“What are some of the more memorable events of your warden career?

(26:08) Oh, I don’t know there are all kinds of events. One thing about being a warden, you never were bored very long. Even later on when we were centralized, like for instance at Kootenay Crossing, there was a hell of a lot of road accidents on that road, (the Banff Windermere Highway). I don’t know why, it was a nice road, but people driving through the mountains seemed to lose some of their driving ability if they weren’t used to it. That’s what it seemed like and I’ve never heard anybody prove it, but there were some terrible accidents on that road and the Mounties couldn’t get out there enough, so we had to look after them. And that was some of the highlights, the memorable stuff, not nice, but you sure remember it. I suppose it was one of the other things I didn’t like so much…And I don’t know, sometimes the Superintendents were, I can say it now, they were nice guys, but they didn’t know really (the parks). They were administrators and didn’t know parks too well some of them…The change in Superintendents was always a bad, bad few days. You wondered if you got a better one or a worse one. They had a lot to say and they were the absolute law you know. I had one Superintendent when I was over at Boundary, one of the districts and I remember I had two kids ready to go to school and he told the Chief Warden he said, “Well, we didn’t hire his wife and kids, we hired him.” That was his attitude. I know a friend of mine that was at a place called Pine Grove, he was having trouble with too many visitors turning off the road and coming into his place, so he traded with me and I was able to put the kids on the school bus. But he did that on his own, he volunteered to trade places with me…

“Others have talked about the challenges of raising kids in the backcountry and getting proper schooling.”

That was hard It wasn’t just hard for me, it was hard for a lot of them.

“In all the parks you worked in, do you have a favorite?”

(29:28) Well, it is a tough question to answer. I really liked Kootenay because you could go up to Marble Canyon and you damn near had to put your parka on and then you’d come down into Radium Hot Springs and you would be in your shirt sleeves. That was one thing and Prince Albert Park is a nice park. I think it is a nice place to be anyways. Crean Lake and the other lakes, they are nice too. But I think as far as beauty…my last park, Nahanni, was my favorite I guess. It was not only beautiful, it was wild. I was pretty good in a canoe when I went there, but I had to take canoe lessons to handle that place! You better not get in a canoe there, unless you know what you are doing…We lived in Fort Simpson which I really didn’t like. That was one part of it I didn’t like. They took Nahanni Butte out of service. They cancelled everything in Nahanni Butte. I don’t know what year they did that, it was sometime in the late 1980s. They just closed it down and moved everybody into Fort Simpson. You did all your work by jet boat or airplane. It took a long time just to drive down to get going on the Nahanni. But still that is a wonderful piece of land up there, the mountains and the deep canyons, the falls…I don’t know it is just nice.

“Did you have to do many rescues in the water?”

Not there, strangely enough I did more of that in Prince Albert, on the big lakes in Prince Albert we did rescues there. When I was in Nahanni we never had to, some of them did when they were there…We found a couple of girls who were lost, but they were only lost for two or three days. All that was wrong with them was they were good and hungry, but it wasn’t really that exciting. We had some Japanese people get on a plane and head for Japan and just before they left they told us they saw a sleeping bag, or several sleeping bags on the Unclimables there. Just outside of Nahanni, outside of the park there is a range of mountains, I think they call the Unclimables. So they said they saw some red sleeping bags up in the high, high altitude and that did cause a little disturbance. But the North West Territories insisted on looking after it themselves. In the meantime, I got somebody in Banff really raising hell. I don’t know why and I won’t go into names, but he wanted our fellows to go and investigate and climb up and see what these sleeping bags were all about. And I’ve got the North West Territories officer that’s in charge…he was stationed in Fort Simpson and the first thing he wanted was the Giant Mine rescue squad to go because he wanted the North West Territories to be busy and get the credit for all this and the guy down in Banff was trying to get (our wardens involved). My superintendent was away and I just told him, “No, we are not getting into it.” I was getting flack from every direction…It turned out that a fellow had a long line and I don’t know if this ever developed into anything, but he had a long rope, it must have cost him a fortune and he tethered it to one end of the mountain and he went up over the mountain and down and checked out these sleeping bags. He was from Yellowknife, so they did look after it themselves and proved that they could look after this sort of thing. I think that is what they wanted and that is what they got. But nothing really exciting (in terms of rescues). The names, if you want to get a good laugh, take a map of Nahanni and look at some of the names, Deadman Valley, Blood Mountain, Headless Canyon, oh man, it sounded like it was a battlefield! But I think everybody in the old days when they were up there were going through so much hardship they didn’t name anything optimistic! Well, that is the only way I can explain it. All the names, pretty well all the names were pessimistic. But anyway I liked the park itself.

