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038 Farewell to Grizzly 148, Walter Moberly’s Surveys, Solar Eclipses, and Bird-eating Deer

Welcome to episode 38 of the Mountain Nature and Culture Podcast. I’m your host, Ward Cameron, and as I record this on August 2, 2017 our local grizzly 148 is getting used to a new home far from her Bow Valley Home. I also continue the story of the railroad history this week with a look at Walter Moberly’s contribution to the C.P.R. Also this week, it seems that white-tail deer in some areas have taken a liking to a little feathered food and finally, what do you need to know before this month’s solar eclipse.

Ode to Grizzly 148

This has been a heartbreaking week as bear 148, the beloved daughter of Banff’s most famous bear 66, was translocated far away from her home territory of Banff and Canmore all the way north to Kakwa Provincial Park, located to the west of Grand Cache.

It was  a difficult decision for officials with Alberta Environment and Parks, but 148 was getting increasingly closer to people and in the end they felt that the risk of an escalation in behaviour left them with few options other than to move her out of the area.

This is the second time she has been moved. Earlier in July she was captured and returned to an area west of the Town of Banff but she returned to Canmore to feed on buffaloberries.

In past episodes, I’ve talked at length about the importance of buffaloberries to bears and how they will always be attracted to low elevation valleys in order to take advantage of these critical calories.

One message that doesn’t seem to be getting out is that the bears have little choice but to be in communities like Canmore and Banff at this time of year. Buffaloberries need sunlight to grow. Sunlight requires openings in the forest canopy, and this is provided by developers cutting down trees, urban parks, trails and roads…all things that are prevalent in townsites.

Essentially, townsites create great conditions for buffaloberry to thrive, even more so than the undeveloped areas between Canmore and Banff where openings are created more sparingly by falling trees or old fires.

When you put it all together, there will likely be more berries in Canmore than there will be in an undeveloped forest area. Powerline right of ways become habitat patches for a few months of the year.

Every new trail we build allows sunlight to percolate down to the forest floor and creates good conditions for buffaloberries to grow.

The story of buffaloberries is about much more than corridors. Wildlife movement corridors are about allowing animals connectivity with adjacent patches of good habitat. Animals will often use the corridors to simply traverse between places like Banff and Kananaskis, through Canmore.

However at this time of year, corridors become habitat patches as the openings create buffaloberry buffets. Bears are attracted from many miles to take advantage of these critical foods.

It’s for this reason that the story of 148 is particularly poignant. She was the canary in the coal mine. If we couldn’t create a situation where she could take advantage of the berry crop, then what is the hope for the other 7 or 8 bears currently feeding in the valley?

Closures are an important strategy at this time of year, but a closure that is ignored is no closure. If people violating closures get injured by bears, it’s always the bears that pay the ultimate price.

We need to think beyond 148. Her chances of survival are very slim, but how many other bears do we need to lose in a similar fashion. If we don’t create a workable solution then so much of our current battles for corridors will be for nothing.

Alberta Parks simply doesn’t have the resources to constantly patrol the many entrance and exit points on some of these closures – and neither does Parks Canada. I was impressed to hear about Canmore Bylaw Officers charging people trying to shortcut between the Peaks of Grassi and Quarry Lake over the weekend as well.

Maybe it’s time for a new approach. I know from my posts on the Bow Valley Community Connection Facebook page that we have a very engaged local population. Maybe we need to set up volunteer systems where people are trained in bear safety and ecology who simply wait at key entry points to try to encourage people to obey the closures.

This could NOT be a vigilante force. It would a group of educators, helping people to understand the importance of the closures and how important it is that the bears are allowed to feed unimpeded during the brief berry season. This would help keep both people and bears safe. The volunteers could coordinate with the various enforcement agencies, but their role would simply be one of awareness.

Recent studies on wildlife corridors showed astounding use by people and dogs, both on and off leash. The study showed that in the designated wildlife corridors around Canmore, people accounted for 94% of traffic. Of that, 56% of the incidents included people with dogs – and 60% of the dogs were off leash!

