Park Warden Alumni Society of Alberta 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 – Spring 2014
Telephone Interview with Rick Holmes
Conducted by Christine Crilley-Everts
June 8, 2014
Place and Date of Birth: Kirkland Lake, Ontario. May 22, 1947.
Occupations: After moving out west to ski and climb in Jasper and meeting some local wardens, Rick decided make a career out of his love for the outdoors. Following the completion of the Environmental Sciences program at Lethbridge College, he began working seasonally in Revelstoke Glacier and Pacific Rim National Parks. In 1983, he became a permanent warden in Pacific Rim where he spent the majority of his career on the West Coast Trail and was the public safety specialist for the park. In 2006, Rick was one of seven individuals awarded a Certificate of Achievement for his work in search and rescue.
Additional Information: Together with his wife Heather, who was a marine biologist for the park, Rick started a diving and research program on abalone and rock fish. The rock fish program is still in place today and the couple remain concerned about protecting national parks and wild places. Along with their love of diving, they enjoy skiing. In retirement they spend their winters at Mount Washington, where Rick works on the ski patrol. For Rick, the camaraderie and work ethic of those he worked with, as well as his time out on the ocean and rescues on the trail are highlights of his warden career.
“What is your place and of birth?”
(0:27) May 22, 1947. I was born in a mining town, Kirkland Lake in northern Ontario.. I did for a while, but then we moved to southern Ontario. I can’t actually remember at what point we moved to southern Ontario, but we were up north for quite a while. We ended up in a place called Georgetown.
“How did you get involved in the warden service? Did you start out in the east?”
(1:14) No, I came out west in 1970 and I came out to ski and teach skiing for Joe Couture and Tom McCready in Jasper. I taught skiing there for quite a few years. I taught skiing in the winters at Marmot and then in the summers I started teaching climbing and mountaineering at the Banff Cadet Camp there, which is now gone. I did that for quite a few years, so I would go back and forth.
“So is that what gave you a taste for the warden service?”
Yeah, absolutely. You know I used to ski tour and the wardens used to look after avalanche control up at Marmot and they had a little shack there, half way up the mountain. So I got to know them, Darro Stinson was one guy and Rick Ralph…then I started going on ski tours with some of those guys and climbing with some of them. They said, “Why don’t you start getting paid for this?” I went, “Okay!” So I went back to school at Lethbridge, with a whole bunch of other guys that all ended up in the warden service. I bet you half of the class or more ended up with either provincial parks or national parks. That was Environmental Sciences, at Lethbridge Community College.
“Once you finished there, what park did you start in?”
(3.30) I tricked them into hiring an old ski bum! It’s basically what I did. My first posting was at Revelstoke Glacier for a winter seasonal and (then) right away I got a summer seasonal posting at Pacific Rim. Actually now we are talking 1980. We are talking 1980 now.
“Was Mac Elder there at that time?”
That’s right yeah, Mac was there! Actually, I knew Mac from Jasper because I used to go ski touring up at Maligne Lake and I think he was at Mile 45. I can’t remember, but I know he was at Maligne for a while and I used to bump into him around Jasper, before he started moving up and became Chief Park Warden. (Mac Elder, worked in the Brazeau, Willow Creek, Maligne Lake and townsite districts of Jasper National Park. After spending two years in Pukaskwa as the Chief Warden, he moved to Pacific Rim National Park to work as the Chief until he retired in 1991 after 34 years of service.) So yeah, he was the chief park warden in Pacific Rim and Bruce McKinnon was the operations manager up at Rogers Pass. I forget the fellow’s name who was the Chief Park Warden there…You know what, I worked summers at Pacific Rim and I worked winters at Rogers Pass and I did that for four years. Then I got on full time at Pacific Rim in 1983/84. Again I tricked them! They must have been easily tricked because they actually hired me on fulltime. My first posting was at Pacific Rim of course because I was working there and a vacancy came up. Actually, I might have dropped into Scotty Ward’s position because he went back to Banff as the dog master. I might have filled his position there when he left.
“He credits you with teaching him all the ocean ropes, the surfing and all of that.”
Well, really we did it together. It was more like we were teaching each other. But yeah, Scotty was great! We had a really good working relationship out there and we did manage to learn how to surf and spent a lot of time out on the water. We had a great time!