“Did you get to see most of it?”

Oh yeah, my wife and I, we took on some of the testing jobs ourselves you know. Like we went up to Rabbit Kettle Lake and did a couple of weeks up there testing the water because there was a mine going in and we were trying to get a baseline to see how pure the water was…We weren’t the only ones who did it…but in that time Rabbit Kettle Lake was a way up at the other end there, it would cost you $5000 to fly there and back I imagine with a small plane. It is not a small park and I notice it is getting bigger, it keeps getting bigger. I read they were going to expand it. I don’t think it is confirmed, the park boundary is confirmed yet, but I think it is close, I hope it is close anyway…The South Nahanni and the North Nahanni, they are both beautiful and they both should be in the park, but only one is, the South Nahanni. I would like to see them both in and god knows you fly in that country and you look down and there is lots of room for a big park up there and there are plenty of minerals, if they want minerals and stuff there is plenty of it, north and south of Nahanni. I think they will eventually get it. There was one band of Aboriginals there; I forget the name of that settlement. It wasn’t Nahanni Butte, in Nahanni Butte they have a lot to say there, but they are pretty easy to get along with and the park provides a lot of employment. Fort Liard and a native band in there, they had a lot of rights and I am not getting into that, you had to work with them and it slows things down considerable you know. They have to agree to whatever you are going to do with the expansion. I imagine they would have to agree and I wouldn’t want to walk right over them, that’s for sure. Anyway that was one place you had to watch and be careful how you treated their people.

(40:33) And we had poaching going on…somebody had a little plane with big rubber tires and they’d land up on the plateaus up there and poach sheep, things like that you know. Of course we didn’t have a little plane, so they had advantages over us everywhere.

“How did you catch the poachers?”

Usually they would make a mistake Most of the pilots that flew we hired and they would report anything they saw like that for one thing. That was about the only way that we would ever find them. And I never did, I didn’t even know if they were there when I was there…Before my time I guess they had problems with them.

“Was poaching ever a problem in the other parks that you worked?”

Yeah, poaching was a problem in Kootenay, poaching elk. They took elk right off the road. They would take them right off the highway. They finally realized it was a big truck with a picker on it. That’s why we would just find a little pile of intestines and nothing else, hardly any blood or anything. We found out in the end this is what was doing it, but they got tipped off or something because they quit before we got them. It wasn’t a big problem but you had to have night patrols out for that sort of thing. That was sort of exciting…You don’t like being an armchair warden and that would get you off your ass anyways.

“What about the warden service was important to you?

(43:07) Oh yeah, that was the whole idea. Was it the idea of protecting the national parks?” I don’t know if all wardens felt the same, but I think that most of us felt that we were doing some good. We were conservationists in a broad sense. Things had to be kept as natural as we could keep them and most of us tried hard to do that. We were proud of our jobs. Now I think they are still proud of the fact that they are park wardens, I would hope they are. I know that they are doing a lot of studies now and a lot of the work that we used to do can be done by satellite, technology has taken over. A lot of the patrols that we went on can be done with an airplane or a helicopter…We didn’t use them (helicopters) much, we had them, you could hire them, but in the early days we hardly ever had one. Then the helicopter took care of…lots of fire trails, little trails into places we thought a fire might start…Of course we had a different attitude toward fire than they do now. It turns out that maybe we had the wrong attitude, we protected it so well sometimes, it caused the worse fires later on, twenty years later, but we didn’t know that. Now those fire trails, you don’t need them, you can just take a chopper down there, slither down along those trails in half an hour and take a look around. So it is just part of the change, everything has got to change.

“Is there anyone you worked with that sort of stick out in your mind?”

(46:04) Oh, there is all kinds. There are so many I wouldn’t want to say in case I missed one. I never worked with Gordon Anderson because we never had a chance to work together, but we met.

“Can you tell me the connection, because he is the one who gave me your phone number and said that I should give you a call.”?