We need to have a visible presence during closures and maybe a Friends of Wildlife patrol could work similarly to the Wildlife Guardians in the national park that patrol bear jams and try to educate visitors on safe ways to view wildlife responsibly. They also set up stations at popular viewpoints with the sole purpose of providing education and outreach.

Our wildlife patrol could fulfill a similar role, educating and informing, while also adding additional sets of eyes to help enforcement officials when the need arises.

The Canadian Pacific Railway Part 2 – Walter Moberly

I can’t tell the story of the building of the Railway without mentioning Walter Moberly. He was a pivotal personality in the history of British Columbia and a huge proponent of a transcontinental railway.

Born in Oxfordshire, England in 1832, his family moved to Upper Canada when he was just 2 years old. As he grew into a man, he became a logger and worked several timber holdings in the Muskoka area before he headed west to British Columbia.

He began to do some survey work for the community of New Westminster, and between 1961 and 64 he worked on a number of road building projects. He helped Edgar Dewdney build the Dewdney trail from Hope to the Okanagan.

File:WMoberly.jpg
Portrait of Walter Moberly

He also built a section of the road to the Caribou gold fields. This experience led him to be named the Assistant Surveyor General of British Columbia in 1865, and he was assigned to search for new travel routes through the mountains landscape of the province.

It was this year that Moberly made his most important discovery – Eagle Pass which enabled him to travel through the Gold Range from Shuswap Lake in the Okanagan to join the Columbia River at Revelstoke.

As Moberly told the story of the discovery, he shot an arrow at an eagle nest and watched the eagle as it flew up the valley. Since the birds were unlikely to fly up a valley blocked by mountains, he decided to follow them and discovered Eagle Pass.

At this time, there was NO talk about a transcontinental railway, but Moberly always believed that it as an unavoidable eventuality. He claimed to have blazed a tree and carved “This is the Pass of the Overland Railway”. Eventually, some 20 years later, the railroad would follow this portion of his imagined route.

It didn’t take Moberly long to hear about the agreement to build the railway in 1972 and so he set about to position himself as just the man to get the job done. By coincidence, as a child, he had gone to school with a girl named Susan Agnes Bernard. She was now the wife of Prime Minister John A Macdonald, and so he managed to talk his way into a dinner invitation with them at their home in Ottawa.

Never a shy man, Moberly told Macdonald that he knew exactly where the train should go and that he was the man to do it. In fact he could begin construction within 6 weeks of his return to British Columbia.

The boast came with a caveat: “I don’t know how many millions you have, but it is going to cost you money to get through those canyons”

Moberly had an ego bigger than the mountains and there was only one possible route – his route! He returned to B.C. as District Engineer in charge of the region between Shuswap Lake and the foothills of the Rockies.

Moberly was as tough as nails and one of the best axemen in the country, but it would take more than muscles and axes to crack the mountain barrier. Between Shuswap Lake and the foothills sat the impenetrable Selkirk Mountains. Even the Columbia River couldn’t penetrate these ramparts. It’s forced to flow north for 200 hundred kilometres to go around the northern extent of the Selkirks before turning south towards the U.S. If the mightiest river on the Pacific couldn’t crack the mountain rampart, than how could the railway?

In fact, Moberly had this all figured out as well. He planned on going around the Selkirks by crossing an old fur trader route over Howse Pass. This would take it through Eagle Pass, around the Selkirks to the north and enter Alberta to the west of the current day Saskatchewan River Crossing and David Thompson Highway.

Moberly spent the next 8 months exploring the territory of his proposed line. He also  explored the Selkirks to see if there was any possible pass through. After being almost buried by an avalanche, he spent New Year’s day of 1872 all alone in a trappers cabin.

He wrote in his diary: “I think it…one of the most wretched and dreary places I ever saw…this was the most wretched New Year’s Day I ever spent.” but as for the Selkirks he continued “I found there was not any practicable pass through the Selkirk Range.” He reported his finding to the Chief Surveyor Sandford Fleming.

Now did I mention that he had an ego? The thought that Fleming would not agree with his routing never crossed his mind and so he decided to start the work of surveying the Howse Pass right away. After all, better to apologize than ask permission…right?

