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.
This Oral History interview was funded in part by a research grant received in 2019 from the Government of Alberta through the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.
Valemount, BC (Todd McCready) Invermere, BC (Susan Hairsine)
December 19, 2019 – 10:00 am PST
Place and date of birth? Todd was born in Jasper, Alberta on May 20, 1956
SH: Where did you grow up?
Todd: That’s where I grew up (Jasper)
SH: Why did you want to join Parks Canada?
Todd: It was just a summer job and I was working with my dad on the cabin crew. That was about it.
SH: How did you become involved in the Warden Service? Which national park did you start working in?
Todd: I became involved I guess, after the cabin crew with Yellowhead Helicopters and Garry Forman and that was in Jasper National Park.
SH: What different parks did you work in? How did they compare? Do you have a favourite?
Todd: Banff and Jasper just with the mountain rescue and I don’t have a favourite. They’re both pretty nice. Great scenery in both. Good people working in both.
SH: What were some of your main responsibilities over the years? We’ll do that one as the helicopter pilot.
Todd: Yes, main responsibilities … We were on contract to Jasper, for mountain rescue and Jim Suttill and the trail crew and all the rest of the odds and ends that came with it.
SH: I remember they had that fly-in trail crew in Jasper.
SH: What did you like about being part of, or associated with, the Warden Service? What didn’t you like about being part of, or associated with, the Warden Service?
Todd: It was a good kind of work, but probably what made it the most was the people and the expertise that a lot of the guys brought with it.
SH: What didn’t you like about being involved with the Warden Service?
Todd: Oh, I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like. It was a pretty good … we had a pretty good working relationship. Most everybody liked their jobs and everybody kind of did them well.
SH: I remember Jasper being such a fun place. That Park was so fun.
Todd: Yes, they had a lot of good guys, but see I never worked in Banff. But they had some pretty good guys and for the most part the work was pretty good, and like you say, lots of fun.
SH: What are some of the more memorable events of your career being associated with the Warden Service?
Todd: I pondered over this. I think probably most everything was just … the wardens themselves and sort of the different characters. You had Denny Welsh, Willi Pfisterer and Alfie Burstrom, and the different dogs he had … Ginger, and I can’t remember the other names. They’ll probably fill you in on those names. But I think probably just the most memorable just working with a lot of those guys, and a lot of them are gone now you know. Like Norm Woody, and Willi and Alfie and Denny Welsh and all that bunch. But, you still had guys like Wes Bradford, and Brian Wallace and Rod Wallace. There was Gord Anderson. Bobby Barker, he was a character too. Just a lot of really good people, that kind of liked their jobs, well for awhile anyway. A good bunch, so nothing really memorable you know. It was just a career of flying with some really good people that were …. and all their expertise at the time.
SH: Okay Todd, I’m going to bug you a bit more here. You must have had a day flying or something when it was really challenging or memorable in some way? Can you tell me a flying story because you were doing rescues?
Todd: I don’t really want to give you too much of that Sue. Those guys in Banff did a lot more than we ever did. Jim Davies, and Lance Cooper and all those guys. But I worked beside Lance and had a real good working relationship. Great people. The flying ….. Dale’s (Portman) has got some stories in the book there. I think we can just leave it at that. Garry, he was involved way earlier than I was too. Maybe you’ll get some stories from Garry.
SH: Yes, I’ve got some stories from there I just remember you were one of the rescue pilots up there and there was certainly the odd rescue.
Todd: Yes, I thought about that but I thought I’d leave that to some of the wardens themselves that were on the rescues. They could relinquish those stories.
SH: Well you could certainly tell me one, because you’d have a different perspective of things.
Todd: Not really, you’re just part of the team. All you are really is the taxi cab driver right. I’ll leave that for some of the other wardens. (Tape 07:43)
SH: Okay, fair enough. So, can you tell me about any Warden Service related stories that stick out in your memory? Rescues/wildlife management issues/law enforcement etc.