(6:27) I ended up on the West Coast Trail. It’s funny because there were several of us that came out to Pacific Rim. Bob Hanson is another fellow who was in Jasper and was at Lethbridge with us and also ended up at Rogers Pass. He got a seasonal position at Pacific Rim and so did I. We both went out to the coast and said, “Well, we’ll just spend a couple of seasons here and then we will go back to the mountains.” Lo and behold we both spent our entire careers out there…It’s funny because everybody in Jasper kept asking me, “Well, when are you going to come back to the mountains?” After five or seven or years, they stopped asking!
(7:25) Yeah, three years.
“Just to go back a bit, I googled you and I saw your wife worked in Pacific Rim as a marine biologist.”
(7:37) That’s right, Heather just retired last year. I met her at Pacific Rim. She started as a seasonal interpreter in Banff and she knew your dad from Banff and she stayed in that place, I forget the name of it, that big bunkhouse in Banff. (Keith Everts was a warden in Banff National Park for 25 years.) So she got to meet and get to know a lot of the wardens out there. But, she always had a leaning to marine biology so she transferred out to Pacific Rim as an interpreter, the same time that I showed up out there. We just got to know each other through work, the classic story…Eventually when Parks started to go into the marine end of things and were looking for scientists, Heather was a shoe in. That was always her forte. So, she ended up as the marine biologist at the park.
“That would also be an incredible job out there, I imagine.”
It was yeah. Heather and I were both super keen divers and both diving instructors. So we managed to wiggle an actual diving program up and running and we shepherded it along for a number of years. We took it into the scientific realm and ended up doing a lot of really interesting research work and upgraded all the diving gear to professional/commercial dive gear. We had underwater communications and everything and we ended up doing a lot of research work and we were quite busy with that towards the end of our career there. It was great fun!
(9:43) We started living in parks housing in Ucluelet. Then a place came for sale that was half built in Tofino and we said, “Oh, maybe we should buy that.” It was up on a cliff, 55 steps up to the house from where we parked the car, up a cliff overlooking the ocean. We bought it and of course we were young then and we worked away and built the house. So we basically finished our career out there in Tofino.
“Do you have children?”
No kids! We’re not. We moved to Nanaimo because the west coast, after you have been there for 30 plus years, you realize it is fantastic, but it is very rainy! We didn’t know that the east side of Vancouver Island has a very Mediterranean climate and we came over here sailing one time in the late summer when normally it is foggy and drippy in Tofino and we went, “Oh my god it is beautiful over here!” So when we retired we sold our place in Tofino and bought a small house in Nanaimo here and then we ended up buying a condo up at Mount Washington ski area. In the winters we are up at the ski area.
“When you started at Pacific Rim, what were some of your main responsibilities? Did you get right into the search and rescue?”
(11:25) Yeah, I sort of did. Basically what happened was they shipped me down to the West Coast Trail. I didn’t know a lot about the coast when I first went down there. As my summer seasonal job, I was down there right away. I worked in Long Beach, sort of in front country operations for just a few months and then they needed somebody down on the West Coast Trail at Port Renfrew, so they shipped me down there. They said, “There’s a little boat and your floater suit and a little outboard. There you go, and there’s your compass. Don’t break it!” Classic Mac Elder, you know! I still remember him saying, “Ian Pengelly had that floater suit five years ago, so it still should be good!” Essentially…I worked my entire career, eight months of the year on the West Coast Trail. When I first started working on the West Coast Trail we only had a small number of people hiking the trail. Then it got unbelievably popular and busy. When I first started there it would be rare if we had anybody hurt, maybe half a dozen, or a dozen people a year that really needed to be taken off the trail. Jeez, then by the 1990s, it was incredibly busy and the rescue load went way, way up along with wildlife issues. It just got really busy and we found that we needed better boats and better equipment and better training, so away we went. It just got busy so we started working at trying to improve things.
“Was there money and support to do that?”
Well, you know it is funny. We did manage to get money over a period of time.) It is much harder to get now of course as everybody says. But we did manage to, with a little bit of work, to increase our budget to run operations down there. So the way it worked when I was there was there was one seasonal warden at Port Renfrew and one seasonal warden at Bamfield to run the West Coast Trail show. When I left we had shut down Bamfield because it was too hard to work out of and we ended up with five people working out of Port Renfrew in a big station there. There were four seasonal wardens and myself working out of there and we went from a little 15 foot zodiac with a 20 horsepower motor to a 23 foot rigid hull inflatable with twin 150s I think on the back and then we had a smaller boat on board that we could blow up and take through the surf…with radar on it and GPS and all that stuff. When I started on the little zodiac you had a hand compass and a chart and off you went out in the fog. You timed your run in certain areas to a lighthouse where you could kind of hear the light in the fog and then turned in and made your way to shore. Then when I left it was all GPS and radar. It completely transformed over the years.
