact that these duties were undertaken in such varied landscapes from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Arctic, often in remote wilderness areas, using different tools and modes of travel only adds to the uniqueness; and the fact the Warden Service had such a well respected 100+ year history … definitely unique.
And to think Ottawa chose to destroy this unique organization for … handguns! Absolutely unbelievable!
SH: Do you have any lasting memories as a Warden? Favourite park, cabin, horse, trail, humorous stories, etc
John: I’ve got so many favourite places that it’s difficult to pick out one. I guess it’s going to have to be Floe Lake right across the Rockwall, to Helmet and down because we spent so much time up there. I remember one time we rode up to Helmet Cabin planning to travel across the Rockwall. It was nice down at the cabin but when we got to the top of the headwall it was snowing like crazy and the snow was up to the horse’s belly. We couldn’t get across, we had to turn back. That was memorable. But so was every backcountry trip, every climbing school, ski school, every poaching incident, rescue or wildlife incident … basically they’re all lasting memories.
SH: That’s a good spot for sure.
John: You can say that’s your favourite spot but how do you compare it to so many places in Waterton or the North or South boundary in Jasper or the Long Range Mountains in Gros Morne, or the Thousand Islands. It’s a hard comparison. They were all favorite spots in their own right.
During my time at the Ontario Regional Office, I’d take a few weeks of annual leave each year to make a horse trip in Jasper with longtime warden friend Rod Wallace. Rod and I both started in Waterton as seasonal wardens. Over the years we covered a lot of miles together, revisited plenty of old places, explored some new places, made a bunch of cabin repairs, told some tall tales, had some amazing wrecks and drank one or two beer on the porch of many cabins. Memorable … you bet.
SH: Do you ever miss being a Warden John?
John: A warden as I knew it. Yes I miss that. I can’t imagine myself in any other career. I don’t miss … the bureaucracy and the paper, but I sure do miss the other stuff … the backcountry trips, the horses, the cabins, the camaraderie … those were special. Not many people get to live in these parks, raise their families there. It’s been a rewarding career … being able to help in some small way to protect those special places.
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) Most people scan some pictures for their stories.
John: We’ve got a gazillion pictures but I’m not that organized. I’d need some time to organize that.
SH: What year did you retire? What do you enjoy doing in retirement?
John: I retired just as the handgun episode was happening, so I guess it was a good time to leave …. January 2007. Two days before I retired my daughter and I flew out to Calgary, rented a car, and the next day drove down to Waterton. My idea was to spend my last day in my old (1996) warden uniform with Max in Waterton where I started. It took a bit of searching but I finally tracked him down at a meeting in Twin Butte. So I spend the last
three hours of my career talking with Max just like I spent the first three hours with Max. That felt really good.
Last day. Back to Waterton Lakes National Park 2007.
SH: Wow is that ever nice.
John: I guess I kind of closed the circle so to speak. Yes, it was a good time. We stayed over at Max and Julie’s place. We had a nice bonfire, steaks and refreshments. The next day we had a visit with other people in the area. It was a nice ending … a really nice ending.
SH: Wow that’s awesome. I’m sorry Wenda didn’t get to go.
Wenda: I know… I was busy teaching.
John: Somebody had to stay here and earn some money.
Wenda: Because John was having too much fun in retirement. I retired in June that same year, in 2007.
John: We’re busy. We still have lots to do here. We’re biking, canoeing and camping in the summer. Skiing and hockey in the winter. We usually make a trip to Alberta and BC each year … hockey tournament and lots of visiting. I guess we’ve done our share of international travel … USA, South America, England … the pandemic has put that on the back burner for the time being.
Wenda: We actually see our kids a lot. It’s great to see how they cherish those outdoor spaces that we do.
SH: And your kids live close by?
Wenda: They do right now.
John: The other nice thing about all the places we lived is that we always had visitors. We always had family and friends visiting us, whatever province we were in, and they got a real kick out of staying in those special places too. That was nice to be able to offer them that kind of park experience.
SH: Yes, that experience.
SH: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think I should know about the Warden Service?
John: I’d just like to put in a comment acknowledging my silent partner here. She was right with me all the time. She did all the moves and had to give up her job teaching on each move. Every time I moved, she had to find a new teaching job, which she did. She was always a great ambassador for the Warden Service in every park. That ambassador vibe was magnified in the community through her role as a teacher.
All the free work she did at Kootenay Crossing Warden Station….that was much appreciated. She acted as a second warden there many times. She was in the middle of Kootenay Park, and often she was the only one at that station with two young kids. It’s a long way to Radium and it’s a long way to Banff. I’d be away, in the backcountry or at schools, or traveling for some reason, and she was there by herself. It takes a special kind of person to do that.
Now if that didn’t go far enough to get me a really good dessert tonight I don’t know what will?
SH: Very good. Wenda, what would your comment be on that question?
John: Blueberry pie I hope.
Wenda: It was certainly a life ride being part of the Warden Service. It was such an important learning curve for me, and I value parks, I believe, just as much as John does. The parks that we lived in, the different people we met. So many times it comes down to people … whether it’s Park people, or the public. It all comes down to that. It’s been a great ride.
SH: Great answer. (End Part 5 – Tape 35:56)
This interview was conducted by Susan Hairsine.
Susan Hairsine worked for over 30 years for Parks Canada in Resource Conservation and Operations in Mt. Revelstoke/Glacier, Jasper and Banff national parks. She also worked for Public Safety in Western and Northern Region. She was also the Executive Assistant to the Chief Park Wardens of Jasper and Banff national parks. During her career she obtained funding for an oral history of Parks Canada’s avalanche personnel. Her experience working with several of the interviewees during her and their careers has been an asset to the oral history project.