Thank you to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies for granting permission to the Park Warden Service Alumni to post this interview on our website
Park Warden Alumni Society of Alberta
Oral History Project – Winter 2011
Interview by Christine Crilley-Everts with Mac Elder
February 19, 2011 – Cochrane, Alberta
Place and Date of Birth: Bassano Alberta. July 22, 1928
Occupations: As a young man Mac went to Jasper to work for local outfitter Jack Hargreaves. He guided hunting trips during the fall and then worked for a logging contractor in Sundre during the winter. He also worked as a guide on a number of Canadian Geological Surveys travelling from the Ya-Ha-Tinda all the way north almost to Hudson Hope. Due to his experience guiding and outfitting he was asked by Jasper Chief Warden Mickey McGuire to join the warden service which he did in 1957. Mac worked in the Brazeau, Willow Creek, Maligne Lake districts and the Jasper town site before heading to Pukaskwa National Park as the Chief Warden in 1975. Two and a half years later Mac moved to Pacific Rim National Park where he worked as the Chief Warden until he retired in 1991 after 34 years of service.
Additional Information: Along with being an active member of the Park Warden Alumni Society of Alberta, Mac has been involved with the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation since moving to Cochrane in 1991. He sat on the board during the building of the Western Heritage Centre and for 20 years he’s volunteered with the Calgary Stampede, driving teams in the parade. Mac and his wife Cathy are very involved grandparents. However he still finds time to ride!
(0:00:14) Cathy – I have two stories that I want to tell. You know when famous people came to Jasper they always either came to Maligne Lake or they went to Tonquin Valley or someplace like that. Toni Klettl or Bert Rowe got Princess Alexandra, but we got Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and her husband Pieter (at Maligne Lake). They took them down the lake and when they came back they brought them all into the house and we served them tea in our house at Maligne! The next day they came back again and the tourists had gotten wind of them that they were up there. They were going to go riding that day. Anyway they were all out in the yard and Princess Margriet came down and rang our doorbell and invited herself in! She didn’t like all the people bothering her.
(0:01:12) Cathy – My other funny one is you know (as a warden’s wife) you are always selling fishing licenses or giving directions or something. These were in the days when they had the tourist buses coming into Maligne Lake, for Maligne Lake Tours or Brewsters and the road wasn’t open to the public. One day I answered the doorbell and a lady and her husband stood there and she said, “I’m wondering if I could borrow a thread and a needle because my husband ripped the seat out of his pants!” They didn’t want to get back on the tour bus like that! Well I said, “You just come on in. He can go and take them off and I’ve got a sewing machine.” So I stitched them up. He had just ripped the whole back seam out of his pants and it was kind of embarrassing! That was two of the neat things of living up there.
(0:02:03) Mac – What about the bear story, the time I shot the hole through the floor?
(0:02:06) Cathy – Oh okay, one fall, Brewster’s was surrounded with bears…
(0:02:16) Mac – Grizzly bears.
(0:02:17) Cathy – Grizzly bears. And Mac got a phone call in the middle of the night, saying that they had bears over there and he got out of bed and was getting dressed…in the dark.
(0:02:33) Mac – We didn’t have power. We had a power plant, but we turned it off at night.
(0:02:35) Cathy – He was getting dressed and getting his gun and everything like that and the last thing I said to him was, “You be careful going out there in the dark with the gun…” And BOOM! He shot a hole through the floor in the house and put the pilot light out on our coal oil fridge!
(0:02:52) Mac – And our propane stove.
(0:02:54) Cathy – Anyway that was kind of funny!
(0:02:57) Mac – Funny now!
(0:03:12) Cathy – (In response to the question, “Did you like the life of a warden’s wife?”) I liked the summertime, (but I) hated the wintertime because you know you are isolated and you are stuck in there. It was fine before we had kids and you could go out and go cross-country skiing, or snowmobiling or whatever, snowshoeing…But when you have two little ones then you are kind of housebound. I mean you take them outside everyday to get them out, but still you are housebound. Where do you go? I found it really depressing when the camp, Brewsters and Maligne would leave in the fall. You could go over and visit them (during the summer season) and then when they were gone, you were there by yourself.
(0:03:53) Mac – When the lights were turned out.
(0:03:57) Cathy – I’d mope around all winter and then in the spring when those lights came on across the lake again you knew that you could go visit somebody if you wanted to. It wasn’t so important because it was your choice. Lots of people could handle that isolation really well. I didn’t…(We moved into Jasper) when Craig was ready to start school…March of 1972. You kind of think, ‘Well this is the last time that I am going to be driving this road in the winter and everything and I hope I don’t hit a moose and I hope that we don’t get stuck with an avalanche and we did. Max Winkler had to come up with the station wagon and pick us up because we left our vehicles on one side of the avalanche along Medicine Lake and our moving van and got taken into town. The next day they had to come up with a bulldozer and clear out the avalanche.
(0:05:25) Cathy – Driving that road in the winter…One night I was leaving town about midnight and I had the government radio because that was in the days before you had cell phones and…it was snowing, just huge flakes. I left town and a car started to follow me. I got out to the highway and I turned left and the car followed me. Then I turned right to go to… the Jasper Park Lodge and the car followed me and I turned left to go towards Maligne Lake and the car followed me! I thought “Oooo! I am out here all by myself.” Anyway pretty soon he turned on his flashing lights. It was like phew! (The officer pulled me over and asked) “Where are going at this time of the night when it is snowing like this?” I told him that I was going home and that I had a radio.”…It’s not like there was a lot of traffic on the road that was in the late 1960s…especially when it was snowing like it was … But we had a heavy car, it was a V8, studded snow tires. Everybody else in those days travelled. We weren’t any different than anybody else. That was how people functioned really.
(0:07:23) Cathy – I didn’t have to home school kids like some of these women did. I also had running water, a lighting plant to turn on… and a ringer washing machine. Lots of these people that were out there in these cabins they had hardships. I didn’t have to do that…
(0:09:23) Mac – (Showing a picture) That is a pack outfit, that was years ago…You see I guided for years. We’d come in off this late hunting trip and that is when the horses wintered in the Athabasca Valley. We took the horses across the river and put them in the winter range…
Pack outfit crossing the Athabasca River
(0:09:50) When I travelled with these geological surveys I crossed the Smokey and the Fraser and lots of these big rivers. We were out where the Berland and the Hay and all those rivers are north of Entrance and north of Hinton, Grand Cache country….On those survey’s we used to have from 14 to 17 packhorses. Two of us used to work 14 to 17 pack horses and then we would have whatever saddle horses. If you had three geologists and a cook and second packer, you would have 22, 24 (horses). I think 27 are the most that I have worked with… We usually had three to five geologists and our trips were 90 to 120 days. Big game hunting trips usually lasted 30 to 35 days.
(0:10:52) When I packed for the buildings from Robson there, we worked about 15 pack horses, two of us. But we did that many places…I think I packed for six or seven buildings you know in my life. I also packed out one dead man, one of our hunters who died out in the mountains.
(0:11:20) The bear story about the bear chasing me up the tree gets told in various ways. A lot of people say it was my dog that brought the bear back to me. That dog didn’t bring the bear back to me…He brought a lot of other stuff back to me, not necessarily that particular grizzly because that was a wild grizzly. He wasn’t a tame grizzly. I think he thought that I was another bear. I had a lot of bear experiences…I had a guy mauled one time real bad. Actually, I have been involved with three maulings…