Guardians of the Wild: A History of the Warden Service of Canada's National Parks


390 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55238-018-1
DDC 333.78'3'0971




Reviewed by William A. Waiser

William A. Waiser is a professor of history at the University of
Saskatchewan. He is the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History
of Prince Albert National Park and Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of
Western Canada’s National Parks, 1915–1946


One of the most readily identifiable symbols of authority in
Canada—next to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—are national park
wardens. But whereas the RCMP and their exploits have been the subject
of numerous books, the story of the national park warden service has
been largely ignored by Canada’s historical community.

Guardians of the Wild is the first major history of the warden service
since Mabel Williams published her book of the same title over 60 years
ago. Drawing heavily on the voluminous records of the Canadian Parks
Services (later Parks Canada), Burns and Schintz examine the evolution
of the warden service from its simple beginnings as a handful of game
and fire guardians in Banff in 1909 to the large, multifaceted body that
today oversees 40 national parks, reserves, and marine parks.

The book is largely organized around the theme of game management and
describes the changing relation between wardens and wildlife
populations. At first, wardens not only sought to prevent poaching, but
believed that so-called “good” park animals like deer and elk should
be protected from “bad” animals like bears and wolves. By the
mid-20th century, however, wardens began to question the wisdom of
predator control and eventually embraced a more comprehensive resource
management approach. But even though these new duties were more complex,
the wardens were still performing the kind of monitoring role that had
long been the a hallmark of their work.

Guardians of the Wild would have benefited from a heavier editorial
hand; it still reads in many places like the government manuscript
report it once was. Indeed, the focus of some chapters is constantly
shifting as the authors attempt to cover all warden activities (perhaps,
a thematic approach might have been more effective). The book also lacks
balance. The challenges of the 1980s and 1990s—in particular, the
battle within the warden service between ecosystem management and
law-enforcement duties—deserved greater attention. So too did the
experience of wardens in new national parks, especially in northern
Canada. But as the authors note, the warden service, like the RCMP, has
survived because of its ability to adapt to changing circumstances and


Burns, Robert J., and Mike Schintz., “Guardians of the Wild: A History of the Warden Service of Canada's National Parks,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,