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Standing up for Jasper to honour my dad

Jasper National Park has always held a special place in my heart. In fact standing up for Jasper is what started me on the conservation path I’m on today. Back in 1999 the Cheviot Coal mine was proposed (and approved) in the Cardinal Divide adjacent to Jasper National Park, in the same valley where grizzlies lived. I was a student at the University of Alberta and was so outraged that I volunteered with conservation groups (including CPAWS) to campaign against the mine and protect this important home for grizzly bears.

The recent proposal to develop a resort on the shores of spectacular Maligne Lake in Jasper has brought me right back to the Cheviot campaign days, only this time it is much more personal. Not only is Maligne Lake important habitat for a critically endangered herd of caribou (only 5 left in the Maligne Valley!) and to grizzly bears, this place also has a deep and emotional connection for me and my family. I want it to remain just the way it is – to honour my Dad.

My dad spent a summer working in Jasper after finishing high school. He drove the bus from the Jasper townsite to Maligne Lake and worked on the boat tours to the famous Spirit Island. One day, towards the end of the summer, my dad was hiking in the Maligne Valley with a friend when they accidentally found themselves between a baby grizzly bear and its mama. My Dad’s friend fainted and my dad tried to outrun the bear -- unsuccessfully. My dad was mauled by that grizzly bear, who was trying to defend her cub. He was incredibly fortunate to have survived this brutal attack. Needless to say, the rest of his time in Jasper was filled with much trepidation. 

This happened before my Mom arrived on the scene, and long before I was born. As I was growing up my Dad didn’t talk much about what had happened that long-ago summer, and it wasn’t until I was older that I truly appreciated his story. Although his experience in Jasper was traumatic, it didn’t take away from sharing his love of the Rockies with his family, which we would visit every summer. I always had a great love of wild animals, including grizzly bears. As I became a young adult and began to work to protect bears, my Dad and I didn’t always see eye to eye when it came to my love of bears. And while he didn’t necessarily agree with my work to protect bears, I know he was proud of me and of my passion for wildlife.

My Dad passed away when I was 25. About 6 months later, my mom and I took a trip to Jasper. We went to Maligne Lake to honour my father and his life. Although it was a difficult place for my father to visit, his experience in Jasper helped shape the man he became. I’ve been back to the Maligne Valley a couple of times since, and every time I feel like I’m going home.

I have a framed picture of Spirit Island in my home (as many of us do) and every time I look at it, it brings me right back to that incredible place and the memories I have of my dad. Now that I live out east I don’t get a chance to visit my beloved Jasper nearly as much as I would like. But one thing I know is that I want Maligne Lake to stay in its pristine state, and one day I want to bring my son there and tell him this powerful story of his Papa Fred.