And the Warden Centennial ride from the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch to Banff was definitely a highlight of my career (2009). Heli slinging, definitely memorable part of the job.

I ended up taking the Earl of Southesk and his family up Southesk Cairn in 2009, which was 150th anniversary of his ancestor being the first European ascent of Southesk Cairn. That was kind of fun. Snapping one of my achilles tendons in the Tonquin Valley was definitely unforgettable. I had the opportunity to do a bunch of trips into the backcountry with my family. When my kids were two and four, we went into the Brazeau on March 1st 2000 for 18 days. I really wanted to be able to experience what some of the earlier backcountry wardens had experienced when they lived year-round in the backcountry with their family. I only could get a taste of it by being back there for a month but that was definitely a highlight.

Jen, Erin and Max on porch for Brazeau cabin March 2000
Jen, Erin and Max on porch for Brazeau cabin March 2000

Then a couple of years later, when my girls were four and six, we did another trip in late March into Rocky Forks. And then another trip into Willow Creek in 2007, all winter trips. Rocky Forks was late March I thought I’d get in a little bit better weather, but actually the weather was a lot worse than it was in Brazeau. Because I think the local weather conditions were different closer to the east slopes of the Rocky Mountains. It was a really windy place. And then even later, in the winter, around Easter we went into Willow Creek in 2007.

Well, later on when the girls got bigger, they managed to do a few trips with me as well. And that’s one thing that you can’t do anymore. It was really nice to be able to get them back there. The Foothills Model Forest (FMF) had a grizzly bear research project happening and in February, they were flying around, checking out some of the den sites to see if their collared bears were still in the dens. There was a collared sow in a den site just above Brazeau Cabin. They flew in from Hinton to Brazeau in a helicopter and I had arranged for them to drop off the people working on the project at the cabin after they had flown around and determined that the sow grizzly was still in her den. Then the helicopter flew out to Hilda Creek and picked up my family and I, our dog and our supplies and flew us into the cabin and picked up the people waiting there and flew them back to Hinton. I paid for the flight from Brazeau to Hilda Creek and back. And the deal with Brian Wallace, who was my supervisor, was that 1/3 of the time in there would be work, 1/3 would be annual leave and 1/3 would be days off. So I did some patrols and other work when I was back there. I think without Brian Wallace’s support on that one, that never would have happened.

The day we arrived at the Brazeau cabin, I hiked down to the horse campground with my border collie to get a sense of what animals were moving around. It was snowing quite heavily. We came to a site where there were six very fresh beds with no snow in them and wolf tracks leading out of the area. I was glad I had my bear spray and I told Max the collie to stay close. A minute later several wolves started to howl to my right. They were answered by several more wolves howling to my left. I think we had surprised the bedded down pack and they scattered to vacate the area as quickly as possible. And now they were howling to regroup.

Our trip to Rocky Forks cabin worked out with a similar arrangement as the trip to Brazeau. I need to thank Gord Stenhouse with the FMF for his support for these trips.

Another highlight of my career was when I managed to take an equitation course with the musical ride folks in Ottawa. It was a two-week mounted police course. There were mounted peace officers from all over North America and even one from England that were on that course. It was at the facility at the Canadian Police College where the Musical Ride trains. The Musical Ride would train for an hour and a half in the morning before us. And then we would go out on a different set of horses, called the school horses. We would train for an hour and a half. We had to clean our tack after every session. It was kind of like an army thing to do just to keep you busy. Then in the afternoon, the Musical Ride would go into the arena, do their hour and a half and then we would do our hour and a half later. And it was a definite highlight and to meet mounted police officers from all over North America and see what they used horses for. They were amazed when I did a slide show to show them the places we ride in the Warden Service.

Musical Ride - RCMP Carriage Horse
Musical Ride – RCMP Carriage Horse

I did a lot of fall trips up the Whirlpool River with Dr. Peter Murphy, who was doing research on the sawmills and tie camps that existed in Jasper Park around the turn of the 1900s. There were at least three different tie camps established up the Whirlpool River in Jasper. They were operational in about 1919, 1920 and 1921. Dr. Murphy is a co-author of the book A Hard Road To Travel which is probably the most complete history book for Jasper and area.
Numerous horse courses at the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch were a definite highlight.

I enjoyed working with the indigenous folks later on in the cultural position and working with the archaeologists in the park. I learned a lot about archaeology and now it’s sometimes hard to walk down the trail in the summertime without having my eyes cast down looking for arrowheads. It was a really diverse career and I think that the diversity just kept everything really pretty interesting.

