Great Canadian Parks / Alberta

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The Parks / Alberta / Waterton Lakes National Park

According to Archaeologist Brian Reeves, John George ‘Kootenai’ Brown had something of a checkered career, which was, of course, entirely appropriate for a ‘mountain man. Brown was an Irishman who had served for a short time in the British Army in India. He did a stint as a prospector during the British Columbia gold rush, and a little time as a whiskey trader. Legend has it that on his journey through Waterton, his encounter with a Blackfoot party, resulted in Brown being struck in the back with an arrow. He pulled the arrow out himself, treated the wound with turpentine and carried on. In 1869, he married a Metis woman named Olive Lyonnais, and joined a band of buffalo hunters. But the herds were disappearing along the Milk River.


He arrived at Fort Benton, Montana some time in the 1870's and got involved in wolf hunting. But his first view of the magnificent Waterton Valley had so impressed him that he packed up his family and headed north. Brown and his wife registered a homestead on the delta of Pass Creek, built a log cabin and settled into a life of hunting, fishing and guiding the occasional visitors to the region becoming Waterton’s first permanent residents.


Olive Brown died in 1885, and ‘Kootenai’, as he had come to be known, put his energy into helping organize the Rocky Mountain Rangers, a peacekeeping cavalry. It is likely during this period that he met his second wife, a Cree woman named ‘Blue Flash of Lightning’.


As visitors became more common, it occurred to Brown and some of his guests that the pristine wilderness wasn't likely to stay that way with the explosion of non-native immigrants settling the west. The first official request for protection came from rancher F.W. Godsal in 1893, and two years later, The Kootenay Lakes Forest Park was proclaimed. Brown was appointed game guardian and forest ranger in 1901. When the area finally became a National Park in 1911, Kootenai Brown, aged 71, became the Park's first Superintendent.

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