Chapter 25

I was asked by Parks Canada to seek out the facts.

The Rockies 1943

Den of Gray Wolf

Den of Gray Wolf

Canis lupus, Jasper, 1945. Photograph by Cowan. Image Cowan_PH_125 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
Jimmy Simpson on Mount Southesk, Jasper

Jimmy Simpson on Mount Southesk, Jasper

1943. Photograph by Cowan. Image Cowan_PP_251 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
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When Cowan gave his address to the University of Northern British Columbia in 1997, he summed up his research questions [for Parks Canada in 1943] in a short paragraph:

I was asked by Parks Canada to seek out the facts. Through a fascinating five years, I rode horseback, hiked and climbed throughout the length and breadth of Jasper and Banff… There were wolves in the park. What Parks wanted to know was: How many? Where? What were they feeding on? What influence was this having? What evidence was there of increasing numbers and migration from the parks?77

The central questions of where the wolves (and other predators) were and what they were eating meant he had to identify all the prey animals and where they were throughout the seasons, the condition and number of the herds, and their ranges. He also had to begin to decipher the complex relationship between the carnivores and their prey. In that first year, Cowan had four months to cover 7,000 square miles. He didn’t waste a minute or a penny. He finished classes and headed east, timing his arrival in Jasper to be just ahead of the budding-out of plants for spring. This would allow him to see the condition of the animals after a winter and measure the intensity of their winter foraging. He planned to stay until the autumn die-off of plants, enabling seasonal observation of the movement of the big prey and predator animals. The day he arrived, April 17, 1943, he collected chief warden Charlie Phillips and went to Devona, a lookout over the Athabasca River, to count the animals on one of their most critical winter ranges. Cowan had done the exact same trip his first day in Jasper back in 1930 with warden Frank Bryant when he had skinny-dipped for the lost beaver. Looking out over the landscape 13 years later, he knew that something had gone terribly wrong.


77 Cowan, “Address to University of Northern British Columbia, May 22, 1997,” Cowan_PN_101.

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