Warden Days were another highlight. It took place for quite a few years. It was a real gathering of wardens from mostly western Canada. Warden Days was always up in Jasper and it was the weekend after the September long weekend. There were several different events. In the early days, the events were only open to Wardens. The events were pack horse race, jingling horses, log chopping/fire starting, bear trap maneuvering, target shooting, fire pump race, avalanche beacon search, a canoe race that sort of thing. But over time, in the last I would say maybe five Warden Days, it turned into more of a family event. The events were rearranged so that husbands, wives, kids and even just people from the town of Jasper, could enter the events. There was always the big barn dance, dinner and party at the end of Warden Days. It was definitely a highlight and I think a lot of people still really, really miss it. Maybe someday it might pop up again, in some sort of form. There was a nice Warden alumni reunion this fall in Nanton. And much like Warden Days, there was a real gathering of retired wardens with lots of storytelling and that sort of thing which used to happen at Warden Days.

MH: Can you tell me about any rescue/wildlife stories that stick out in your memory?
MD: This is a humorous story that I recently told at a fund raiser in Jasper. One afternoon shift, Greg Horne and I were working out at the old Warden Office, it was in the early 1990s and we got a call from the dispatcher that somebody had found a nest of birds that somebody had thrown into one of the dumpsters, baby birds. And Greg Horne said, you know, “They’re probably starlings or something like that”. I had some friends that were working out at Tekarra Lodge in town, named Terry and Jackie, and Jackie wanted to volunteer to take care of any kind of stray animals or animals that needed some medical attention so I said “I’ll go pick up these birds and I can take them out to Tekarra and give them to Jackie to take care of and she’ll be happy and we’ll see what happens with the birds”. So, I took them out there and they were really small, pink little birds that didn’t have feathers, it just looked like they had little hairs that were going to turn into feathers later on. And Jackie, well, she had to figure out how to feed them. So, she got some earthworms from a local fishing shop…that was back in the days when they could still sell bait and use bait in the park. And she got some Sunny Boy cereal, which is mostly seeds and I guess wheat and bran, threw it all into the blender, blended it up, and then she would feed these little birds with an eyedropper. She kept them in a little bird cage and every time she came into the room and they saw her, they would all start squawking much like the little birds do when their parents fly back to the nest. And so she fed them until they got big and turned into bigger recognizable birds, and sure enough, they turned out to be starlings which are an introduced species in North America. She realized that they had imprinted on her and that she was going to have to teach them how to fend for themselves. The birds would follow her everywhere so she went to an anthill, and she would start pecking with her fingers at the little ants in the anthill. All these four little birds would gather around and they would all start doing the same thing. And then she would flip over a little rock or something, and there’d be a bug underneath and she would do the same thing with their finger and the birds would come over and they’d grab the bug and stuff like that. So they were kind of learning to fend for themselves. Tekarra Lodge was a bungalow resort, and the guests were all pretty amazed that there were these four birds that were just hanging around people. They would walk between your legs and the birds thought they were people I guess. One by one the bird’s kind of disappeared, took off and don’t know what happened to it, until there was just one bird left. And Jackie ended up calling that bird Barney. Even though I don’t know if it was a Barney or a Bernice but Barney stayed out there. Jackie and Terry were good friends of mine, so I’d go out and visit them quite often in the evening. I could hold up my finger, and Barney would fly up and land on my finger. He knew me quite well and it was kind of neat to have that but not really natural either. And then one day Barney disappeared and wasn’t seen for quite a few days, no one kind of knew where he went, probably where the other birds went. I think it was a Saturday morning, Greg Horne and I were working again and we got another call from dispatch that there was a very strange bird on the front lawn of the Information Center in Jasper and acting really peculiar around all these people. I said to Greg, “I think I know that bird. I’ll go deal with this one”. So I went to the Information Center, and sure enough, there’s a circle of people standing out on the lawn and there’s a starling in the middle of the circle. And he’s going over and touching people’s shoes and going around. And they’re thinking like, “Is there something wrong with this bird? Is it sick? Why is it not taking off?” And so I walk up and I go, “Barney, is that you?” And I hold up my finger, and Barney flies up and lands on my finger. So I walk into the Information Center and I say, “I need a box, I got to take Barney back out to Tekarra Lodge”. I put Barney in a box and put it on the front seat of my truck and I’m driving back out to the Lodge and Barney gets out of the box and he gets up on the steering wheel right in front of me, staring at me. And now I can’t turn corners very easily because every time I try moving the steering wheel, he’s stepping a little bit sideways one way a little bit sideways the other but eventually I get him back out to Tekarra and he stays out there for another couple of days and then disappears again. Okay, hopefully he’s gone now and gone off to join the other starlings. But sure enough, a few days later I’m on days off and I’m in downtown Jasper walking down one of the commercial streets past a convenience store. And there’s Barney on the mirror of a pickup truck parked right by the sidewalk and this little boy and his dad are walking along and little boy goes to the Dad, “Look at that bird!” And he just about touched the bird. And I go, “Barney. That’s you again, isn’t it? Okay, this time you’re on your own.” And that was the last I saw of Barney and he never made it back out to the Lodge again.

