JASPER Belongs to the Bears
Millionaires, movie stars and tourists can rent a week end or a summer of sparkling Rocky Mountain air, outdoor sport and superb scenery, but there’s never any doubt about the identity of the real owners
By ALAN PHILLIPS
HEN THE west was wild and the only way to cross the continent was up the Athabaska River and over the Great Divide, weary travelers sighed with relief when Jasper’s house finally came in sight. Jasper Hawes was a big fair-haired factor of the Northwest Company and his one-roomed shack was the only habitation in a long day’s journey. Jasper and his Indian wife made them all welcome trappers, venturesome noblemen, explorers and missionaries. For supper there was brook trout, whole barbecued lynx and sizzling buffalo steaks; and for a bed, a grizzly-bear pelt.
Jasper Hawes vanished mysteriously more than a hundred and forty years ago. But his name and his reputation for hospitality are still the valley’s chief assets. Jasper’s house became Jasper House and grew into the town of Jasper, Alta. Nearby the Canadian National Railways built a unique luxury resort: an alpine village of sixty peeled-log bungalows clustered about a main building called Jasper Park Lodge. The specialty of the house is still buffalo steak (when they can get it) and the CNR insists there’s still only one way to cross the continent: via the Athabaska, unchanged from the days of Jasper Hawes.
This year Jasper Park Lodge has a new look. The old main building, one of the biggest log cabins in the world, burned to the ground last year. The embers were scarcely cold before CNR architects had produced the drawings for a handsome new fieldstone (and fireproof) structure. They had it ready for tourists by June 10 when the season opened — a long low building with a gabled cedar roof that carefully preserves the informal Jasper atmosphere.
This atmosphere is in large part due to Jasper’s permanent residents the animals. The Lodge stands in the centre of forty-two hundred square miles of unspoiled mountain scenery which is Jasper National Park. Sometimes described as “twenty Switzerlands rolled into one,” it’s the largest game preserve on the continent, a highland kingdom beneficently ruled by Park Superintendent Harry Dempster, an even-tempered engineer who, however, frowns on his residents, mingling with the tourists. But the tourists think the animals are just too cute, and the animals think the tourists are a soft touch. Their wilful fraternization has sometimes an Alice-in-Wonderland flavor. It is not unusual to see a bear galloping up the landscaped paths between the bungalows hotly pursued by a dozen guests of assorted ages, all clicking away with cameras. On the golf course many a golfer strolling toward his next shot is disconcerted when a large black bear sneaks out of the woods and makes off with his ball.
One afternoon last season the occupants of Outlook Cabin on Lac Beauvert ($135 a day for four), were entertaining a large gathering of guests. Just before dusk, when the cocktails were flowing .freely, two bears appeared on the grassy lakeshore below. They stood erect, squared off and sparred like two clumsy but spirited amateur boxers. The cocktail party, glasses in hand, spilled out onto the lawn and formed a cheering circle around the boxing bears. Bets were shouted. Finally one bear swung a haymaker, knocked the other bear head over heels, and waded off through the jubilant, congratulatory crowd.
The informal note is struck the moment a guest gets off the train at Jasper’s fieldstone station and is greeted by the traffic agent, wearing a ten-gallon hat. Bing Crosby, who first visited Jasper on location for the movie The Emperor Waltz in June 1947, was once asked why he kept coming back to Jasper when he had all the world to choose from. Bing answered: “It's these little bungalows. I can sit here on my front porch and nobody bothers me, and I feel I’m right out in the wilderness.”
Jasper liked Bing too. Practically every merchant had a photograph of him in the window. Bing gave townspeople a lift to church in his big blue Packard. When he dedicated the new Legion hall Jie handed over an Continued on page 37
Jasper Belongs io The Bears
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 17
envelope before he left, with the remark: “This will pay for the new toilet.” It was a cheque for a thousand dollars. For months afterward Crosby inserted plugs for Jasper in his weekly network program.