Todd: No, I guess it was … I enjoyed a lot of the different aspects of it, well actually all of them. I liked the wildlife end of it. A lot of times with Wes Bradford and what not, you’d do a game count, whether it was goats, or a sheep survey or something like that. I always enjoyed flying that country. And Wes, he was a really good flyer, and whoever he brought in with the crew when we were doing the wildlife survey, they all enjoyed flying, and enjoyed seeing the wildlife too. So, the wildlife was a big part. I enjoyed seeing all the wildlife in the park and even over on the B.C. side here, I tried to keep track of it.
SH: This is a side question, because goats are an issue now … Did you see lots of goats when you were doing those?
Todd: I think we did. That’s a question you might have to ask Wes Bradford because he’d have all those notes. I mean, you had to look for them, but I think we found quite a few goats in the park, back in the day anyways. I don’t know about today.
SH: Yes, caribou and goats are certainly the hot button species right now. Do you want to talk anymore about some more stories there? Fires or anything…. I don’t have any fire stories.
Todd: I never worked on too many big project fires over there. We just had the odd little brush fire here or there. One fire up the Athabasca that one year. We never really had too many big project fires on the go when I was flying.
SH: How did the Warden Service change over the years? – centralization, affirmative action, focus on public safety, changes in 1990s & 2000’s.
Todd: I guess there was a bit of a changing of the guard when some of the older fellows left and some of the newer guys came in, but it didn’t really affect my lifestyle as a pilot going over there. My work really didn’t change, even though the Warden Service maybe changed a little bit, with the law enforcement and whatever else, but it didn’t really affect my working relationship with them at all. (Tape 11:07)
SH: How did your relationship with the Warden Service change over the years? It sounds like it really didn’t.
Todd: You’d leave Valemount and go over there and do your work and see the boys and come home kind of thing.
SH: What about the Warden Service was important to you? Idea of protecting and preserving national parks, keeping people safe etc.
Todd: I don’t think as far as a rescue pilot and what I did there, I don’t think … I don’t really have much to say on that.
SH: All right. I’d also like you to talk about your time at Ya Ha Tinda. That was one thing Marie Nylund really asked me to ask you about, so hopefully we can do some Ya Ha Tinda stuff too. I don’t know if we want to add that in now. So give me some years here if you can. You were a pilot for Yellowhead from when to when?
Todd: I was with Yellowhead from 1981 to 1994. And then 1994 to 96 I went to the Ya Ha Tinda.
SH: Why did you quit being a pilot Todd? Is that a bad question … I don’t mean to ask a personal question.
Todd: No, that’s fine. There was some goals I’d set when I’d originally started out, and once I met those goals, there was other things to do and things to accomplish. So I just kind of folded my tent and away I went. Onto bigger and better things I guess.
SH: Well I always figured being a pilot would be a pretty cool job.
Todd: It was. And it was a good era too. When I first went to the Ya Ha Tinda I worked for Ken and Deb Pigeon. And Greg Neilson was a ranch hand there and his wife Sue Ellen. And then when Ken and Deb moved on, then John and Marie Nylund came and I worked with them for awhile there.
SH: So do you want to tell me some Ya Ha Tinda stories. I have no stories of the Ya Ha Tinda whatsoever. (Tape 14:05)
Todd: Probably, a good guy to talk to about Ya Ha Tinda stories more than myself would probably be Frank Burstrom and Ken Pigeon.
SH: Okay well I just wouldn’t mind a story from you. There must have been some cool stuff you did there with horses and stuff.
Todd: Well it was just every day riding and feeding and fixing fence and whatnot. There’s nothing that really stuck out as memorable. It was just a pretty cool place to work.
SH: Were you involved with the training at all with new staff coming in?
Todd: No. Just training horses and riding and everyday ranch chores.
SH: Did you get into the backcountry a bit with the horses Todd? Todd: Yes, a little bit.
SH: Do you want to tell me any stories about that? Todd: No not really.
SH: You’re going to be my quickest interview ever.
Todd: Well that’s perfect. You can get out snowmobiling.
SH: Are there any legends or stories associated with the Warden Service that you can share? Is there anyone from the Service that stands out in your mind?
Todd: No, I think I touched on some of the legends. You got Denny Welsh and Willi Pfisterer and Alfie Burstrom. And I think you’ve interviewed some of the other guys like Darro and Gerry. There was a whole era of …. Bobby Barker, Norm Young, and Norm Woody, Rod Wallace, Gordy Anderson. I know I’m missing a whole bunch but there was …. Everybody got along for the most part. It was a pretty nice to go and work and fly with those guys. Everybody was happy to see you and you were happy to see them. Gerry would be a good storyteller because he’d have some stories on Alfie and Willi.
