Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer
Alberta’s newest Provincial Historic Resource is the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin in the Willmore Wilderness Park. Now the most remotely located designated resource in the province, the cabin tells an interesting and important story about the protection of Alberta’s forests and the forest rangers that sheltered in cabins like this while riding the trails in our province’s forests.
The Dominion Forestry Branch
The story of the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin begins in Ottawa, with the establishment of the Dominion Forestry Branch in 1899. The Dominion Forestry Branch, a sister service to the Dominion Parks Branch (now Parks Canada Agency), was established to manage forest resources on Crown lands. By 1911, a number of protected forest reserves had been created in Alberta, including the Athabasca Forest Reserve north of Jasper.
The Dominion Forestry Branch managed the Athabasca Forest Reserve from a headquarters at Entrance, west of Hinton. From there forest rangers would set out on patrol to inspect timber leases, prevent poaching and watch for forest fires. The rangers also developed infrastructure throughout the forest reserve by improving existing trails, breaking new trails, erecting fire lookouts, laying telephone lines and establishing a network of patrol cabins (each located about a day’s ride from each other).
Construction of the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin
The Mile 58 Forestry Cabin is so-named as it is located 58 miles from the forest reserve headquarters at Entrance. Also, because it is located near the height of land between Rock Creek and the Sulphur River is has also been known as the Summit Cabin. Glen, who had visited the spot a number of times prior to building the cabin, described its location as, “a lovely campsite, and the bunch grass was plentiful so the horses never tried to stray.” The site was ideal location for stopping on ranger patrols to and from the Big Grave Flats area.
In 1928, Glen and fellow ranger Bill Smith had completed construction of the Eagle’s Nest Cabin and began work on what would become the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin. Glen’s memoir does not provide many details about the construction of the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin, but he does describe the construction of the Eagle’s Nest Cabin, which was identical to Mile 58. In 1928, the area was cleared and logs were cut for the walls. Short walls of 3.5 feet were constructed and a canvas tent was placed over them as a temporary roof. During the 1929 patrol season, Glen, Smith and third ranger, Tom Coggins, arrived to complete construction. They packed in with them cement for the footings and rubberoid for the roof. The footings were put in place and the walls were extended to 8.5 feet in height. The logs were joined with dovetail notches and chinked with moss. Additional logs were sawn in half for the floor. A roof was built, over which the rubberoid was installed for waterproofing. Glen returned in 1930 with ranger Ted Hammer to complete the interior, and it was likely in this season that the glass windows were brought in by packhorse.
Alberta Forest Service
The Mile 58 Forestry Cabin was used by Jack Glen and other rangers as shelter while on patrols through the area. Within a year of the cabin’s completion, authority over natural resources in Alberta was transferred from the Dominion government to the provincial government. While the National Parks remained under the authority of the Government of Canada, the forest reserves, and their infrastructure of trails, towers and patrol cabins became the responsibility of the Government of Alberta. The newly created Alberta Forest Service was established to enforce provincial regulations and to ensure: the sustainability of Alberta’s harvestable timber; the conservation of fish and wildlife resources; the protection of waterways; and to allow for the opening of forest reserves for sporting and recreation opportunities.
Most of the Dominion Forestry Branch rangers transferred to the new provincial ranger service, which continued to use the network of trails and cabins for their patrols. Starting in the 1950s, the Alberta Forest Service began to consolidate many of its services to larger, centralized ranger stations. Many of the log patrol cabins fell into disuse and rapidly fell to ruin. Others, such as the Big Berland Cabin were used by forestry companies and later by trappers. The Mile 58 Forestry Cabin continued to be used by rangers and other visitors through the following decades. Eventually, the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin was replaced as a patrol cabin by the nearby Grizzly Cabin, but trail riders, hikers and other users of the Willmore Wilderness Park continued to use the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin as a convenient, picturesque and delightfully nostalgic resting spot.
Designation of the Mile 58 Forestry Cabin
In the summer of 2016, management of the Willmore Wilderness Park contacted Historic Resources Management seeking advice on how to repair properly the nearly 90-year-old Mile 58 Forestry Cabin. Some of the lower rows of logs were beginning to deteriorate, and the park management wanted to ensure that the cabin was properly repaired so that its heritage value was retained and so it could continue to be used and enjoyed by future generations of park users.
In August 2016, Historic Resources Management staff, accompanied by Alberta Parks staff and members of the Rocky Mountain Wilderness Society, inspected and documented the site.
The Mile 58 Forestry Cabin remains the property of the Government of Alberta and it is maintained by the Rocky Mountain Wilderness Society, which will be able to apply for grant funding for its conservation. Historic Resources Management staff will continue to provide assistance to ensure that repairs to and the restoration of the cabin are completed in a manner that will ensure that it continues to communicate its heritage value and significance.
Glen, Jack Glen. Mountain Trails: Memoirs of an Alberta Forest Ranger in the Mountains and Foothills of the Athabasca Forest, 1920-1945. Robert Mueller, Peter Murphy and Bob Udell, eds. (Hinton: Foothills Research Institute and Edmonton: Sustainable Resource Development, 2008), available at https://friresearch.ca/sites/default/files/FHP_2014_07_book_MountainTrailsEbook.pdf.
Feddema-Leonard, Susan. People & Peaks of Willmore Wilderness Park, 1800s to mid-1900s. (Grand Cache: Willmore Wilderness Foundation & Whitefox Circle Inc., 2007)
Murphy, Peter J., et al., The Alberta Forest Service: 1930-2005: Protection and Management of Alberta’s Forests, (Edmonton: Sustainable Resource Development, Government of Alberta, 2006)
Murphy, Peter, et al, A Hard Road to Travel: Land, Forests and People in the Upper Athabasca Region. (Hinton, AB: Foothills Model Forest & Durham, NC: Forest History Society, 2007)
Palmer, Howard Palmer and Tamara Palmer. Alberta: A New History. (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1990)
Wetherell, Don and Irene Kmet. Alberta’s North: A History, 1890-1950. (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, Canadian Circumpolar Institute Press and Alberta Community Development, 2000)