Well, we have a lot in common. His wife, is my wife’s sister in law, we got to know one another at these family gatherings. But we never worked together ever. We just got to be friends that way. There were several wardens that I worked with that I was close to. One was Luther Ferguson, he died last year…oh there are so many, I don’t know how to go into it really…there was Bert Row in Kootenay. I got a big kick out of Bert Row. Bert Row is the one that when Jim Atkinson was the superintendent and this is a story. Bert went up to him one day in front of the post office in Jasper and he said, “Good morning Jim.” Atkinson turned on him and said, “Is that anyway to address your superior, your superintendent?” Bert said, “Boy, that’s right.” He says, “I only call my friends by their first names!” I don’t know there are just lots, there is Dean Allen, there is Cliff Millard, oh, there are so many (wardens to remember)…Gordy Harrison, we always called him Shorty, he was just as tall as I was, but that isn’t really tall either…

“Is there anything about the warden service as you knew it that you would like future generations to know?”)

(49:18) I would like them to know, well it is hard to get the young people to understand those things because of the technology that is going on today, they can’t imagine why you did certain things. Think of that old phone line, you wouldn’t even need one now. That is some of the stuff that I would like them to remember…We traveled without a radio. We had no radio, no phone in the winter or in the summer either. That is something they wouldn’t be able to wrap their mind around now. They got me an i-pad for Christmas and I am trying to learn how to use it now. I can turn it on now anyway!

“What made the warden service such a unique organization? Some people talked about the camaraderie.”

(50:47) Yeah, I think that was it. We used to get together at these, what do you call them? Schools, but now they call them conferences. We would get together and trade information and look at each other’s equipment. We would go to Jasper, at first we went to Banff. My first warden school was at…Cuthead College…our shower was a creek! Then they put showers in. All those (times) we would get together and compare the western (parks). There was once the whole park (system) was run by one man in Ottawa and then we went to regions…

“Do you have any lasting memories as a warden?”

(53:07) Oh, I think some of the places I was at there was Hibiscus Lake up in the northeast corner of Prince Albert park. That is a place I will always remember. Once Again Lake they called it, that was another place, that wasn’t a district that was just a patrol cabin. It was just a nice area in Prince Albert Park. Kootenay Crossing was really nice. And Deadman’s Valley down in Nahanni is a wonderful place. Like if we had time, I could go on and on I guess. There is Virginia Falls, that was in Nahanni is another spot that is really beautiful to be in. If anybody ever gets a chance to go to Rabbit Kettle Lake, it is just like going into the pure wilderness. In fact, I had the young wardens mad at me when I was the Chief up there because before I got there the Chief that preceded me, I don’t know if he okayed this shower, but this shower had an engine. Of course, it (went) “Putt, putt, putt…” all the time. I saw this shower it was coming in and I cancelled it. I never did things like that very often, but I cancelled that. I said, “How would you like to spend $4000 on an airplane and when the airplane left, you heard “Putt, putt, putt?” You are going into the wilderness and here is a warden having a shower with this damn motor going! The very thing you are paying money to get away from!

“Did you ever miss being a warden after you retired?”

(55:22) Well, after I retired I got lucky, I came down to Fort McMurray where my daughter was at the time and I went down to volunteer at Alberta Forestry and didn’t I get a job on the river there.) For seven summers, I was what they called a River Guardian on the Clearwater River. They supplied me with all my food and a tent and all they asked is that I stayed on the river for a week. Some of the ones they had before would sneak into town and hit the bar or something. And they didn’t know how to look after themselves in the wilderness, one or the other. I got the job anyway and I kept it…

“And then you moved to Prince Alert?”

(56:31) We moved from Kootenay into Prince Albert. Well, not Prince Albert first, we had this little quarter section I was telling you about with the store. The store is long gone. But we came back and bought a house and moved it onto the quarter and we stayed there for about ten years. Then our health (changed)…I got two brand new knees and two hips. Well, I have one hip that is fused from a long time ago and then I got (my other) hip just done a little while ago. So that was me and my wife is ill too, so we thought we’d better get closer into where there is a hospital. We sold out up there and bought in Prince Albert. We’ve been here since November…I haven’t even had a good chance to look around. I’ve never even seen this place with no snow on it yet…

“Those are all my questions, is there anything that you would like to add?”

(58:11) No not really, I enjoyed the life. I was grateful that I had that chance. I don’t think I could have had a better job. I guess they all feel pretty well the same. (In response to the comment, “You know so many people have said that.”) Most of the time I was my own boss, generally speaking not over the long term, but in short term, day by day. As long as I was looking after things I was free to go and look at something I wanted to look at. It’s not everybody that can do that. I never looked at the watch very much. I don’t think any warden ever did. It was a great life while it lasted.

Reta Davies passed away on September 5th, 2014. Ron now lives in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.