SH: Yes, I did Gerry’s (Israelson) and his was really good. He told me some good Willi stories, he didn’t tell me about Alfie. Denny Welsh, I don’t think people have touched on. Since he’s passed away do you have anything about Denny that you’d like to share? (Tape 16:59)
Todd: Denny – we’d have coffee and the odd game of liar’s dice. But I think with Denny he was a wonderful horseshoer, a good horseman, a good packer, and all around good guy. He treated me with a lot of respect and I respected what he did. I’m missing a guy there …. Toni Klettl was an integral part there too. I don’t know if you’ve got any Toni stories. You can get some from Darro
SH: Darro hasn’t been done yet. I’m hoping they’ll do him.
Todd: Darro was kind of groomed by them so he’d be a good to get some stories.
SH: I ran into Darro actually, I had a beer with him at Gerry’s (Israelson’s) house this summer. It was good to see him.
Todd: Ya for sure.
SH: So is there anybody in the Warden Service that stands out … we’ve got those older guys, Denny, Willie, Alfie, Toni Klettl, Barker and Darro and Gerry and those guys.
Todd: You’ve got Norm Woody, Norm Young and some of those older guys that were still there when I came along. Gord Anderson, Rod Wallace. I’m missing a whole bunch, but you were there in that era pretty much. But there was a lot of really good people.
SH: Ya, it was very fun. I just found that office (Jasper Warden Office) to be so fun. You laughed your head off every day.
SH: Is there anything about the Warden Service, as you knew it, that you would want future generations to know? (Tape 19:10)
Todd: No, I don’t think I have any input on that one.
SH: What made the Warden Service such a unique organization?
Todd: I think originally it was probably isolation … when guys had their own districts, actually wintertime they were snowshoeing, summertime they had their string of horses, packed and had their wives, and raised their kids out there.
SH: Your dad, was he a warden or what was he?
Todd: No, he was an outfitter and then when he joined the Parks he was basically a carpenter.
SH: So when he was an outfitter did you go out in the bush with him? Is that where you got your horse experience? Todd: Yes, pretty much.
SH: Do you have any lasting memories as an associate with the Warden Service? Favorite park, cabin, horse, trail, training, rescues, people, humourous stories?
Todd: No, I think probably the lasting memories I have are probably of the guys that have already passed on, like Willi, Denny and Toni Klettl, all those guys. I think probably one of the highlights I guess would be I kept track of wildlife and I kept a diary and tried to keep track of the grizzly and the caribou and the sheep and the goats and everything. Different wolf packs and what not. So, I guess when I retired from that, that was one of the things I miss …. the wildlife, I enjoyed the wildlife. Keeping track of their summer ranges, their winter ranges and even some of the grizzlies, ‘cause you get to know kind of their territory. One year they’d have a cub or two and the next year they wouldn’t. Ya, I miss the wildlife probably.
SH: Did you keep those diaries Todd?
Todd: Oh, I probably have them here somewhere, in the archive.
SH: That would be kind of fun to give to the wildlife guys in Jasper. It would be interesting to do a comparison I bet.
Todd: Ya, well I think when I did see some wildlife or whatever and it didn’t jive with their counts, I’m not sure they’d entirely believe me.
SH: But sometimes you’d be flying by yourself though, on your way home.
Todd: Oh ya, for sure.
SH: Did you see much caribou when you were flying around there Todd?
Todd: I wouldn’t say lots but there was definitely more than there is now, according to the sources over there.
SH: Did you have a favourite horse, especially when you were at the Ya Ha Tinda?
Todd: No, I don’t think so, I didn’t have a favourite horse or anything like that. I was only there three years, not quite three years. But ya, it was actually pretty fun working for Ken and John, a pretty good group of people really.
SH: What made you want to go work out there Todd?
Todd: Oh, I don’t know, I needed a job and talked to Ken Pigeon and it just kind of, everything just fell into place. I thought that would be pretty nice to go there, nice piece of real estate.
SH: Ya, it’s gorgeous out there isn’t it.
