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039 The bear bites back, and Hells Bells Rogers

This week I talk about a recent story that involves a walker injured by a bear after she allegedly entered an area closed for that exact purpose. I also continue my chronicle of the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway with the story of my favourite crusty surveyor, Hells Bells Rogers. And with that said…let’s get to it.

The Bears Bite Back

I hate it when the inevitable happens! We’ve been talking for weeks about people entering closed areas during the most critical time of the year for black and grizzly bears to put on fat for the winter months.

I’ve witnessed numerous people violating the closures and have called for a wildlife ambassador program for Canmore, similar in some ways to the Wildlife Guardians program that has been pioneered by Banff National Park. If you might be interested in getting involved in such a program, drop me a line at or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode.

This week, this all came to a head. This week an 18 year old Canmore woman decided to violate the closure in order to take her dog for a walk. Keep in mind that any time there is a close encounter with a bear and you have a dog, there is a chance that the encounter will escalate simply because a snarling dog can be perceived as a threat by a bear.

She was walking the trail that runs beside the Rundle Forebay when the attack occurred. She met what is believed to have been a black bear, and the bear made contact resulting in some superficial injuries.

She was treated at hospital and released…for now! For the sake of a walk to let her dog pee, she now faces both enormous fines and jail time.

Her family and friends dispute the contention that she was in a closed area, stating that it was an open area connecting the Highline far connector along the reservoir.

Alberta Environment and Parks insist however she was indeed in a closed area. The entire Rundle Forebay area is closed and it is well publicized within the local area.

According to a story in the Rocky Mountain Outlook, Sherene Kaw, assistant director of communications for Alberta Justice and the Solicitor General indicated that the woman did NOT have bear spray and that, while the dog was on leash, she released the leash when the attack occurred.

While it can’t be definitively determined if the bear was a black or grizzly, no grizzlies were known to be feeding in the area, at least based upon trail camera evidence.

This incident really showcases the need for a Wildlife Ambassador program in Canmore. In most years, it may only last for 6-8 weeks. The buffaloberries only last until the first frost, and then they all fall from the bush.

Programs like this must operate in conjunction with programs focused on reducing attractants within the townsite. In 2015, when the buffaloberry crop failed, the town saw a huge influx of bears attracted to our flowering fruit trees.

Since then, Banff, Jasper and Canmore have developed various programs designed to help reduce the problem. Buffaloberries are no different than any other crop. They need the right conditions at the right time, and if we don’t get them, we get a failure in the crop. This year and last were bumper crops, but 2015 was an utter failure.

This young woman is being publicly vilified. Her identity is currently being protected and I support that. The tendency of internet vigilantism has no role in this story. Her life is changing by the moment.

It is NOT confirmed at this point, whether she is guilty, but let’s set that aside for the moment. I truly believe that her point of view has shifted dramatically in the last 48 hours. Instead of vilifiying her, why not bring her into the conversation?

It’s easy to pour on hate but let’s put this into perspective. She’s a kid who, as the story currently stands, did a dumb thing. I personally would like to spend some time simply talking with her to understand her point of view at the time, and how it may have changed since that encounter.

Protecting corridors is not going well. Social media is composed of adversarial groups unable to see any other viewpoint. I understand that completely. I find it difficult to comprehend the decisions that many people make when their actions do not match their stated beliefs.

So let’s talk. If found guilty, she faces the potential for large fines and even jail time. The fact that the spokesman for the Alberta government is in the Solicitor General’s office indicates that there may be plans to make an example of her in the courts.

So many of us that are expelling comments on social media are, well how do I say it, more experienced. How do we reach that younger generation which is far more likely to violate closures simply from a feeling of invincibility and entitlement? Maybe we just talk to them.

I would love to talk with you. Please reach out. If you know her, please have her contact me. I will protect your privacy 100% because I think you have something to add to the conversation.

