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New book applauded at Mountain Film and Book Festival

Sunday, 16 December 2018. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

New book applauded at Mountain Film and Book Festival

From left, Beth Towe, Wendy Ryan and Fred Stenson are all Alberta contributors to the newly launched book, Bert Riggall’s Greater Waterton: A Conservation Legacy. The authors were on hand Nov. 30 at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village to discuss the book and even write a dedication if you wanted.   Photo by Brenda Shenton


New book applauded at Mountain Film and Book Festival


By Shannon Robison

Bert Riggall and his life’s work are the subject of a new book that received special jury mention last month at the 2018 Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival.

Bert Riggall’s Greater Waterton: A Conservation Legacy is a compilation of work by an ensemble of Alberta authors — Beth Towe, Brittany Watson, Bruce Morrison, Charlie Russell, Chris Morrison, David Sheppard, Don Bourdon, Fred Stenson, Harvey Locke, Kevin Van Tighem, Larry Simpson, Sid Marty, Suzanne Lorinczi and Wendy Ryan.

Most of these names are familiar locally, and their connection to Bert, and to the Waterton region that he so loved, gives the book intimate character and wide perspective.

“My interest in Bert Riggall began when I started hiking his trails and following his routes on horse pack trips in Waterton, Castle and Oldman River country,” writes Wendy Ryan. “I felt a deep bond with him and appreciated his love of guiding and horse travel through the mountains of southwest Alberta.”

Competition juror Larry Stanier said, “Bert Riggall’s photographs from the first half of the 20th century frame some fabulous writing about the people, terrain and history of the Greater Waterton region. The images alone tell a fabulous story.”

“Sid Marty’s Mistakis — The Backbone of the Earth and Kevin Van Tighem’s God’s Breath should be required reading for anyone who travels to southwest Alberta. This is a story of the origins of a regional conservation legacy that to this day strives to include the landscape, flora, fauna and people who live in this very special part of the world,” he added.

“The book contains important history of the founding and evolution of Waterton in 1911 as a national park,” said Bob Stanford of the United National University Institute for Water, Environment and Health. “This articulate, visually stunning, elegantly designed book is an important contribution to the history and culture of Canada’s mountain West.”

Bert’s massive collection of photographs is housed primarily at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

In 2015 his legacy was explored through a photographic exhibit displayed at Waterton, in Pincher Creek and around the province for two years afterward.

“Showcased in a historic photograph exhibit curated by Wendy Ryan, one dramatic image after another was mesmerising. I was inspired that these extraordinary images needed to be a book and took on the role of editor,” says Beth Towe.

“When I saw my first Bert Riggall photo of a high-country pack train, I was magically transported to the wild Rocky Mountains in Waterton Lakes National Park. It was astounding to imagine horse travel across the steep, slippery scree slope at 8,000 feet,” she adds.

Along with engaging narrative, the book includes stunning reproductions of over 300 of Bert’s photographs. Beth says the archival collection of his work is considered to be of outstanding significance and national importance by the Canadian Cultural Property Board.

As a young man, Bert left behind a well-to-do life in England to follow a dream. The self-taught photographer was drawn to Canada by a magazine photo of a bighorn ram.

Bert shared an adventurous life with wife Dora and daughters Kathleen (Kay) and Doris (Babe) as they faced the challenges of pioneer life in the mountains during the early 1900s. He established a guiding and outfitting business, documented history through photography and was a noted naturalist and conservationist.

“If Bert was off somewhere in the mountains with clients or exploring, Dora took care of the ranch and even put up hay. Often she shot and killed a buck in the fall for meat,” writes Bruce Morrison. “The girls inherited their father’s love of wandering in the wilderness.… Their parents taught the girls to set up camp, prepare tasty meals for clients, pack horses, handle firearms and to fish.”

“Bert Riggall understood his adopted mountain landscape (its landforms, its weather, its animals, its plants — the relationship of all those things that we call the web of life) perhaps better than anyone ever has,” writes Fred Stenson. “He understood it intellectually and viscerally, and he had a wonderful ability to teach others to understand it too.”

Bert saw the potential of the greater Waterton area. He was a key player in building tourism through his backcountry guiding and big-game hunting service. Bert not only had the expertise to guide people to amazing places, he had the knowledge and teaching skills to share his wealth of information and a keen eye coupled with photographic skill to capture memories.

“Bert shared his passion for this place with others,” writes Beth Towe. “In the Waterton Lakes area, Bert set the bar for tourism fundamentals that hold firm today. Interpretation was the key.”

He understood that his desire to protect the environment by establishing a park could have a negative impact on his business, but was in favour of it and supported it anyway.

“Through time, Bert, and later Andy Russell, refocused their trophy hunting pursuits on trophy photography,” Beth adds. “Their guided trips became non-consumptive and soon created a demand for a different type of experience — watchable wildlife.”