On the other hand the attractions of Jasper are loudly belittled by practi-
cally everybody in Banff, one hundred and eightv-six miles south. Most Jasper visitors arrive via the Banff-Jasper highway, one of the world’s most magnificent roads. Stopping for gas in Banff on the way north, they are likely to ask the filling station attendant how the road is. Jasper businessmen swear the dialogue runs like this:
Attendant: You’re not driving up in that car, are you?
Visitor (who may be driving anything up to a 1953 Cadillac): Why not?
Attendant (shaking head): I hope you make it.
Actually the road is fair except after heavy rains and about one hundred thousand visitors manage to make it every year. About a quarter of them register at the Lodge; the rest stay at nearby bungalow camps or at one of the three hotels in town or pitch their tents in the government camping sites. Rates range from thirty-four dollars a day with meals, at the Lodge, down to a dollar and a half per week for tent space. Guests come from every state and province, with a sprinkling from overseas. Jasper can muster such loyal fans as Lord Alexander, who
piwhan many of the mountain peaks; screen stars Harold Lloyd, Dinah Shore, Alan Young and Myrna Loy. Miss Loy bagged her limit of trout in the crystal-clear lakes that dot the valley floor.
Jasperites like to emphasize just how clear their lakes are by telling the hard-luck story of how the valley lost its private airline. Some years ago Bill Holland, a veteran bush pilot, figured that there should be a tidy profit flying the Lodge’s guests to and from Jasper’s far-flung points of interest. He bought a seaplane and cut a swath in the pines at one end of Lac Beauvert. Business was fine, but he had to give it up. Landing was too dangerous. On a calm day Holland couldn’t see the water. When Beauvert’s surface is unruffled the water is so transparently clear that canoes on it seem suspended in air.
Unspoiled nature around the rushing Athabaska has been tamed somewhat to suit present-day tourists. Visitors swim in mountain-stream waterbut it is piped to the Lodge’s cement swimming pool and warmed to exactly seventy degrees; they eat outdoors— but the food, including their catches of trout, is cooked to order by some of the finest chefs of the CNR.
One noted visitor, Lord Montgomery, preferred looking at mountains to climbing them. Monty’s visit in 1946 was organized by the CNR’s former publicity chief, Walter S. Thompson, who planned publicity pictures of the British military leader amid Jasper’s mountain scenery. One morning Monty emerged to find a cavalcade of cars waiting to take him up Mount Edith Cavell, the dominating peak (11,033 feet) of the region. He looked at the cars, listened to Thompson for a moment, glanced up at Mount Edith Cavell, and said: “Yes, yes. That’s a very pretty mountain. 1 can see it from here. Now what time does the golf tournament start?”
Although Mount Edith Cavell is one of the resort’s biggest attractions, Jasper is not wholly pleased with the name pinned on it by the federal government. “Why, that mountain was once the best-known landmark on
the continent,” says Fred Brewster, founder of Jasper Park Lodge. “It marked the Great Divide, and was called the Mountain of the Grand Crossing.” After the first world war Dominion Surveyor A. O. Wheeler informed the government there was a large unnamed mountain in front of Jasper. The government promptly named it in honor of the heroic British nurse.
“They lost all that history,” mourns Brewster. “I don’t know what Wheeler was thinking of.”
The golf tournament which interested Montgomery is the Totem Pole tourney held in September. It has become Jasper’s outstanding sporting event of the year. It’s so popular now that the Lodge has had to limit the entrants to a hundred and eighty-five and put them on a quota basis, so many from each state and province. This year, two months before the Lodge opened, there were already five hundred names on the waiting list. One irate bigwig, unable to get in, wrote to CNR President Donald Gordon: “If I don’t make your Totem Pole tournament next year, I’ll ship my next ten carloads CPR.” (P.S. He still didn’t make it.)
The memorable 1947 Totem Tournament featured Bing Crosby versus Gordon Verley, of Victoria. At the final hole Crosby and Verley were tied. Verley’s third stroke took him within a foot of the cup. Crosby’s second shot overran the green and put the cup out of his sight.
