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 Murray & Helen Dawson
April 30, 2011 – Kelowna, BC
Place and Date of Birth: June 1, 1927. Wainwright Alberta.
Occupations: After working for the Alberta Forest Service in Grande Prairie Alberta, Murray joined the warden service in Jasper National Park in the 1950s. After working in Jasper, he was transferred to Point Pelee National Park as the Chief Warden. He then returned to the west as Chief Warden of Yoho National Park. Following his time in Yoho he worked temporarily as the Assistant Chief Warden in Banff, before becoming the head of Visitor Services in Jasper. He then became Operations Manager in Kootenay National Park. He ended his warden career in 1987 as the head of Visitor Services for Banff National Park.
Additional Information: Murray enjoys the retired life with his wife Helen in Kelowna British Colombia, where he continues to golf three times a week.
(0:00:25) I was born June 1, 1927 in Wainwright, Alberta. That was a national park. Wainwright was…Buffalo National Park. That was before the war. Then they converted it to a big military training base and they transferred the buffalo up to Wood Buffalo National Park in the North West Territories.
(0:01:20) I was with the Alberta Forest Service first stationed at Grande Prairie Alberta. I wasn’t too impressed with that job because it was fighting fires all summer and cruising timber in the wintertime on snowshoes. Do you know what cruising timber is? That’s counting all the trees that could produce lumber. They had to be a certain size and they cut them up and run them through sawmills that produced lumber. So we had to go and cruise. You had a straight line taken off of your aerial photograph. You had 16 feet on each side of the line which gave you a strip of 32 feet in total. The 32 feet added up to…I just forget now, how many acres. That gave us the acreage of how much timber was in a parcel.
(0:03:19) Gordon – That was something we didn’t have to do in Parks, except in the timber berths.
(0:03:32) I guess we used to have to do a little calculation, when we had a fire or something in Parks to figure out how many acres had burned.
(0:04:05) That (working for the Alberta Forest Service (AFS) in Grande Prairie) was fighting fire all summer and cruising timber all winter on snowshoes. I thought “Well, this is one great career!” So I happened to be looking at the paper one day and I saw this advertisement “Park Wardens Wanted.” I think it was in Jasper at that time. So I got ahold of this man in Edmonton and gave him a call. “Holy smokes!” He said, “We are looking for guys like you.” because I was with the AFS at that time. “When can you come in for an interview?” This was to Edmonton. So I said, “Well, I can take time off…” I got all the information and went in for the interview and got back to Grande Prairie and the guy said, “I’ve got some good news for you. We’ve got a job for you. Right away quick.” “Where at?” “Jasper, Alberta!” Man or man, hit it right on the head and I never looked back after that!
(0:05:50) What was it? About every four years after that Gordy, (that Murray moved from national park to national park), Jasper, Point Pelee, Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay…In the early 1950s I started with the warden service (in Jasper).
(0:07:04) Helen – I worked for Parks too. I was an accountant. I wasn’t chartered, but I did their work.
(0:07:26) She spent the money!
(0:07:49) I came out to Field in the fall of 1962.
(0:08:23) I went from a Chief Park Warden to an Operations Manager (in Kootenay)… I was in charge of the warden service, the resource conservation guys, the interpretive service which put on the moving pictures and did the groups talks and whatnot and the other one was visitor services which was trails and downhill skiing and snowshoeing and all the interesting things…Banff was a much bigger operation…It kept you well occupied when you were operating campgrounds the size of Tunnel Mountain (in Banff). Then the swimming pools, the Upper Hot Springs and the Cave and Basin. (Murray ended his career as the head of visitor services in Banff National Park).
(0:11:30) Helen – You probably entered as a grade one warden (in response to the question “When you began in Jasper were you an assistant warden?”)
(0:11:58) That’s when I had horses…pack horses.
(0:12:00) Helen – Then they put you up to a grade two and put you into town (into Jasper).
(0:12:10) Gordon – When I came on with the warden service there were grade one and grade two positions.
(0:13:02) Gordon – Yes, assistant wardens are the same as grade one wardens…As a grade one warden you were usually under somebody (a more senior warden).