“Is it still do you think, as busy as it was in the 1990s?”
(15:32) Yes, it is… (I am trying to rack my brain as to how many rescues we would do a season. We were probably doing something like 60 to 100 SAR (search and rescue) missions a season.
“Were the boats your main form of transportation, or did you ever use helicopters?”
(16:05) Yeah, we did and that took a while to work that out, because we did need helicopters. It was really hard to get people out if the weather was bad, or if you couldn’t get through the surf or if they were in a tight spot. Or if they were badly hurt, you couldn’t subject them to a pounding boat ride at 40 knots in the ocean…So it took a while before I got a budget for helicopters, but we ended up with a small budget and it worked out quite well. We worked out a very good arrangement with West Coast Helicopters and they were actually based in Nanaimo, but their transit time over to Port Renfrew where we flew out of was only about 20 minutes. They gave us a really reasonable ferry rate because we ended up using them a lot. So our cost for the helicopters was very reasonable in the end, considering that we didn’t have a helicopter based in Port Renfrew or anything. We played with different kinds of helicopters and then ended up with the Astar instead of the Bell Jets. The Astar was able to fly faster and carry a bigger load. We started using Astars quite early in the game and it worked really well for us. We would use the helicopter 15 to 25 times a summer to get people out. I know one time, I still remember it, we did five rescues in one day with the helicopter! People were going down everywhere! We would just get somebody back to the ambulance station and we would get called out again. I think one time we had like three patients in the helicopter. We were dropping down here and there and scooping them up!
, “Before you had helicopters, if people were really injured where would you take them?”
(18:17) You know it really evolved. The way it worked out after a little while is that we would bring them directly to Port Renfrew because there is a paved road into Port Renfrew and there is a BC Ambulance station right there. In fact they were just down the road from us. So we had socialized with the ambulance crew and they loved us because we brought them business! In BC, if they are just at the small stations, they only get paid if they get called out. Otherwise they are on standby wages. As soon as they get called out they get activated and they start getting some money, some decent money. We used them a lot and also we saw them from a liability standpoint or patient care standpoint. It was great. We would bring the patients right back to our dock in Port Renfrew and the BC Ambulance guys would be waiting on the dock for us. It was perfect. We would hand the patient off to them and quite often we would go right into the station. Folks might need to be cleaned up a little bit, or use the bathroom, or get stabilized a little bit before we loaded them into the ambulance and off they went. But when I was first at Port Renfrew, it was pretty bush! I would bring them out in this little 15 foot zodiac…and hobble them up the steps from the water to the house and often there was no ambulance service in town in those days, so I would bundle them up in the warden truck and I would drive them to Victoria, to the Victoria General or the Royal Jubilee, which was an hour and 20 minutes into town. So that was pretty funny, but I only did that for the first two or three years and then the ambulance station was there and it worked out really well!
“You mentioned the day where you have five rescues with helicopter, are there any other rescue stories that stick out in your mind?”
(20:32) You know there are so many. I just pulled out a piece of paper and I think in 2002 we did 125 evacs. In 2005, I see there are 80 of them, 2003, 94 and I think the total for 2004 was 135 operations. There were so many of them that it is hard to pick any particular one. One thing that started to happen was people started falling down in areas where we actually had to start using rope rescues and technical rope gear, so that evolved. When I first started we never had to use technical rope gear to get people out of some of these things. When I left, we were actually making sure that everybody got trained up and certified every year to do rope rescue work so that we could put somebody in a stretcher and skid them up a short cliff face or something, or lower then down a section of ladders. There are a lot of vertical ladders on the trail. If somebody had a broken arm of something and can’t hold onto the ladder then you need to put them on a belay. They might be mobile, but they can’t hold onto a ladder to get down. So we ended up starting to use rope rescue gear too.
“You also mentioned as the trail use increased, so did the wildlife encounters.”
(22:17) Yes, it did. There is a very high cougar population along the West Coast Trail and black bear. We did end up with an attack, a long ways back, probably in the early 1990s. A young boy was grabbed, but he survived, he chased the cougar off. We had some cougar issues where they were following people and so on…I still remember vividly we had a cougar that was a big concern. We had the trail closed down and I don’t know how many people we were flying in and out with firearms to try and shoot it if we could. That happened occasionally and we had lots of black bears, but the black bears weren’t really a big issue. They were worrisome, but the black bears out here are pretty savvy around people. So we did just have to watch them and every now and then we would tranquilize one and move it. Of course that policy changed after a while because of liability and you really couldn’t tranquilize a bear and move it somewhere else in case it ended up getting into trouble or attacking someone else further on. After a while we didn’t have any options to tranquilize bears and remove them. We just had to shoot them. We tried everything we could do to prevent bear problems.
