Jackfish Cabin

As we worked our snowmobiles through the willows, pushing a foot of fresh snow underneath the big machines, I was encouraged knowing that we would soon be sitting at Jackfish Cabin, firing up the woodstove and warming ourselves with hot tea.

Jackfish is the oldest warden cabin in Wood Buffalo National Park and speaks to a time when it was not just a short stop on a long patrol but an abode, a dwelling that served the warden and his family year-round, with hand hewn logs and a root cellar built to last.

It was always a favourite, a welcome stop on our way to the small Cree community of Garden River on the southwest boundary of Wood Buffalo National Park and Timber Berth 408, the last remaining logging operation in a Canadian national park.

Thankfully that operation was put to rest in the early 1990s but prior to the cessation of logging, park wardens were responsible for monitoring the contractor’s work and enforcing the limited rules the company was required to follow as it took down some of the largest white spruce growing in Alberta.

Winter afforded the easiest access to Garden River and Timber Berth 408 was a purely winter operation, coming to a halt each year in April as the spring thaws prevented the use of the heavy feller-bunchers that cut down the massive trees and the skidders that yarded the logs which were transported from the park to the mill in High Level.

Making the trip to Garden River first required a two hour drive to Peace Point where snowmobiles were unloaded and hitched to toboggans topped with supplies for the Garden River Cabin. The next four to six hours would take us along an old route that had previously been proposed for an all-weather road to the park boundary.

The all-weather road never happened and the cleared right of way had long since been abandoned and allowed to grow in, but it made for a reasonable trail to a remote part of the park, kept open by First Nations hunters and trappers to allow passage of their small snowmobiles.

Being larger, the park machines barely had room to squeeze by the downed timber and alder thickets that lined the trail but we carefully made our way through the maze and in time found our way down the side trail to Jackfish.

Breaking out of the forest and into the clearing that surrounded the cabin, the first impression was of the commanding view offered by the cabin’s location high above the banks of the Peace River. A person standing or sitting on the porch could see for miles up and down river and the cabin’s southerly aspect took advantage of the limited daylight during a northern winter.

While the trail into the cabin could be covered with several feet of snow, the clearing around the cabin was often just that, “clear”. After wrestling a snowmobile through the bush it was easy enough to sit back against a tree and soak in the sunlight before we had to make our way back to the main trail and the miles of snowmobiling ahead of us.

Hunkered down on the machines in our Chimo boots, Yukon parkas and snowmobile pants it was tough to leave Jackfish behind for several more hours of biting cold and frost bitten faces but with any luck we would make a return visit on the way back home.

Jackfish was a haven in bad weather and heaven in good, one of the great old warden cabins in the national park system.

It never failed to provide a measure of comfort and some respite from the cold to generations of park wardens who were blessed with a stint in one of Canada’s most incredible protected areas – Wood Buffalo National Park.

6 thoughts on “Jackfish Cabin”

  1. Been there myself by snowmobile, boat and helicopter. Are there any other ways to get there. My last visit in 2007/08 I think, while working as a Park Warden in Fort Chip, I was for the purpose of moving the old cabin back from the edge of the bank to the back of the clearing to save it from its eventual fate of slipping off the edge. I spent two weeks there, pulling of the old porch (apparently not original), jacking the old place up to have new bottom rounds put on, windows removed for restoration, roof stripped for new shakes and placing a giant strap around the entire building and pulling it back on rollers to new footings at the back of the clearing. Some rotten log sections around the window openings and a rafter or two were replaced. The view from the bank edge it still the same. Stunning as it has been since the clearing was first created in the 20’s. After we were done, another similar session of roofing and placing a new floor inside, window returned happened. The Jackfish cabin will live on for years more! A special place that not many see, perhaps part of the reason it is special! Thought you might like an update on the place, although hardly a recent one!

  2. An experience almost forgotten – thanks for writing about Jackfish Cabin. In the early 1990s, when I tried out park planning as a job. We stopped in on the way back from Garden River. Got the fire roaring, made a hot drink and ate what ever was handy and full of calories. It was a typical Wood Buffalo -30 something or colder – the hitch broke off on one of the machines – that kind of cold. I’m trying to remember the warden I was with, I can picture his face, from Nfld, super strong, slow talker, (and I know was a bit concerned having me along as he did not know the extent of my abilities) . .. We had an RCMP with us too, he came for the experience. The willows – they were brutal. I’m not crazy about skidoo helmuts but was really happy to have one on that time. The cabin was so cosy and yes, the view fabulous and rather surprising after the bush. Garden River was such a quiet, mysterious place. I was just learning about the north back then. Never looked back or should I say south! Thanks for the story George and the interesting update Steve.

  3. Ahh Jackfish cabin. From 1991 to 1998 I’d spend several overnighters there each winter on trips to and from Garden River. I kind of thought of it as my own. My favourite memory is of standing on the edge of the riverbank on clear cold frosty nights with the northern lights and brilliant stars seemingly close enough to almost touch. And listening to the groaning ice in the mighty Peace making unbelievable sounds. At times I imagined it was speaking in some ancient long forgotten language. If you listened real carefully you could almost make out the words – but not quite. Thanks George, a great memory.

  4. Just saw this (a little late to the party!). My favourite memory of snowmobiling the Peace Point – Jackfish Cabin – Garden River route was the winter in the early 90’s when us wardens travelled with their hockey gear to play a game with the good people of Garden River at their outdoor rink. The whole community came out to watch, and we had a great time that night at the old , mouse infested Garden River cabin (Eugene – you were hilarious, trying to beat Lou at cards!). Then it was back to Peace Point the next day with great times had and a nice, unique connection made with the community. First and last time I snowmobiled for hours through pristine boreal wilderness to play a hockey game. Thanks for reminding me of that, George and Eugene!

  5. Spent a night or two in Jackfish Cabin when stationed at Ft. Chip back in 1980/81. I have a photo or two of Joe Buker and I at the cabin while we were on an autumn river patrol. Great memories!

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