Arriving in Fundy National Park in the fall of 1982, I was eager to begin my first permanent position in the Warden Service, and equally eager to get into what would become my house at the Wolfe Lake warden station, almost twenty kilometres from the park’s headquarters in Alma.
Situated at the entrance to the park, the small wood-frame structure sat in the middle of a manicured lawn opposite the park gateway and Information building. A two-vehicle garage with a heated workspace sat behind the house, both of which adjoined a small campground.
During the summer, a small contingent of three park attendants occupied a separate chalet, a hundred metres or so from the station, but at this time of year, everything including the campground sat empty as autumn was well underway and on the Fundy plateau, the weather hinted at winter’s approach.
Upon arriving in Fundy I was welcomed by the Chief Park Warden and introduced to the staff, including a fellow park warden and fellow Newfoundlander, Gerald Janes. In true Newfoundland-style Gerald gave me a tour of the headquarters area and later invited me to supper that evening with his wife Joan and three daughters, which I happily accepted.
At the end of the day, after being issued gear from the Park Storesman, I headed back to the house at Wolfe Lake which was at various stages of being painted, with moving boxes scattered throughout, jockeying for position until the painters had left. I’d had time to set up the bed and a few modest pieces of furniture but had only just begun to acquire groceries and wasn’t yet set up to cook for myself.
Returning to Alma I drove through town and headed for the Bennett Property, for dinner with the Janes. The park’s Bennett Property is the refurbished home and grounds of former Canadian Prime Minister RB Bennett, and includes the original house, which had been transformed into three apartments for some of the park’s senior staff, as well as two separate park houses for those senior staff with families.
I don’t think I even had a bottle of wine or a case of beer to offer as a thank-you but that didn’t matter at all to Joan and Gerald, who quickly made me feel welcome and at home, with a meal typical of what my own Mom would have cooked up back in Gander.
Topped off with a bottle (or two) of wine, we quickly got into stories about life back on The Rock and some of our common acquaintances in Terra Nova National Park.
A funny little aside, I will always remember Joan asking me if I liked this or that as she brought various plates of food to the table, to which I replied that I wasn’t particular (anymore … I used to be incredibly fussy as a kid) and could eat pretty much anything. Gerald said that he was the same and could eat pretty much anything, but Joan quickly reminded him that he didn’t like broccoli. Gerald modified his earlier statement to say he could eat pretty much anything, except broccoli, to which Joan replied … and Brussel sprouts. Gerald updated his comment to say he could eat pretty much anything except broccoli and Brussel sprouts, to which Joan added some other item … and on it went, interspersed with bouts of laughter until Gerald finally conceded.
After supper we retired to the living room and sat around watching, of all things, a special about McLean and McLean, a Canadian musical-comedy duo whose album Toilet Rock, will give you a pretty good idea about the fare they offered up. I certainly recall it being pretty funny as we hooted and howled with each song, inspired by the wine, which was now taking full effect.
I was feeling pretty good about the move to Fundy and looking forward to working with Gerald and the other staff I’d met that day.
Life was good.
Suddenly, without warning, a shotgun blast shattered the evening’s festivities, shocking us out of our chairs.
“Get down,” Gerald yelled as a second blast echoed across the Bennett Property. Crashing to the floor, Gerald and I crawled to the front door and after a few seconds wait to see if there were any other shots, carefully opened the door to assess the situation.
There was no one in sight but the side of Gerald and Joan’s personal vehicle had been blown apart by what looked like SSG or what is commonly referred to as buckshot. The side of the Janes’ house as well as a neighbouring park house, were also splattered with SSG.
Miraculously, other than the physical damage to the vehicle and houses, no one was injured.
As other residents of the Bennett Property converged outside, Gerald quickly contacted George Sinclair, the park warden on duty that evening, to alert him to what had happened and to ask him to check out the area. Gerald also contacted the Hillsborough detachment of the RCMP, some fifty kilometres away, to seek their assistance.
In the meantime we assessed the damage and collected information related to the timing of events and what people had seen or heard leading up to and after the shots were fired.
Not long after, a warden truck pulled onto the property driven by George Sinclair. Upon exiting the truck, George convened with Gerald and I away from the others to discuss the situation. George informed us that he had in fact seen one person walking along the road as he headed out of Alma toward the Bennett Property, a possible suspect who the previous summer had been charged with breaking into vehicles at park trailheads. George had questioned the suspect but had no grounds to arrest and detain him, so let him continue on his way.
George, however, was convinced that despite the suspect not being in possession of a firearm, he was likely the guilty party, not only because of his recent conviction but also since the main highway he was walking along was immediately adjacent to and down over the hill from the Bennett Property, and in the vicinity of where we ascertained the shots had been fired from.
All of this information was subsequently passed on to the RCMP when they arrived on the scene a little while later, as this was clearly a more serious Criminal Code offence normally dealt with by the RCMP, rather than a National Parks matter.
With the evening’s excitement essentially over, I decided to head back to Wolfe Lake. Thanking the Janes’, I was about to leave when Gerald hauled me aside and asked if I had been issued my park rifle that day. When I told him I had, he said, “Put it by your bed tonight.”
“Sure,” I replied, wondering if he knew something I didn’t.
Heading home that night, driving alone on the deserted twenty kilometres of highway that I would become intimately familiar with over the next three years, all I could think of were the events of the last several hours.
As I pulled off the highway and up to my house, sitting in the pitch-black of a moonless late autumn night, I looked at myself in the rear-view mirror and said, “Welcome to Fundy.”
If the rest of my stint here was anything like the first day, it was going to be quite the ride.Follow write_nature