(0:13:29) As a grade two warden you got a little more green stuff in your purse. That was the difference between a grade one and a grade two warden. There had to be vacancies created between grade one and two, promotional competitions between a grade one and a grade two.
(0:13:56) Gordon – That’s right. Because I had to go on a competition to get the grade two position at the time. You had to be a grade one warden for a certain amount of time like two years or something.
(0:14:22) It was a permanent career type of employment and it gave you an opportunity to go up the scale so to speak. (In response to the question, “What did you like best about being a warden?) Going up the scale there was a little more responsibility, but it was also an increase in pay. So there was little in-house competition there between more senior men, more experienced men, more conscientious type of guys. There were the odd ones we got that were some real ringers, you know. They needed looking after everyday pretty near…But there was opportunity for much greater diversification within the job itself. If you could handle that with a little noticeable fanfare so to speak that lead to promotions, small districts to large districts, small crews to larger crews. That’s when you would get three or four trail crews to look after, verses one…not only that, but also the responsibility of laying out these trails.
(0:16: 56) Gordon – You were also part of that transition period, the 1970s where the warden service became centralized. Some of the old wardens, like yourself weren’t too keen on that. But you sort of resigned yourself to the fact that those were the changes of the time.
(0:17:20) Oh, you had to, or you were in a big stall. (In response to the question, “So you accepted those changes?)
(0:17:27) Gordon – You didn’t want to fight it too much, but you could grumble about it, which we all used to do!
(0:17:44) I would say probably the most memorable (event of my career) was learning the mountain climbing. That took a little bit of getting used to, you know. Two guys hanging on a rope at the top of the mountain and you are way down dangling, looking for hand holds and foot holds…
(0:18:33) Gordon – Walter Perren trained all the cowboys how to climb mountains!
(0:18:40) Well that was the mode of transportation in the summertime (In response to the questions, “Were you a cowboy? Did you always have horses?)
(0:18:45) Gordon – Murray was a good cowboy. During your time in Mount Robson you went into Berg Lake (on horseback) and that was one of your first jobs.
(0:19:18) The Hargrave people had a dude ranch there.
(0:19:22) Gordon – The only way that they could get out there was by train, out to Mount Robson (from Jasper).
(0:19:31) Lo and behold, I got a pass on the famous old Canadian National Railway and any emergency that came up…we (park wardens) had the authority to stop trains, passenger or freight trains and hitch a ride on them. That was when I was stationed at Mount Robson. The wardens had a fairly good sized two bedroom home at Mount Robson which was provincial land, but they leased it to Parks Canada and then we kept our horses there. Then we had about 30 miles to ride from Mount Robson up to Berg Lake through the pass to get back into Jasper park…So we covered a lot of territory…
(0:21:42) Gordon – Helping the provincial people out.
(0:21:43) Yeah, exactly. We were more or less fire marshals for all the territory that was down at Mount Robson which was on the mainline of the Canadian National Railway…the divisional point was at Jasper. Actually it ran from Edmonton to Vancouver and a branch line went up from Prince George to Prince Rupert. So we kept our eye on a lot of territory on the province of BC, that area and we would blow the whistle if anything was going amiss because…there was a provincial policeman at Red Pass that was just 16 miles west of Jasper.
(0:22:25) Gordon – The provincial people, they used to cover a big district. More so than the wardens…so they were quite happy…
(0:23:30) To take all the information that we could pass along to them in respect to reporting fires and lightning strikes and all those other interesting things that goes on in a natural setting. And poaching which was shooting the big moose in the fall. Oh yeah, well it covered so much country. (In response to the question, ‘Was poaching a big issue?) I think there were a lot of guys who filled their winter larder with a poached moose in the fall.
(0:24:12) Gordon – It was pretty common I think. It was pretty hard to cover the whole area.
(0:24:15) You couldn’t…But if you ran across this and we (the wardens) were empowered to arrest people in the province within that set jurisdiction or get a hold of the provincial guys and let them know names, address, license numbers on anything that could set up an identification…There was a pretty good common relationship between the provincial and federal jurisdictions.