Let’s put away the pitchforks and look at this as another chance to build a bridge to a community that is an important part of the conversation. Just sayin’

And if we’re keeping score, this is not a new story. A colleague of mine that is interested in helping coordinate the wildlife guardian program pointed me to a Calgary Sun article from 2014 that looked into the same issue in Canmore.

In this story, there was an aggressive bear was known to be in the area. It had, in a similar situation, had a minor infraction where it bit the finger of a Danish tourist. It was a minor encounter, but bears sell newspapers and the story was all over the media and airwaves.

Just like this year, yellow flagging tape and signs indicated that the same areas were closed to access. And in case you’re wondering, the same closures will happen next year, and the next, and the next.

However in this case, Fish and Wildlife officers placed automated cameras at the main access points to the closed area.

What did they find? In just 8 days they photographed some 60 people completely ignoring the closure and entering the restricted area. In one case, an entire family with Mom, Dad, one kid on a bike and a burley in tow went under the flagging tape closing a trail and continued on their merry way.

This is the world we live in. it’s time we embrace the conversation, create a visible wildlife guardian program, provide eyes and provide ears for Conservation Officers.

We can help remove the potential for people to ‘anonymously’ enter closed areas. Guardians would be there for education and outreach. The goal would be to help Parks keep both people AND bears safe. We may find other areas where we can assist in keeping people and wildlife safe down the road.

I’m a believer in dialogue and collaboration. I don’t know how this will eventually manifest itself, but I’m willing to do what I  can do help reduce the challenges we are experiencing this year in the future.

Maybe Bear 148 will be one of the last to be removed from the landscape on our watch. Please remember, any time that Parks has to make a decision like the one they did with 148, it’s a gut wrenching one.

Nothing moves forward without their help and support. Let’s build bridges towards viable corridors. Next up…Hells Bells Rogers.

Hells Bells Rogers

Last week I talked about railroad surveyor Walter Moberly. He was a pivotal figure in the early days of the Canadian Pacific construction. Another surveyor of note was American Major A.B. Rogers.

Railroad surveyors were an independently minded lot.  Each would select one route for the railroad – their route – and they would defend that to the death. “Nobody could possibly have a better route than the one I selected”

However there were a few things that the surveyors agreed upon. One was that the Selkirk Mountains in the interior of British Columbia were impossible to put a train through. Even Walter Moberly planned to go around the Selkirks rather than through them.

Well clearly we needed to find someone with an open mind – and we found that in Major A.B. Rogers.

Rogers had earned his reputation as an Indian fighter during a Sioux uprising in 1862 during which he rose to the rank of Major. Later, while working as a surveyor for the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, he earned a reputation as a man that could find the best route for a new rail line.

He was not a well-loved man. He was described by the CPR’s locating engineer, J.H.E. Secretan as:

“A short, sharp, snappy little chap with long Dundreary whiskers. He was a master of picturesque profanity, who continually chewed tobacco and was an artist of expectoration. He wore overalls with pockets behind, and had a plug of tobacco in one pocket and a sea biscuit in the other, which was his idea of a season’s provisions for an engineer.”

He also had a reputation for heading out a little short on supplies, if not faculties, and many of his expeditions returned on the verge of starvation.

At one point, the general manager of the railroad, William Cornelius Van Horne tried to urge him to bring more supplies. The exchange apparently went as follows:

Van Horne stated: “Look here, Major, I hear your men won’t stay with you, they say you starve them.”

The Major replied with: “Tain’t so, Van.”

Van Horne continued: “Well, I’m told you feed ’em on soup made out of hot water flavoured with old ham canvas covers.”

To this, Rogers replied: “Tain’t so, Van. I didn’t never have no hams!”

James Jerome Hill, more well known as the builder of the Great Northern Railroad in the U.S. was also a part of the Canadian Pacific project and he hired Rogers to find a shorter route between Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and Savona’s Ferry in British Columbia.