I wasn’t involved in a whole lot of rescues, usually as an Operational warden I got called in to help carry stretchers or shuttle equipment and supplies.

There was the grizzly bear mauling in the Tonquin Valley involving a man and a woman from England who were camped at Portal Creek Campground. They had walked a little ways outside of the campground when they saw a grizzly bear coming down the trail towards them. They kind of ran back to the campground and I think running may have caused the bear to start chasing them. The woman climbed a tree and the bear tried to pull her out of the tree. The man who was still on the ground, I think was trying to scare the bear off. And the bear ended up attacking the man. The woman was able to get out of the tree and, even though it was the middle of the afternoon, there was another camper in his tent in the campground and she was yelling and told him what happened. He took off from Portal Creek Campground and ran to the trailhead and got to a telephone to report the event. We put together a couple of teams and we ended up flying in. One team was dropped off at the campground and ended up shooting the bear that had killed the man. I was in the second helicopter load. We flew along the trail looking for the woman. We found her about a kilometer from the trailhead. She had run that far. I think it would have been about 10 kilometers or so and I think she had one shoe pulled off when she was in the tree so she ran out with just the one shoe on. She just collapsed, exhausted, on the trail. Ivan Phillips and I slung in and picked her up. We got out to the trailhead just at last light. I think it was in about 1992 when this incident happened. It was really strange that there’s only been two people killed by grizzly bears in Jasper National Park and they had both been in the Tonquin Valley and they were both named Percy. One was the warden, Percy Goodair in 1929 and this person from England was Percy Lancaster.
It was, I think, a fairly large male bear and possibly having them running away might have been enough to spur a predatory attack. That’s what it definitely looked like. Many memorable events, but that was one of the memorable public safety ones.

Another story that I sent to the Park Warden Alumni website was about Trapper Bill. I was the Brazeau District warden in 1991 and 1992. Bill had the trapline on the other side of the Brazeau River from the park. The far riverbank, which is the right riverbank, forms the actual boundary of the park. I first heard of Bill on my third trip into the district in late July of 1991 when my supervisor, Gord Anderson, told me that we had a 20 lb. box to drop off at Bill’s cabin. The box we were dropping off came from John McVey, a pharmacist in Hinton, and contained a half year supply of medication for Bill: some Tylenol 3 with codeine, Sinutab with codeine, other pain killers and anti-inflammatories, along with a drug for epilepsy- although McVey told me that Bill had never been diagnosed with epilepsy.

I remember asking Gord why my horses had to carry an extra 20 lbs. for this guy and he told me that we help out when we can, although he also said this guy was a little strange. He would get bushed from time to time, break into Isaac Creek Warden Cabin, and radio that there was some sort of an emergency so he could get a helicopter ride out to civilization. Gord told me to be careful when approaching Bill’s cabin and to always yell out from a distance and wait for Bill to reply in a friendly manner.

Bill was born in October 1920, so he would have been 70 years old when I first met him. He had served in one of the wars and said he had a metal plate in his head from a war injury. Besides being Bill’s pharmacist, John McVey had power of attorney for Bill. So, John could cash Bill’s War Veteran Allowance cheques and would then pay for Bill’s supplies and other expenses when Bill was on his trapline.

When Gord and I rode to Bill’s place in 1991, Bill was on the seismic line by his cabin cutting down trees for his winter firewood. Bill was wearing a round silver-coloured steel hard hat, a pair of chainsaw pants and a threadbare undershirt. You could see every muscle and tendon on his lean upper body. Although Bill’s cabin was only about 50 metres from where he was working, he had a wall tent set up by his work site – he said it was in case a storm blew in and he was not able to make it back to his cabin. He told us he once got caught when the wind suddenly picked up and trees started falling all around him. He said it was so scary that he “just about went into orbit”. After visiting Bill over several years, I realized that the tent was actually there in case Bill threw his back out sawing trees and he was not able to make it back to his cabin for several days.

Bill showing his Netted Gem potatoes to Mike
Bill showing his Netted Gem potatoes to Mike