“What did you like best about being a warden?”
(24:16) It was a great camaraderie with the group. I had a lot in common with all the other people and it was a big fraternity of people doing the same work, only it was always a little different. So a great camaraderie and great training, wonderful opportunities to get fantastic training, great opportunities to go on training schools.
“Where would those training schools be? At the Palisades?”
Yeah, we used to go to the Palisades quite a bit.) We had quite a few, especially the law enforcement schools at the Palisades. Then of course at the end of the career we ended up at the RCMP depot and spent a lot of time there. I remember Dan Vedova and I ended up there on a personal defense trainers course that they were holding. Dan and I were there for like a month and a half, (it was) a long time…Of course for a lot of the ski touring courses… I would go out to Jasper and Banff in the middle of winter and jump on one of the ski touring courses out there, which was great, going out with Willi Pfisterer or Peter Fuhrmann that sort of thing. It was a great opportunity to do a lot of really different things. I think the biggest thing that I liked was I always knew that I wanted to work outside, but I couldn’t really figure out how to do it and make a living at it. It is very hard to make a living teaching skiing, or teaching climbing, so I just sort of fell into the thing at the warden service and you know, it was the best thing that happened to me. I met a lot of really good, dedicated people. People complain about civil servants. I worked with a lot people and knew a lot of people who had an incredible work ethic and they put out! After you worked with people like that you realized you couldn’t dog it throughout your life and at work. You had to stay busy and work hard! I think that is one thing that the warden service instilled in me, is that you’ve got to have a work ethic and you’ve got to give er and boy, there were some people in the warden service that I got to take my hat off to. They were amazing people, super, super strong, super fit and they really did some amazing things! It was a wonderful experience. The other thing in the end that I really enjoyed doing was helping folks out which is kind of nice to do you know because quite often you bump into people and they are not really seriously hurt. They are going to be fine, they might have a broken leg or whatever, but they are kind of jammed up and they always really appreciated somebody who could scoop them up and get them out of the middle of nowhere and bring them back to where they could get fixed up. I enjoyed doing that sort of stuff.
“Is there anything that you didn’t really like about being part of the service?”
(28:05) You know there wasn’t a lot at all. I was very lucky, and it was partly just because not a lot of people wanted to spend eight months of the year away from home working in a station in the middle of sort of nowhere. I liked doing it, so I was very lucky that I was able to spend most of my career doing that. A little later on of course, you end up doing more planning and budgeting and that sort of stuff, but there was very little that I didn’t like about the job. I think sometimes bureaucracy can drive you crazy, but thankfully for me I skated away from a lot of that stuff because some people did end up dealing with a lot of shit and I never did. I always ended up skating away so it was good. I enjoyed working with a wide variety of people. It was just hilarious you know every year we would take a group photo down on the West Coast Trail and in 2000 and something, I remember looking at the picture that somebody took and I am looking at all the kids that are all like late 20s or late 30s and then, “Who’s the old guy? Oh…that’s me!” I am the old guy standing there…How hilarious you know!
“Just to go back to the research, was that federally funded or was that through the universities?”
(28:38) That was all federally funded money, you bet. We did some very interesting work on abalone and rock fish. We established those programs and they are still doing rock fish population counts now. That program actually survived which is amazing because they did end up chopping almost all of the marine biologists out of the national park system…
“Were there any other changes over your career?”
(30: 31) From search and rescue those were the big things, it was pretty bush when we started and pretty unsophisticated and in the end we did a lot of training and a lot of education courses to do everything, so it was amazing that way. I just eased out of the outfit when the whole split came. (In 2000, Banff park warden, Douglas Martin filed a federal Labor Code Complaint arguing that, without a side arm, he was being placed in situations of potential danger without the necessary protective equipment. (Remington, Robert. “Men for the Mountains.” Discovering Alberta – A Calgary Herald Magazine Series.) After seven years of discussions and appeals, the National Occupational Health and Safety Policy Committee recommended that Parks Canada give wardens side arms. However, in 2008, wardens were relieved of their law-enforcement duties, with the exception of 100 armed-enforcement officers who were hired to enforce federal conservation laws in Canada’s 41 parks and park reserves. (Agrell, Siri. “Park Wardens Our of Uniform: From Stetsons to Ball Caps” Globe and Mail. June 7, 2008.)