The only way to do that would be to go straight through the impenetrable Selkirks as well as through the southern Rockies.

While the Rockies had seen more exploration both as part of the Railroad project, but also earlier as part of the fur trade, Rogers would need to link one of these passes with a route through the Selkirks.

Jim Hill offered Rogers a bonus of $5,000 and his name on the pass if he could find a route through the Selkirks.

Rogers scoured the journals of explorers and surveyors like Walter Moberly to look for some hint of where he might begin to explore for a potential pass.

In Moberly’s journal, it looked like there might be a possibility by following the Illecillewaet River. Rogers took note of a particular passage in Moberly’s journal from 1865:

“Friday, July 13th–Rained hard most of the day. Perry returned from his trip up the east fork of the Ille-cille-waut River. He did not reach the divide, but reported a low, wide valley as far as he went. His exploration has not settled the point whether it would be possible to get through the mountains by this valley but I fear not. He ought to have got on the divide, and his failure is a great disappointment to me. He reports a most difficult country to travel through, owing to fallen timber and underbrush of very thick growth…”

In the spring of 1881, the Major, along with his favourite nephew Albert Rogers, and 10 Indians headed out towards the Selkirks. While Albert was his given name, the Major generally just referred to him as that Damn Little Cuss.

It took them 22 days to reach Kamloops, and from there, the ‘Gold Ranges’, today known as the Monashees also had to be crossed before they even arrived at the start of the Selkirks. That ate up another 14 days.

After spending another 22 days on a raft on the Columbia River, they finally reached the mouth of the Illecillewaet River where the real work began.

Each man hoisted a 45-kg  pack and they slowly tried to make their way upwards. They went through mile after mile of the most horrific plant to ever grace the planet Earth – Devil’s club. If you’ve never had the pleasure of Devil’s club, imagine a six to seven foot woody shrub with huge maple-style leaves and everything from the leaves to the trunk is armed with razor sharp thorns that can easily tear through a pair of canvas pants.

So terrible was Devil’s club that entire stretches of the railroad were rerouted to go around the worst patches. You couldn’t even hack through with a machete.

As they made their way through swamp and up vertical rock faces. Albert Rogers later stated that: “many a time I wished myself dead,” and added that “the Indians were sicker then we, a good deal.”

The going never got easier. On numerous occassions, they had to cross bridges of snow suspeded 50 metres above the foaming water of the  Illecillewaet River.

By this time, their supplies were also beginning to run low, and the cold nights sent a chill right through their thin blankets.

They clung to the lower slopes of a mountain that would later be named Mount Sir Donald after Donald Smith, one of the two chief financiers of the railway.

“Being gaunt as greyhounds, with lungs and muscles of the best, we soon reached the timber-line, where the climbing became very difficult. We crawled along the ledges, getting toe-hold here and a finger hold there, keeping in the shade as much as possible and kicking toe-holes in the snow crust. When several hundred feet above the timber line, we followed a narrow ledge around a point that was exposed to the sun. (Here four Indians fell over the ledge.) It was in the evening when we reached the summit, very much exhausted.

Crawling along this ridge, we came to a small ledge protected from the wind by a great perpendicular rock. Here we decided to wait until the crust again formed on the snow and the morning light enabled us to travel. At ten o’clock, it was still twilight, on the peaks, but the valleys below were filled with the deepest gloom. We wrapped ourselves in our blankets and nibbled at our dry meat and bannock, stamping our feet in the snow to keep them from freezing, and taking turns whipping each other with our pack straps to keep up circulation.”

Now doesn’t that sound like a good time? In the end, they found a stream which split into two channels, with one branch heading west and the other east. It looked like they might have found a pass through the Selkirks, but a shortage of supplies once again forced them to retreat without exploring the western side of the divide.

Rogers also realized that the survey crews were rapidly approaching the Bow River valley and he had still not explored the Kicking Horse Pass yet.