This is a top activity for Waterton visitors today and she notes that Bert’s equestrian trails are an ongoing tourism legacy.

The largest chapter in the book features imagery of the Riggall horses and the amazing landscape they guided Bert’s clients through. It details the character of some of the animals and skills the outfitters needed to be successful with pack strings of 25 to 35 loose horses.

Because Bert hired locals, his teachings have been passed on to many in the Pincher Creek area.

This is also where the connection with the Russell family comes in. Andy Russell started as one of Bert’s wranglers and wound up as his son-in-law after marrying Kay. The Hawk’s Nest, built by four of Bert’s American clients, was given to them as a wedding gift.

“He perhaps recognized a kindred spirit where the wild country of the mountains was concerned, for he gave me an education in natural history like nothing that could have been acquired in any other way,” Andy wrote in Trails of a Wilderness Wanderer.

Andy and Kay bought the outfitting business in 1947, when Bert’s health was failing. Bert’s interests and teachings strongly influenced Andy and Kay’s children.

“With husbands who were frequently away, it was Dora and Kay who grounded their families,” Bruce Morrison writes. “The Riggall tradition of seeing the wild as a source of wonder and adventure gave Kay the tools she needed to raise children who loved the wilderness, felt comfortable in it, and revelled in observing its creatures.”

Babe’s upbringing also figured prominently in the ranch life she stepped into after marrying cowboy Ed Burton. “All the skills Babe had learned from her parents were tested in those cattle drives and the demands of bringing up a family,” writes Suzanne Lorinczi. “Riding, setting up camp, learning how to shoot game, trapping, fishing, gardening, caring for animals domestic and wild, as well as fencing were among her activities.”

The final two years of Bert’s life were spent living with Babe in Claresholm and she became the caretaker of a massive collection of Bert’s photos and the history they contained.

The images used in the book are captivating. “He documented scenes of the cohabitation of nature, industry and recreational use while creating stunning, technically advanced photographs,” writes Brittany Watson.

Bert used many trails created by the Piikani and the Ktunaxa for his outfitting. Looking back on the geographical and human habitation history of the greater Waterton area is important as many of the trails are still in use today.

“Bert Riggall, born an Englishman, became a true man of the mountains, a wandering spirit who relished the chance to travel the old trails wherever they led, and blaze some new ones, too,” writes Sid Marty.

“My grandfather deserves credit for why the land has remained intact,” wrote the late Charlie Russell. “It goes back to the deep connection he had with nature. He did not appreciate the land only for what it provided materially; he valued the intrinsic nature of his surroundings. This feeling, this wonderful relationship with place, was passed on to my parents who then instilled the same values in us, their children.”

Charlie had strong memories of watching Bert experiment with and perfect photographic processes. “As a result of abundant water and careful skill, Bert’s images remain almost as crisp as the day he printed them decades before.”

A Grandson’s Perspective, the chapter written by Charlie, contains much introspection mixed in with the tales of Bert and Dora and the lessons he learned from them. Charlie’s passing in May 2018 preceded the book’s launch in August.

The Hawk’s Nest still stands stalwart on its hilltop perch, visible from the Pine Ridge pull-out on Highway 6, north of Waterton Lakes Provincial Park.

“From the Hawk’s Nest you can see big nature in action on its own terms,” writes Beth Towe. “It resonates across these reaches and transcends political boundaries. It inspires. It ignites a passion for place and a genuine sense of peace and friendship.”

If you’ve ever wondered about the view from the Hawk’s Nest, which has become a gathering place for scientific discussion and debate, you will find it in the pages of this book.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada started conservation efforts in the Waterton area in 1997. “It is very fitting that the very place Bert Riggall inspired other people to love, respect and protect would ultimately cause an entire conservation organization (NCC) to think bigger and bolder about taking on conservation challenges,” writes Larry Simpson.

“Bert knew the wilderness from deep experience,” writes Harvey Locke. “He thought about the needs of wildlife at a scale larger than his own backyard. In this he anticipated the leading conservation thinking of today.”

His influence can be found in the work of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve and in conservation efforts that were behind creation of the Castle parks.

“Of all the places in the world that Bert Riggall might have found at the end of his journey from the family home in England to discover his own home, he wound up here in the headwaters of a small Alberta river,” writes Kevin Van Tighem. “He was drawn to the very crown of the North American continent, and stayed. Writer, naturalist, photographer, conservationist and storyteller — he was the first and arguably the most notable of many more to follow.”

“I will take a homestead in this place,” wrote a young man in his diary. Bert learned that the power of mountains can be life-changing and this has passed down through generations.

Bert Riggall’s Greater Waterton: A Conservation Legacy is available at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, Pincher Office Products, Twin Butte Country General Store and other locations in the region.

For more information, visit www.BertRiggall.ca.