Warden Rock, Ya Ha Tinda Ranch.
Looking towards Eagle Pass, Ya Ha Tinda Ranch
SH: Do you ever miss not being associated with the Warden Service?
Todd: Well I don’t really know. You got Gord Anderson and Brian Wallace in the valley here. And then if I go to Jasper, sometimes I run into Wes Bradford and that bunch. But no, I don’t think I … you know you miss some of the comradery I guess but, life goes on. They’re doing their own thing, we’re doing our own thing and you get together a lot of times, you end up talking about old times or whatever, and sometimes what’s happening in the present. That was a while ago and a career ago and ya, you just kind of move on.
SH: Do you have any photos of yourself that you would like to donate to the Project, or that we may copy? Do you have any artifacts/memorabilia that you would like to donate to the Project (Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies will archive these). That one is up to you. Gary scanned some photos of the helicopter and stuff so if you have pictures that would be awesome. Then it just goes with your story.
SH: So you’ve got my email if you want to scan those or I can give you Marie’s mailing address. But I need to get you to physically sign a release form, so I’ll mail that up and you can mail it to Marie.
SH: What year did you retire? What do you enjoy doing in retirement?
Todd: Well, I haven’t retired. Still working in Diavik Diamond Mine.
SH: Okay tell me about that.
Todd: Oh, not much to say, it’s just a big hole in the ground digging diamonds out.
SH: So, are you the guy who digs the diamonds out or what do you do?
Todd: No actually I work for a company called Dino Nobel Canada, that manufactures explosives for the mine.
SH: What kind of explosives are you using? The kind they used for avalanche control or totally different things?
Todd: It’s totally different. It’s an emulsion explosion. Probably the consistency of mayonnaise or toothpaste or something like that. It’s a bulk explosive.
SH: How did you get involved in that? Todd: That’s a good question. I went to help a friend of mine in Grande Cache and ended up in Diavik.
SH: Funny how life works out sometimes eh? Todd: Ya, no kidding.
SH: So Diavik where is that Todd? In Northwest Territories somewhere? Todd: Ya, it’s northeast of Yellowknife, a place called Lac de Gras.
SH: So you’re with a partner?
Todd: Yes, my missus is Ellen Duncan. We live in Valemount, in town.
SH: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think I should know about the Warden Service?
Todd: No I think that pretty much covers it. I went through your notes and think we covered pretty much everything.
SH: Is there anyone else I should talk to?
Todd: Darro, have you thought about Vicki Wallace because she did a whole bunch of interviews. Art Cochrane worked for Denny as a lad, and as a Warden in Jasper. He was a warden in Riding Mountain. He lives now in Onanole in Manitoba. (Art Cochrane was interviewed in Phase 9). Wes Bradford would be good because he was wildlife, Ric Ralf and Barney, have you done Bob Barker?
SH: Yes, Bob’s been done.
Todd: Have you done Mac Elder? SH: Yes he was done early on.
Todd: There’s another fellow too that was a warden in Riding Mountain. He worked in Jasper too. Ray Frey and he was stationed at Mount Robson. (Ray Frey was interviewed in Phase 3)
SH: Those are some good names. I don’t know if Marie and Jim have those.
Todd: You got some of the younger ones too. His dad was a warden. You got Terry Winkler.
SH: I don’t know if they’ve done Terry. I know they did Max though. They’ve been doing this for a few years so I think they’re in their 8th grouping of people
SH: Is there anything else there that we should talk about? You’ve got some notes there. What have we missed?
Todd: I think we’ve covered it all according to my notes.
SH: Well you’re a man of few words as I recall, and you haven’t changed. (End 32: 45)
Todd assisting Jasper Park Wardens with a bear.
This interview was conducted by Susan Hairsine
Susan Hairsine worked for Resource Conservation and Operations in Mt. Revelstoke/Glacier, Jasper and Banff National Parks, as well as for Public Safety in Western and Northern Region for over 30 years. She obtained funding for an oral history of Parks Canada’s avalanche personnel and oversaw the successful completion of the project. Her experience working with several the interviewees during their careers has been an asset to the current project. She was also the Executive Assistant to the Chief Park Wardens of Jasper and Banff National Parks.