The crowd groaned. They had come from as far away as Edmonton to see the tournament and Bing. Crosby selected an iron. His relaxed chip shot looped high and curled into the cup —for a birdie three, hole, match, and championship.
Earl Haig opened the first Totem Pole tournament in 1925. On the fourth hole a big black bear, after watching Haig’s brand of golf for a while, took over and swatted his ball down the fairway. Ever since then animals have felt free to use the golf course. The bears will sometimes sit on the benches and watch the golfers tee
off. They take shower baths undet u é sprayers. One old mother bear found out how to turn on the sprinklers. She taught the trick to her two cubs and every morning the three of them would set out around the course leaving fountains of water in their wake. Finally Bill Brinkworth, Jasper’s big easy-going greenkeeper, had to hire a man to do nothing but follow them and turn off the sprinklers. A soft-spoken ex-Mountie with a square sun-tanned face, Brinkworth (Pop to long-time guests) is the dean of western greenkeepers. But even his long experience is challenged by Jasper. The wonderful tourist weather is a greenkeeper’s despair. The sheltered valley gets very little snow or rain, and in summer the sunshine pours in eighteen hours a day. Brinkworth has a constant struggle to keep his grass from either freezing or burning. In 1942 frost killed every blade of grass on the course. With spring, herds of two or three hundred elk hold their ritual dances on Brinkworth’s soft and springy greens. In fall, the mating season, the fairways are a battleground for the great branchantlered bull elk which slash the turf to ribbons. The Jasper course was built in 1924 by the noted golf-course designer, Stanley Thompson, who incidentally won the first tournament. All Thompson had to start with was rock, bush and scenery. He blasted out huge boulders, used them for bunkers, tees and greens. Up in the mountains he built a concrete dam to feed a million gallons of water a day to his fledgling greens and fairways. He built a twentyone-hole course where the biggest haz! ard of all is to keep your eye off the scenery and on the ball. This was once especially difficult on the ninth hole. Thompson, who died last year, was a young man when he made it. He shaped the green, making strategic use of bunkers and other topography so that golfers teeing off beheld a huge recumbent female form. Thompson christened her Cleopatra. It was just a bit too daring for the CNR. They ordered some of Cleo’s curves cut away, on the grounds that she distracted male golfers. Guests at the Lodge are usually slightly outnumbered by the staff, six hundred and fifty strong. Three quarters of them are students working their way through university. With free meals and a room, a thrifty waitress can save up to five hundred dollars in the three months the Lodge is open. Feminine staffers supply the pulchritude for publicity pictures and liven up the place for the customers, facetiously described as “newly-weds or nearly-deads.” Thousands of students apply for the summer jobs at the Lodge. One qualification would appear to be possession of prominent parents. The Lodge help in the past few years has included Tony Abbott, son of Canada’s Minister of Finance, Jennifer Bevan, former ladyin-waiting to Princess Margaret, and Lady Rose Alexander, daughter of the former governor-general, who did a conscientious job in the office last year.
Jasper Park Lodge was launched just before the first world war, when Fred and Jack Brewster put up four canvas cabins on the shores of Lake Beauvert. The Brewsters are a Banff clan known as Canada’s “royal family of the Rockies.” Fred’s father started as a guide in 1880 and with his six sons soon cornered a major share of the Rocky Mountain tourist trade. Early this century Fred and his brother Jack came to Jasper where there were more trees and fewer Brewsters.
