Park Warden Alumni Society of Alberta
Oral History Phase 13 Fall 2023
Phone Interview with Mike Comeau
Date/time: November 14, 2023@1000
Interviewed by Monique Hunkeler
Place and date of birth? 1951 in New Westminster, BC
MH: Where did you grow up?
MC: I grew up in Maple Ridge which is about 15 or 20 miles east of Vancouver. After I finished high school, I went to work in an asbestos mine in Cassiar, almost at the Yukon border. I was 18 and spent about a year in Cassiar and built up a grub stake and while I was gone, my parents moved from the Lower Mainland up to Francois Lake where my dad got a job on the ferry and after I got out of the mine near the Yukon, I came to see where they had set up shop and got a job with the BC Forest Service and then that sort of helped lead me to the Warden Service.
MH: How did you become involved in the Warden Service? Which national park did you start working in?
MC: My first wife, her brother was Tim Laboucane and he introduced me to the Warden Service.
My first park was Banff. I was one of the campground cowboys in 1987 along with Brian Low and John Kellas and Mike Eder.
MH: How did you make the transition then from BC Forest Service to the Warden Service?
MC: It was interesting. I was supervising a large tree plantation when I got the phone call from Cecilia Cupedo in Calgary that I was being offered a job in Banff. So, I went from a big forestry plantation operation right here in Northwest B.C. to Banff National Park and I didn’t really know what to expect. Back then it was a job made in heaven and also at the time, I had recently bought a guide outfitting territory in northern BC and so I had to make a choice between the Warden Service or guide outfitting and the choice was easy to make. Paid to Play!
MH: What made you want to join the Warden Service? 0445
MC: Paid to play, it was so much fun. As soon as I got to Banff in April or May of 1987, we had three weeks of training; one-week Law Enforcement which was all classroom and then one-week rescue training, which was my introduction to hanging underneath a helicopter; that was pretty wild. And then one week of horse school where we just went out into the Bryant Creek/Palliser country for a week. And I mean, we’re getting paid for doing this.
MH: You had a lot of horse experience before you started?
MC: My backcountry horse experience was probably what got me in and attracted me to the job. Back then the Warden Service, what you heard about it was backcountry wardens on horseback and I’ve done quite a bit of that. Some major trips up into that Spatsizi country and into the Omineca Mountains.I thought it was going to be doing that for a job.
MH: What different parks did you work in? How did they compare? Do you have a favourite?
MC: In Banff National Park, I was a campground cowboy for my first year and then I got a seasonal position in a competition that summer. Then the next year I got a backcountry job in the Cascade District with Larry Gilmar and Sid Marty. Then that fall I went to Lake Louise and spent a bit of time in Lake Louise with one winter in Rogers Pass. Then back to Lake Louise and then to Jasper National Park and I stayed in Jasper until I retired.
Some of the backcountry area in Banff, up in that Clearwater/Indianhead country, Scotch Camp and even the Ya Ha Tinda was beautiful. Jasper too has some phenomenal backcountry but I found when I went to Jasper it was a little more relaxed and I think because of that, I enjoyed Jasper more. And also, Jasper was a lot less crowded as far as tourists go and less bureaucracy.
MH: What were some of your main responsibilities over the years?
MC: I’ve always been a front line warden, don’t put me behind a desk. In Lake Louise for a couple of years, I was in charge of the Law Enforcement program. I looked after Saskatchewan Crossing for one year with AL Horton. Back in the day it was tranquilizing bears up in Saskatchewan crossing and initiating rescues and some Law Enforcement. I always called Warden Service Law Enforcement, “Law Enforcement lite” sort of like Bud Lite, not too serious.
MH: That’s funny. I’ve never heard it referred to in that regard.
MC: In Law Enforcement, we were always encouraged to warn, warn, warn, very politely try to gain voluntary compliance and as a last resort, you would charge someone. Sort of educate them more.
MH: What did you like / Dislike about being a warden?
MC: I felt like every day, I was working in a postcard, just the beautiful surroundings and I really liked being the face of Parks Canada, wearing the warden uniform and interacting with people from all over the world. I really enjoyed that, representing Canada.
MC: Well, yeah, the political part of parks, the bureaucracy of not being able to get something done, because you had to go through all these different channels, it took forever. You wanted to put up a sign, saying, for example, “do not feed the sheep”. Well, you couldn’t just put up a sign, it had to go through the sign committee and then the sign committee had to come to a consensus on the design of the sign.
MH: And it would need to go to the French translation people.
MC: And it just went on and on and it was hard to get things accomplished in a timely manner. Back when I started, wardens were given quite a bit of respect and credibility and quite often you could kind of just do things and it has changed so much.
MH: What were some of your more memorable events as a Warden? 1324
MC: Your last question is a bit of a segue into one, fairly early on in my career when I was pretty much a rookie in Lake Louise. I had one summer in the campground, which doesn’t give you much in the way of experience other than dealing with campground issues, and one summer in the backcountry which was quite a bit different. One night late I got a call about a pig that was loose on the highway near the top of Kicking Horse Pass and this was in the middle of the winter, with four or five foot snow banks, very cold and there was a pig in the middle of the road. A 300-400 pound pig. Reg Hawryluk came up from Yoho and he helped me lasso that pig and we winched it up into the back of the truck. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I took it up to the horse barn in Lake Louise and give it some hay and put it to bed for the night and went back to bed. But the media had been listening to radio scanners, and they had got a hold of this story. They’re always interested in something goofy to lighten up the news feed, so they wanted to do a story on this pig. It was CTV out of Calgary. Nowadays, you’d have someone in communications that would deal with it, not a warden. I was a junior guy in Lake Louise and nobody wanted to do this. They thought it was stupid, so they made me the face of this thing. CTV came out and they did an interview on the side of the highway with me at Lake Louise. And then CBC Calgary, wanted to do a lunchtime interview and believe it or not, even “As It Happens” that night also wanted to do an interview, all about this silly pig on the highway. I believe it probably was the inspiration for the the original pork Warden t shirt so that was one that really sticks in my mind. Conversation was interrupted by Mike spotting a moose on the shoreline!
17:13 After the big reorganization of the warden service where we became armed, I was patrolling in the late afternoon. And it’s interesting because just recently in that area, there were two headless bighorn sheep found. Anyways, I was right in that area and I had a call from dispatch that someone was reporting a suspicious vehicle in that area, and they had a license plate number and description and almost right after they gave it to me, I met the vehicle going the other way. So I had them run the plate and get the information and it came back that the registered owner had a warrant out for his arrest. And so I turned around and followed this vehicle and he pulled into a parking area and got out with his binoculars and climbed up a hill. Anyway, I ended up confirming this guy’s ID and then arresting him putting him in handcuffs and then at the time, there was no other wardens working and it was between shift changes for the RCMP so there was no RCMP working. The one RCMP that was coming on shift in about half an hour was Jessica, a 19-year-old rookie. So, I had to take this guy to Hinton. In the meantime, when the RCMP officer signed on, I got her to come out and babysit the vehicle until we could get a tow truck there. It turned out that in that vehicle we found numerous firearms, an AR15, a .223 caliber assault rifle with 3- 30 shot magazines, all fully loaded one attached to the firearm; a .50 caliber sniper rifle also loaded; 2-.45s caliber automatic handguns, both loaded in the front seat in an open bag on the passenger seat. I can’t find my notebook on this but it seems to me that there were about a thousand rounds of ammunition in the vehicle. So it is probably the closest that I came to getting smoked on my job.
Guns and Ammunition seized after arrest