A lov­ing legacy


Calgary Herald - - PEOPLE - [email protected]­herald.canwest.com

Al­most 50 years on, Fran Drum­mond and her Twin Falls Chalet have be­come in­sti­tu­tions in Yoho Na­tional Park.

In 1962, af­ter hik­ing Bri­tish Columbia’s Yoho Val­ley, Fran Drum­mond was in­spired to pen a pro­posal to Parks Canada.

Ten days later, she re­ceived a re­ply. It would give her a lease and make her the pro­pri­etor and even­tual lease­holder of an old and ne­glected Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail lodge, which seemed des­tined for de­mo­li­tion. The idea ex­cited Drum­mond. Aside from its stun­ning lo­ca­tion close to a thun­der­ing dual wa­ter­fall over a lime­stone cliff, for which the Twin Falls Chalet gets its name, it had been lived in by trail-blaz­ing sur­vey­ors, Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail work­ers and vis­ited by a king, a fa­mous Amer­i­can artist and ad­ven­tur­ous and well-heeled Euro­pean trav­ellers.

This July, when the lodge re­opens to guests, the pe­tite and an­i­mated 70-some­thing Cal­gar­ian will make the trek to the lodge for the 48th sum­mer in a row. There, she’ll host both new and fa­mil­iar faces in the bu­colic back­coun­try of Yoho Na­tional Park. Drum­mond’s nearly 10-kilo­me­tre, mostly up­hill, com­mute on the Yoho River Trail can be ar­du­ous; at times she car­ries a 22-kilo­gram propane tank for the fridge and other sup­plies on her back.

Her story is as eclec­tic and ad­ven­ture-filled as the cast of char­ac­ters who have been within the walls of the spruce log refuge, which was built in 1908. There’s much to know — as Drum­mond’s re­peat guests can at­test — about the woman who res­cued the old place from fad­ing into the his­tory books.

Her life is punc­tu­ated with anec­dotes of liv­ing in ex­otic places and meet­ing in­flu­en­tial peo­ple from around the world. When hik­ing guests come to stay at Twin Falls Chalet, they get to hear those sto­ries. They also quickly dis­cover Drum­mond’s pas­sion for pre­serv­ing a slice of Cana­dian her­itage.

“My mis­sion is to try to show (peo­ple) what au­then­tic back­coun­try liv­ing is and to learn to do it like great-grandma used to.”

Like the de­ter­mined peo­ple who carved out the trails and built the rail­way, Drum­mond’s ad­ven­tur­ous spirit and her in­cli­na­tion for an hon­est chal­lenge — no mat­ter how for­mi­da­ble — quickly bub­bles to the sur­face. She has so many sto­ries they could fill a hefty book.

Like the time she out-bid a Hollywood set crew for a wood stove.

The crew was work­ing on Clint East­wood’s movie Un­for­given in 1996 around Cal­gary. “They were buy­ing up wood stoves for the set,” to au­then­ti­cate the scenes, says Drum­mond over lunch at the Dan­ish-Cana­dian Club in Cal­gary re­cently.

She had her eye on an

My mis­sion is to show what au­then­tic back­coun­try liv­ing is Fran Drumm ond, pro­pri­etor of Twin fall s Chalet

an­tique McClary cast-iron, wood-burn­ing stove for the chalet. Her $1,000 bid out­did the set crew. Each sum­mer, Drum­mond bakes her muffins, oat­meal cook­ies and breads and most of the meals on that same McClary for her guests, which get rave re­views in the Twin Falls guest book.

Less than 10 years ear­lier, she wasn’t so suc­cess­ful in an­other one of her chal­lenges — a po­lit­i­cal gam­ble. In 1989, she ran for the Con­ser­va­tive nom­i­na­tion against for­mer Cal­gary mayor Ralph Klein. Her ex­pec­ta­tions weren’t high, but, in the first week, she’d wrested one-third of the vote from him.

“He wasn’t a real Con­ser­va­tive be­cause he’d crossed the floor from the Lib­eral party,” says Drum­mond. She was, in con­trast, “a red­neck Albertan.”

She took a cir­cuitous route to her Al­berta cre­den­tials. As a girl liv­ing in Mex­ico City with her fam­ily, she was an eques­trian jumper on the ju­nior Latin Amer­i­can Olympic team. In 1952, she came to Cal­gary to visit relatives dur­ing the Stam­pede and watched the rodeo com­pe­ti­tions from over the chutes.

“That blew my mind and that made me a Cal­gar­ian,” she says.

She has a worldly pedi­gree, how­ever. Born in what is now North Korea, Drum­mond lived as a child in Ja­pan, South Amer­ica and the United States, be­cause of her fa­ther’s job. She learned to speak Span­ish, Por­tuguese and even a lit­tle Ital­ian, for the pur­poses of sing­ing opera as a child. Now, she quips, the only sing­ing she does is on the trek up to the chalet to keep the bears at bay.

She even­tu­ally set­tled in Cal­gary, worked at Amoco oil com­pany as a re­searcher and li­brar­ian, and got into fed­eral pol­i­tics serv­ing on the Cal­gary Cen­tre board. She was also on the se­nate at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­gary.

She never mar­ried — “No time for that. . . . I al­ways had a dou­ble and triple ca­reer.”