After the war tourists flocked to Jasper in such numbers that Fred and
Jack couldn’t cope with the business. They knew that CNR President Sir Henry Thornton was anxious to provide some competition for the CPR’s grandiose Banff Springs and Lake Louise hotels. They persuaded him to look over their tent development. Sir Henry took one look and said, “This is the place!” Every year through the Twenties he added cabins. The Brewsters took over the trail rides and prospered as the Lodge grew. Jack died two years ago. Fred today is one of the biggest and best-known biggame outfitters in Canada. The Brewsters who remained in Banff are doing all right, too. But the fact that Banff and Jasper have Brewsters in common hasn’t lessened the rivalry a bit. Banff boosters say the Jasper mountains are too far away. Jasper residents say Banff has no elbow room. They call Banff a circus town, the Coney Island of the Rockies. Banff counters by claiming there is nothing to do in Jasper. Jasper is younger, less lively, more remote than Banff. Her attractions are scattered farther apart, but they’re on a vaster scale and there are more of them. The shortest, easiest trip is up to Maligne Canyon, one of the world’s most remarkable examples of erosion. Through millions of years, the Maligne River has cut a long deep slit through solid limestone. It is narrow enough in places to jump across, but the drop to the boiling river below is two hundred feet. Boulders have tumbled down the mountain and lodged near the top of the chasm. Guides tell gullible tourists they were put there by the Indians to keep the canyon from closing up. Glacier Feeds Three Oceans Farther up the canyon, by Medicine Lake, the elements have cut weird figures called hoodoos from boulder clay. From Medicine, the trail leads along the tumbling Maligne River to glacier-fed Maligne Lake, so beautiful that the Indians considered it sacred. Maligne has been photographed so often that the islet of pines at the upper end is known as F/ll—the lens setting which seems to capture it best. Jasper’s well-known mountain photographer Harry Rowed says, “Maligne has got it over Lake Louise like a Chautauqua tent over a teepee.” The most memorable drive for most tourists is up the Banff-Jasper highway seventy-five miles to the great Columbia Icefield, “Mother of Rivers,” sometimes called the world’s eighth wonder. Here, in the folds of the largest cluster of giant peaks in the Rockies, frozen snow has been amassing for thousands of centuries. It stretches for a hundred and thirty square miles-ridges, crags and plains of ancient ice, the largest body of ice south of the Arctic Circle. The icefield is called the roof of the continent, for its melting waters flow into three oceans: down the Saskatchewan Glacier into the North Saskatchewan River, Hudson Bay and the Atlantic; through the west watershed into the Columbia River to the Pacific; and down the Athabaska Glacier to the Sunwapta, to the Athabaska, and into the Arctic Ocean.
The highway is only a few hundred feet from the nearest glacier, the Athabaska, which is fissured by ice crevasses so deep you can toss a chunk of ice down and never hear it hit bottom. Guides tell tourists the eerie story of the newlywed couple who hiked up the glacier on their honeymoon. The bride fell down a crevasse and was never found. Fifty years later (always
“just last year” in the guides’ talk) the glacier discharged the contents of its crevasse. The bridegroom was sent fora white-haired, wrinkled old man who fell on his knees beside the perfectly preserved body of his beautiful eighteen-year-old bride. Only occasionally does a tourist say, “Why, I heard that same story last year in Switzerland” ... or in Norway, Alaska or New Zealand.
The man who knows the icefield best is a small, tough, nimble-witted New Zealander, Pete Withers. Withers is an ex-Royal Navy man who lost the family fortune in the stock market and became a park warden. At seventy-odd he still bicycles sixty miles on a Sunday afternoon and is an excellent classical pianist. His assignment is charting new crevasses in the icefield, or as he puts it, “keeping tourists from falling down the holes” in what he speaks of as “my icefield.”
Perhaps the best-known man at the Lodge, apart from founder Fred Brewster. is its courtly doctor, Thomas Riley O’Hagan. Most of Jasper’s residents under thirty-five years of age were brought into the world by Dr. O’Hagan, who used to visit his far-flung patients on a hand-car he pumped down the CNR line. His patients had to make a point of paying him voluntarily. The doctor has never sent a bill; often he has sent coal and groceries instead.
A few years ago, at seventy, Dr. O’Hagan was still hard at work, so Jasper’s citizens showed their affectionate concern by giving him a birthday party, a large oil portrait, and a thousand dollars which they hinted should buy a well-deserved rest. The doctor obediently went to New York for a month—and spent every day at Columbia University Medical School.