Sir Sandford Fleming.jpg
Portrait of Sir Sandford Fleming

Fleming did agree to a quick trial line through the pass, but Moberly planned for a detailed location survey. He instantly took Fleming’s approval to mean that his route was confirmed. As he put it, he read the telegram: “which led me to infer that the line I had taken so many years to explore and discover, and which I was quite confident would be the best to adopt for the proposed transcontinental railroad, would be adopted”

After hiring men, hiring pack trains and buying thousands of dollars on  supplies, much of which had already been dispatched to places like Eagle Pass, he received a telegram from Fleming telling him that the Yellowhead Pass to the west of Jasper had been chosen instead of Howse Pass. The telegram arrived just 4 hours before his party headed into the wilderness.

He was ordered to head north through the Athabasca Pass and to conduct a survey of the Yellowhead Pass, which is the route the Canadian National Railway takes today.

Moberly was crushed and actually tried to buy his way out of his contracts, but alas, it was too late. Moberly met with Fleming in the Yellowhead and Fleming was extremely displeased with his excessive spending. Moberly thought Fleming unpatriotic for not using his route. Clearly these two men were not going to get along.

Before long, Fleming sent a message taking control of the survey away from Moberly and giving it to someone else. Moberly simply ignored the message and continued working. As he put it: “the instructions conveyed in the letter were too childish to be followed” He would obey orders: “when I could see they were sensible but not otherwise…I went on the survey for business, not to be made a fool of”

When Marcus Smith was officially placed in charge of the British Columbia surveys, Moberly left the service. Ironically, some 20 years later, the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway would be hammered in Eagle Pass, right where he predicted so many years ago.

One of the great things about much of our western history is that the first-hand journals of many explorers have survived to help keep their stories alive. But we also have to keep in mind that many of these journals were written for their boss. They weren’t going to enter: “I saw a grizzly bear and wet my pants”. Instead they’ll say: “I saw a grizzly and I dropped it from 200 yards with one shot from my Henry rifle”.

However occasionally we find a journal that was written for more personal reasons. Such is the case of Robert M. Rylatt. Rylatt was one of the surveyors that Moberly had dispatched to Howse Pass. He had a sickly wife and felt that the money from the survey work would help get her the level of care that she needed. His journal was written for his mother and he constantly states that if he ever thought it would be published, he would drop his pen immediately.

Rylatt was in charge of the pack trains on the expedition. He signed up for a one year contract, but there was an option to extend it to 2 years – at the railroad’s discretion. When he left home in July of 1871, little did he know that he would not return home until June of 1873. Once dispatched, there really was no way to quit. The wilderness was too remote for a lone individual to walk out without the support of the pack trains.

Along with Rylatt, Engineer E.C. Gillette was in charge and the party also included 4 surveyors, sixteen axemen, 8 native and Mexican packers and a hunter.

Every day Rylatt had to supervise the loading and unloading of 45 pack animals carrying almost 7 tonnes of supplies. About the pack animals Rylatt wrote:

“How worried would be any member of the Humane society, could he see the treatment animals in a Pack Train receive, where the animals themselves are only a secondary consideration, the open sores on their backs, from hard and incessant packing, angry and running with humour, over which the Packer, too often, if not closely watched, without washing throws the heavy apparajos, or Pack Saddle, and as the sinch [sic] is tightened the poor beast groans, rears and plunges and not unfrequently sinks down under the pain, only to be whipped again into position.”

The work was backbreaking. The axemen led the way, hacking through endless numbers of both standing and prostrate trees. Only then would the pack trains continue on. When they met the junction of the Columbia and Blaeberry Rivers, the real work began to cut their way towards Howse Pass. It was about this time that Rylatt first began to feel lonely:

“Your sense of being alone in the heart of a city, or even in a village, or within easy distance of fellow beings…gives you no claim to use the term ‘alone’. You may have the feeling peculiar to being alone–that is all. Listen sometime when you think you are alone…Can you hear a footfall; a door slam in the distance; a carriage go by? Or the rumble of one…? Can you hear a dog bark? Hare you a cricket on the hearth or even the ticking of a clock…?

They reached the pass on October 26, 1871 and the snows of winter quickly signaled that they would need to settle in and wait for spring. Once the snows landed, there would be no mail, pay or new supplies until the next spring.