One of the other things that most of the surveyors agreed upon was that the Bow River valley was the worst possible route to put a train. Not only did it force the line to traverse the Selkirks, but it also meant that they had to go through a horrible pass to the west of present-day Lake Louise, Alberta called the Kicking Horse.

Despite these difficulties, this was the route finally chosen and that’s a decision we’ve dissected for more than a century. The long and short of it was that this was the shortest route surveyed and the promoters hoped it would be the cheapest, but that turned out to be completely wrong.

We also have to remember that this was a sovereign tool and this route was also the most southerly. They hoped that it would be far enough south to discourage American spur lines from moving into what was Canadian territory. At least in this case it proved true.

With the rush towards the Kicking Horse Pass, Rogers party rerouted towards the Bow River valley. Now Rogers, was more of a pathfinder at this point and most of the proper surveyors, the men with the actual instruments necessary to lay out the line, were waiting at about the point visitors to the Rockies would enter the mountains as they drove west from Calgary.

The Major came from the south and west and met up with them, and he sent that Damn Little Cuss to come up the Kicking Horse River from the west.

He didn’t think twice about sending Albert, a 21-year old greenhorn that had never before even been to the Rockies to attempt a task that had never before been accomplished by a non-native. Even the local natives avoided the dreary valley of the Kicking Horse because there was very little in the way of game to hunt – and therefore no real reason to hang about.

Needless to say, Albert never showed. The Major paced like a caged animal. He said:

“If anything happens to that Damn Little Cuss, I’ll never show my face in St. Paul again.”

He sent out search parties in all directions with orders to fire a volley of shots in the air when they found him. One of those search parties descended the Kicking Horse Pass from the west and finally, they stumbled upon Albert Rogers…literally.

Barely moving, and on the verge of starvation, his progress had slowed to a crawl. The only thing he had eaten in the previous 2 days was a porcupine that he had clubbed to death and picked clean right down to the quills.

They picked up this pitiful sight, put him on a horse, made their way to the summit of the pass and fired a volley of shots in the air.

Apparently the Major road in on his big white horse and as Wilson later recalled:

“He plainly choked with emotion, then, as his face hardened again he took an extra-vicious tobacco juice shot at the nearest tree and almost snarled…’Well, you did get here did you, you damn little cuss?’ There followed a second juice eruption and then, as he swung on his heel, the Major shot back over his shoulder; ‘You’re alright, are you, you damn little cuss?'”

And with that Albert’s face apparently exploded into a grin. He knew the old man better than anyone else and knew that he could never let his real emotions be seen.

But the say the double-speed eruptions of tobacco juice from between his big sideburns said more about his emotional state than any words ever could have and nothing more was ever said about the matter.

One of the men waiting for the Major was a young punk named Tom Wilson. Wilson was one of those characters that seemed to have the incredible knack of timing. He had the ability to be in the right places at the right time in history.

He had begun his career as a Northwest Mounted Policeman and had joined the great march west of the mounties in 1875. He then resigned to join the first survey crews through the Rockies. He described Rogers as he arrived to meet the survey party:

“His condition–dirty doesn’t begin to describe it. His voluminous sideburns waved like flags in a breeze; his piercing eyes seemed to look and see through everything at once…Every few moments a stream of tobacco juice erupted from between the side-burns. I’ll bet there were not many trees alongside the trail that had escaped that deadly tobacco juice aim.”

Rogers was a typical workaholic, and always had to accomplish more in a day then was practical. The season was getting late and so he pushed the survey crews to move faster. He then declared that he was going to ride out ahead to explore the route and asked for a volunteer. As Wilson again put it:

“every man present had learned, in three days, to hate the Major with real hatred. He had no mercy on horses or men–he had none on himself. The labourers hated him for the way he drove them and the packers for that and the way he abused the horses–never gave their needs a thought.”

