A loving legacy
FOR ALMOST 50 YEARS, FRAN DRUMMOND HAS TREKKED UP A MOUNTAIN TO OPERATE THE TWIN FALLS CHALET. THE YOHO NATIONAL PARK GEM AND ITS PROPRIETOR HAVE LEGIONS OF FANS. LISA MONFORTON, CALGARY HERALD
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...