Dr. O’Hagan’s practice is probably unique in that every season he is called on to treat a number of bear scratches. These injuries are almost invariably minor, but one Lodge official has a recurring nightmare in which he sees a guest badly mauled. This possibility is partly the fault of the Lodge’s lavish scale of catering. “The Lodge throws out enough meat,” says one park ranger, “to feed the town of Jasper.” Animals come from a hundred miles around to feed at the Lodge garbage dump and the management runs buses out to the dump every night at five o’clock. If the bears are in a playful mood, and they usually are, they will sL,and upright and toss tin cans at one another. The Lodge’s publicity folders show guests holding out their empty hands to the bears. “If you hold out your hand with nothing in it,” says a warden, “you’re just asking the bear to take the hand.”
Only once have Jasper bears beheld the strange spectacle of men taking photographs and shooing bears out of the scenery. That was when the Paramount picture The Emperor Waltz used Jasper as a stand-in for Alpine scenery and bears would have been out of character. For the duration of the
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shooting Jasper harbored two hundred Hollywood folk, including Joan Fontaine, the writer - director - producer team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, and of course Bing Crosby.
After spending more than half a million dollars in Canada Wilder asked if he could take back thirty lodge-pole pines. He needed some of these small thin native trees as background for his Hollywood studio shooting. Park Superintendent J. A. Wood wired Ottawa for permission. Ottawa wired back: NO. Wilder is thought to have dug up his thirty trees at night. But with about nine billion lodge-pole pines in the park it is difficult for anyone to be sure, and public opinion in Jasper felt that the place could do without the thirty little pines.
There are a few other characteristics that Jasper would willingly do without. Even Jasper’s resident boosters will admit reluctantly that the park has shortcomings—but all are man-made errors of omission. Atha Andrews, coowner of the Athabaska Hotel, complains: “If our guests want a cocktail, we have to send them to Ontario.” Curt Kiefer, who runs an auto camp, says: “The three things Jasper needs most is roads, roads, and roads. Just the threat of a storm will empty the town of visitors. They’re afraid the gravel roads will be washed out.”
After the Fire, Banquets
For the Lodge, the greatest calamity came last year. On July 15, at the height of the season, an employee in the main lodge saw smoke filtering from a storeroom door. When he opened the door, fire belched out as from a flame thrower. In a moment it had flashed to the log walls’ uncounted coats of varnish.
Manager Harold Gunning hastily posted a man on each bungalow roof. While they stamped out sparks, relays of girls ran to the lake, brought back water-soaked bath towels, and tossed them up to the men. Len Peters, Gunning’s secretary, plunged back into the burning building to make sure all guests were out; he died next day of burns and shock.
The despondent guests sat around on their salvaged baggage. A million dollars in business hung in the balance. Gunning took over the caddy house as an office. He ordered buffet meals served in the golf clubhouse. No expense was spared; fruit was flown in from the Okanagan, lobsters and oysters from the Maritimes. Bruno Zapa, the CNR’s temperamental head chef, threw up his hands and exclaimed: “For twenty-five years it is my job to worry about the little margin of profit the CNR allows itself on food. Now they tell me—feed the people regardless of margin!”
The guests took minor inconveniences in good part, all except one wealthy dowager who complained, “But I’m not used to carrying a tray.” Hildebrandt, the suave headwaiter, drew himself up. “Madam,” he said, “neither am I !”
Gunning was undecided whether to close the resort or to try to carry on. One American cheered him by saying, “What do you want to close for? I came here to look at the mountains and animals, not to sit in your lounge.” The CNR prepared for an exodus. All next day a special train stood on a siding to accommodate guests who wanted to go. It rained that day, too—the only rain of the season—and the management wras sure that would be the last straw. But when the train pulled out there was only a handful of departing guests aboard. Jasper had triumphed over disaster and remained a going concern. ^