Wilson, in the end, agreed to accompany him. Eventually, they came to a river which was swollen and muddy with the spring runoff. Generally, during the summer season, river levels can rise dramatically during the daytime due to the increased pace of snowmelt during the sunny days. At night the water levels usually dropped as the cooler evening reduced the rate of melt.

Tom suggested they wait for morning to cross and the old man laughed at him: “Afraid of it are you? Want the old man to show you how to ford it?”

The Major spurred his horse into the river at which point the horse was pulled out from under him and he disappeared beneath the raging water.

All Tom could do was grab a branch, stick it in the water where the old man had disappeared, go fishing and hope for the best. He was rewarded with a welcome tug and when the Major pulled himself onto the shoreline, all he could say was: “Blue Jesus! Light a fire and then get that damned horse. Blue Jesus, it’s cold!”

From that point on, when the river would be dirty and muddy with the spring runoff, the surveyors would joke that it was dirty because the old man must be having another bath. In fact to this day it’s still known as Bath Creek on maps.

Wilson left the survey early this year, swearing never to come back to these God forsaken hills. Rogers laughed at him saying: “You may think you’re not coming back but you’ll be here next year and I’ll be looking for you,”

All that winter, Tom tried to fight something that just seemed to be tugging at him. Have you ever noticed how sometimes you choose life, and sometimes life chooses you. Before Tom knew what had happened, he found himself back in Fort Benton signing up for one more year on the survey.

Tom was hired to pack supplies from present-day Canmore, to the summit of the Kicking Horse Pass. In August of that year, Tom was camped near to present-day village of Lake Louise. He had been hearing the sound of thunder under a clear blue sky. When he met some Stoney Natives he asked them what the sound was:

On individual by the name of Gold-seeker told him that it was avalanches off of Snow Mountain high above the Lake of Little Fishes. The next day Tom had the native take him up to the lake and as he became the first non-native to lay eyes on what we now call Lake Louise, he wrote in his journal:

“As God is my judge, I never in all my explorations saw such a matchless scene.”

Tom called the lake Emerald Lake because of its beautiful colour, but the railroad promptly changed the name to Lake Louise after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. This also gives you an idea of where Alberta takes its name as well. She was married to the Governor General of Canada.

The very next day, Tom bumped into the Major for the very first time that year and the old man let out a guffaw:

“Blue Jesus! I knew you’d be back. I knew you’d be back. You’ll never leave these mountains again as long as you live. They’ve got you now.”

He was right. Tom was on hand for the hammering of the last spike. You can see his stetson and mustache peering above the crowd from the back in the most iconic photograph of the event.

He then went on to start the first guiding operation in the Canadian Rockies and gave many of the areas other enduring guides their start. He lived into the 1930s and is buried in the little cemetery in the town of Banff.

Also this summer, Rogers route through the Selkirks was confirmed, and for breaching the final barrier for the Canadian Pacific Railway, he received his bonus of $5,000. He never cashed the cheque.

When the general manager of the railroad, William Cornelius Van Horne cornered him to find out why he hadn’t cashed it, he blurted out:

“What! Cash the cheque? I wouldn’t take a hundred thousand dollars for it. It is framed and hangs in my brother’s house in Waterville, Minnesota, where my nephews and nieces can see it. I’m not in this for the money.”

Rogers more than most, really embodied what drove these surveyors. It was not money, it was immortality, and he got that in the naming of Rogers Pass.

Next week, I’ll look at the challenges in confirming his route as well as the difficulties that the Kicking Horse Pass would present to the railroad.

Ward Cameron Enterprises is YOUR source for all things related to the Canadian Rockies. Our team of educators and guides are here to make sure your mountain experience is one for the bucket list.

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  1. Blanca cervi
    Blanca cervi August 10, 2017

    60 people ignored the closure? OMG. That is incredible.

    • Ward Cameron
      Ward Cameron August 10, 2017

      It would have been interesting to have cameras up this year to see how the numbers compared.

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