By New Year’s Day, tempers were flaring and Rylatt found himself in a standoff with several of the crew that were trying to raid the supplies, and accused Rylatt of hiding the sugar that had ago run out. As they rushed the pantry, he took an axe and cut off three of the fingers of the ring leader. When they returned an hour later, all armed with axes, Rylatt held them off with his Henry rifle. As he wrote:

“the roughs of the party are in open mutiny. Growling at their food, cursing me for being out of sugar, all this I care little for…but my pent up feelings have found vent today, and the leader of the roughs will carry my mark to his grave. I have passed through a somewhat exciting scene and don’t care to have it repeated”

As spring arrived, so did mail, but nothing for Rylatt who was distraught at not knowing if his wife was alive or dead.

“We were informed that the white man who undertook to carry down the mail from Wild Horse Creek to Hope last fall, did not reach; and that this spring his body was found somewhere on the lonely route, the mailbag beside him”

The mosquitoes were unrelenting as well:

“I have smothered my face with mosquito muslin, smeared my hands with bacon grease, but bah! nothing keeps them off, and the heat only melts the grease and sends it beneath my clothing”

On May 15, they received word that the Howse Pass route was to be abandoned and that they were to head north. Rylatt also received a long awaited letter when Moberly arrived in camp. In the letter, his bedridden wife begged for him to return but Moberly would not release him from his contract.

By August of 1872, the mosquitoes were unrelenting and Rylatt was also beginning to suffer from the effects of scurvy.

“My teeth have a feeling of looseness, and my gums are so sore, to touch them with my tongue gives me acute pain; am wondering if it is a touch of Scurvy; it is not very comforting to be sick in the mountains, but to be sick and all alone makes the chills creep down my back. These mountains are inhospitable enough for a man in full vigor.”

In September, he received three more letters, the last saying: “Oh! Bob, come home, I can’t bear it”. He was overcome with grief as there was no way he could make his way home to his beloved wife.

By October, they were camped at the base of Mounts Hooker and Brown near to Athabasca Pass in present day Jasper National Park. It was here on Oct 19 that Rylatt received a message that simply stated:

“Dear Rylatt–The papers state your wife has passed beyond the stream of time. Don’t be too cut up, dear old fellow”

Three days later, his dog Nip broke through the ice and Rylatt was unable to help as the dog vainly struggled to get out of his icy trap. As he disappeared beneath the ice, Rylatt dropped to his knees and screamed: “Oh God! Must everything be taken from me?”

By April, Scurvy was taking its toll on Rylatt:

“My mouth is in a dreadful state, the gums being black, the teeth loose, and when pressed against any substance they prick at the roots like needles. At times the gums swell, almost covering the teeth. To chew food is out of the question and so have to bolt it without mastication. My legs also becoming black below the knee…My breath is somewhat offensive and I am troubled with a dry cough. In fact I feel like an old man”

With his poor health, he was finally allowed to leave the surveys and return home to an empty house. He left on May 13, 1873. Rylatt’s ordeal showed us the things we don’t often see in the journals of surveyors and explorers…the hardship, the horror, the loneliness and, in Rylatt’s case, the heartbreak.

Rylatt’s journals are still available for purchase on Amazon.ca. You can buy it here: Surveying the Canadian Pacific. Using this link helps to support the show so that I can continue to bring you great stories.

Of all the books I’ve read on the survey, this one is my favourite because of its brutal honesty. Next week, we’ll begin to look at the surveyor that ended up cracking the barrier of the Selkirk Mountains, Major A.B. Rogers.

Bird-eating Deer

While this is a story that comes out of states like South Dakota and Pennsylvania, it’s just so unexpected that I thought it might be of interest to listeners of this podcast. It may also be happening right under our noses, but simply not been observed.

So often we categorize our wildlife as either carnivore or herbivore depending on what they eat. Deer eat plants and Cougars eat deer. Some animals, like bears and humans get the special title of omnivore or eater of everything.

Well it looks like those labels may have been too limiting as scientists have recently discovered that deer are a major predator of songbirds…yes you heard that right, white-tail deer eat birds, in particular ground nesting birds like eastern meadowlarks, sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and others.