Rather, she says, she had her guests and her “Twin Falls kids,” more than 100 of whom have helped her over the sum­mers with odd jobs at the chalet. In jug­gling her ca­reer, pol­i­tics and du­ties at the uni­ver­sity, she be­friended Cal­gary’s well­known CEOs, uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents and peo­ple from around the world. Many of them have be­come an­nual guests and some of them have even come to do odd jobs at the chalet. Ini­tially, they may have only come for the many hikes in the area, but ended up be­com­ing at­tached to the lodge and Drum­mond’s hos­pi­tal­ity and sto­ry­telling.

One of those guests is Gwyn Mor­gan, re­tired CEO of En­cana, and his wife Pat Trot­tier. Mor­gan has been go­ing to Twin Falls Chalet for nearly two decades, and it has be­come one of the cou­ple’s favourite places to visit.

“It’s such an amaz­ing area ... the whole Yoho Val­ley. You hike in up the river val­ley to the set­ting of the

chalet, which is breath­tak­ing,” Mor­gan says from his home in Vic­to­ria. “We have a lot of mem­o­ries about that place.”

And that would in­clude Drum­mond’s gre­gar­i­ous role as host.

Drum­mond, he says, is ‘‘just so pas­sion­ate. Some­one should write a book about her.”

An­other of those guests is J.D. Bourassa, a man­ager at CPR, who, with his wife Monique, dis­cov­ered the lodge about six years ago. “The hik­ing and the na­ture is one thing, but just to go hear Fran and her sto­ries is an­other thing. She’s such an in­ter­est­ing per­son.”

It was Drum­mond’s fa­ther, a pas­sion­ate out­doors­man, who passed along the love of the out­doors and moun­taineer­ing to his daugh­ter, who has re­mained an avid hiker. Not even a badly bro­ken leg a num­ber of years ago has stopped her.

The day she broke her leg, she’d been host­ing guests all week­end. She cleaned up and hit the trail dur­ing a thun­der­storm. She fell, but sol­diered on and didn’t re­al­ize how badly she was hurt un­til she fin­ished the trek and had driven the three hours back to Cal­gary. There, she learned she had bro­ken her leg in two places and re­quired surgery.

That same in­domitable spirit made her the pro­pri­etor of the Twin Falls Chalet. It cap­tured her imag­i­na­tion even though the lodge came with no run­ning wa­ter or elec­tric­ity, but an “out­house with a gor­geous moun­tain view.”

It needed time, money and sweat eq­uity to get into shape, but, “I could see it was a very won­der­ful place.” (More re­cently, the lodge un­der­went a $1-mil­lion ren­o­va­tion in 2005, par­tially sub­si­dized by Her­itage Canada).

Be­fore open­ing it, Drum­mond vol­un­teered for a stint at Mount Assini­boine Lodge to learn what she was in for. There, she made beds, cooked and even tramped the snow on the lake so that a small plane could land. Even so, “al­though I had learned a lot at Assini­boine, I had much more to learn at Twin Falls,” she says.

Drum­mond, a guide and 12 pack horses brought in the sup­plies that would be needed to get the lodge in liv­able con­di­tion. It hadn’t been used in three years, and Drum­mond was greeted by a tan­gle of pack rat nests. She and her guide worked doggedly the first day, fi­nally get­ting to sleep in the wee hours of the night. While she slept, a pack of wolver­ines got at the frozen meat she’d hid­den in­side a steel garbage can.

Drum­mond loves to re­gale her guests with such sto­ries. One wall con­tains a mon­tage of sig­na­tures that go back to 1908, the first likely penned by a Cana­dian Pa­cific worker. There’s even a dreamy pas­sage from Qua­train 14 of The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, the Per­sian poet who died in 1123. Drum­mond has also learned that the King of Siam (now Thai­land) vis­ited Twin Falls Chalet in 1930, and a pres­i­dent of Har­vard Uni­ver­sity and Amer­i­can painter John Singer Sar­gent stayed at the lodge in the early 1900s.

Though Drum­mond never seems to take much of a break, she en­cour­ages her guests to im­merse them­selves in the beauty of Yoho Na­tional Park.

“My goal is to throw the key away and get peo­ple to re­lax.”

Drum­mond’s abil­ity to get “hyper city peo­ple” to un­wind is one thing that keeps Bourassa go­ing back. But he wor­ries about what will hap­pen when Drum­mond stops run­ning the lodge.

“To me, it’s a part of our his­tory, and it’s cru­cial that other gen­er­a­tions get to en­joy it,” says Bourassa.

Mor­gan hopes some­one with fi­nan­cial re­sources will take over when Drum­mond re­tires. Though he says, “it has to be a labour of love.”

Drum­mond is com­mit­ted to at least a cou­ple more years at the lodge. And then, per­haps, one more ca­reer change — pub­lic speak­ing; some­thing her guests might ar­gue she has been ap­pren­tic­ing at for some time. One thing is cer­tain: her long and var­ied life ex­pe­ri­ences leave her with abun­dant ma­te­rial for that new call­ing.

Fran Drum­mond bakes her goods on an an­tique stove in the kitchen of the Twin Falls Chalet in Yoho Na­tional Park.

The plaque pre­sented to Fran Drum­mond for the 100th an­niver­sary of Twin Falls Chalet.

Amer­i­can artist John Singer Sar­gent did this paint­ing at Twin Falls Chalet in 1916. It now hangs in the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art. Fran Drum­mond, pro­pri­etor of Twin Falls Chalet, was vis­ited by Sar­gent’s fam­ily a few years ago when they were do­ing...

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