You can go onto Youtube and find some a number of videos of deer munching on a bird or two but researcher Les Murray placed cameras on 25 different nests in Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania. Eight of the 25 nests was beset upon by predators and, as it turned out, the number-one predator was white-tailed deer.

White-tails ate all 5 eggs from an eastern meadowlark nest, all but one egg from a field sparrow nest and four 5-day old nestlings from another field sparrow nest.

Ok, so deer at a few eggs and nestlings – well they accounted for 38% of the recorded predation events as compared to 25% for fox, and 13% for both raccoons and weasels.

Studies had shown that deer do occasionally eat an egg or nestling, but nobody expected that they were such an avid fan of birds. It may have something to do with sheer numbers of deer as opposed to the numbers of fox or raccoons.

As songbird populations are shrinking in many areas, this is the first study to indicate that deer may actually play a role in the drop in population. States like Delaware have population densities of 45 deer/square km. That’s potentially a lot of deer to hoover up eggs.

The first time a bird was discovered in the gut of a deer was in 1970. It was later discovered that birds netted for population studies in Michigan were also being gobbled down by white-tails.

Maybe it’s time to redefine the word herbivore?

Solar Eclipse coming next month

On August 21, parts of North America will get the chance to experience a total solar eclipse. For many sky watchers, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Few people ever get to see a total solar eclipse simply because they are very rare. They take place when the moon lines up perfectly between the Earth and the sun and blocks out all of its light, casting the moons shadow on the Earth.

For those of us in the mountain west, we won’t get the full-meal-deal, but we should be able to see about an 85% coverage of the sun by the shadow of the moon.

https://i0.wp.com/www.nasa.gov/images/content/265510main_aug1totality1_full_full.jpg?resize=351%2C298&ssl=1
Solar eclipse. Image from NASA

This eclipse is unique in that it will travel right across the U.S. from coast to coast – and that hasn’t happened since 1918.

Globally, partial solar eclipses happen between 2 and 5 times each year, but total eclipses only happen every 12-18 months.

While we won’t get to see the total eclipse, it will still be a special event. Want to see the TOTAL eclipse, well then it’s time for a road show…’shotgun’. Head south to Oregon, Idaho or Montana. The total eclipse will last for just a few minutes and within a 110 kilometre wide band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina.

You’ll also need to be ready at between 10 am and 12:30 pm Mountain Daylights Savings Time.

For those of us that can’t do a road trip, it will begin at 10:18 am, hit its maximum at 11:31 am and be finished at 12:48 pm. If you want to learn about the timing where you are, check out this link: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2017-august-21.

Now don’t you be looking directly at it though as you can quickly damage your eyesight. You can buy special eclipse glasses for a few dollars or build a pinhole projector to help you watch it without risking vision damage. This link shows you how to make your own projector: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/box-pinhole-projector.html.

While we haven’t had a many cloudy days this summer, should you just not have luck, you can watch it live on NASA’s site here: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-live-stream.

And with that it’s time to wrap this episode up. For links mentioned in this story simply visit www.mountainnaturepodcast.com/ep038 for show notes and links to additional stories.

Ward Cameron Enterprises is your source for guided tours, hikes and workshops that showcase the magic of western Canada. We offer guide service and presentations for  individuals and groups of all sizes. We’re equally comfortable working one-on-one, on a bus, or behind a podium speaking to an entire convention.

If you are looking to make the most of your mountain experience, drop me a line a info@wardcameron.com or visit our web page at www.wardcameron.com.

And with that said, the sun’s out…again…please bring on the rain soon, but for now, I’m going hiking. See you next week.

2 Comments

  1. Blanca Cervi
    Blanca Cervi August 3, 2017

    We should manage HUMANS and leave the feeding and travel space to wildlife in this critical feeding time. Closures for a couple of weeks seem like a better alternative to closing for a few days and reopening to close again.. Let’s live with the “inconvenience”

  2. Paul Luton
    Paul Luton September 27, 2017

    How silly would making clear patches in forest areas specifically to promote buffalo berries for bears be ?

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