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The Square Cave 1960-1965

In 1912 the late Mr. Farley of Red Deer found a square cave in the Saskatchewan River Valley whilst traveling with his brother through the mountains. Years later, in 1960 when he was seventy-five years of age, he returned to try to locate the cave but was unsuccessful, even when assisted by a helicopter loaned to him by the Alberta Forest Service. The Deputy Minister of Forestry at that time was interested in all the caves he heard of, because of the theory that ancient man had immigrated to north America over the Bering Strait land mass.

Not being satisfied, Mr. Farley returned the next year and went out hunting for the cave alone. On arriving he checked with my wife and went out by himself. I was quite worried for the old man, but he returned late at night still without finding the cave.

I knew the search area, which was up a blind canyon. There certainly was no cave in that area, which I knew quite well, having myself searched in case it, the cave, might have been obliterated by a rockslide.

The area did not coincide with Mr. Farley's account which he told me himself. He told me he and his brother were traveling through the mountains on their way out. The square cave was on a ledge on the side of a mountain and there was a straight cliff directly below the cave, and he and his brother had to use some fallen trees as a ladder to reach the cave. Over the years there have been references to the square cave in several published descriptions but all of them to my knowledge were not in keeping with the account Mr. Farley gave to me personally.

About two years after Mr. Farley's last unsuccessful attempt to relocate the cave, I found a square cave on the east side of the Saskatchewan River at high altitude on the south end of the White Rabbit Range of mountains on a small tributary of White Rabbit Creek. Going up the creek the cave was on the right hand side, and this could quite possibly have been mistakenly thought to be the west side. It was on a logical route through the mountains on the way east and out. I had occasion to travel up this small creek, which was dry most of the summer. I was on game patrol in sheep season when, just before I topped the summit, I chanced to glance to my rear right and there, up on the mountain-side, was a square cave.

Naturally I had to investigate, but when I got up to the location I was faced with a sheer wall below the cave. I circled round the shoulder and got above the cave, and used a rope to get down to the ledge in front of the cave. The ledge immediately in front of the cave was about six feet wide with a small spruce tree growing near the edge. It was quite level and the opening was about twelve feet on both sides and top. It extended back about thirty feet, where one had to crouch head and shoulders to stand upright. There was no sign of fallout in the cave, and none on the ledge; neither was there any sign of fallout at the foot of the sheer face below the cave. I am still at a loss as to how the cave came about.

I had a beautiful lawn, garden and grounds, even a small greenhouse. I was always interested in growing things, an interest I acquired as a young boy when I lived close to large greenhouses and beautiful grounds on Rosehaugh Estate near Avoch in the Black Isle in easter Ross-Shire Scotland. At the Upper Saskatchewan Ranger Station I built my small greenhouse directly underneath the power line between our electrical generating plant and the horse barn. I climbed up, bared the wire, and wired my greenhouse to power. I was able to grow sufficient plants for my own use and supply some of the other ranger stations in the Clearwater Forest Reserve. Unfortunately, I had a visit from a government electrical inspector, the first time in all my experience. The inspector took a dim view of my wiring in the greenhouse, and reported so to Head Office. The Head Office staff appreciated what I did to enhance the station, and sent down the chief electrician to wire my greenhouse properly.

Meantime building of the dam had commenced, timber was being cleared, and the new highway was reaching Banff Park to join the Banff-Jasper Highway at Saskatchewan Crossing.

[1] Summer, 1965.

Then I had a serious accident[1]  when I lost two fingers of my right hand, and two others laid open like a filleted fish. The doctor managed to save the two fingers, although the index finger cord was damaged, leaving me with a crooked index finger; better than no index finger!! It all happened one night when I returned from a pack trip and noticed the grass outside my yard fence was getting fairly long. When the horses had been put away, I had my evening meal and decided to cut the long grass to make it more tidy-looking. I used a rotary gas-powered mower, but as it was evening the grass was tough and the mower tended to plug up. When this happened I tipped the mower up on two wheels to kick out the excess grass, and the last time I tipped the mower on its side wheels I slid my left hand down the handle to look underneath and see if it needed stopping to have the gummed grass cleaned out, as was necessary periodically. As I peered underneath the mower it over-balanced and I automatically grabbed at it with my right hand — to my loss!

My reaching was a purely reflex motion, no thought! As the blade hit my hand and before it started to bleed I saw white bone sticking out of the stump and thought, no more bagpipes. I was spraying blood everywhere. I plunged the hand under the cold water tap, then my wife slapped on flour compresses. She got on to Nordegg by radio as by that time of day the relay was usually closed. She asked for someone from Nordegg to come to drive me in to hospital.

As soon as I was bandaged up, we started off in my truck, driving with one hand, myself being the only one able to drive. About five miles from the station we met the boys from Nordegg, and one of them drove my truck at high speed for town.

Meantime the radio relay was open and manned by a seventeen-year-old boy who had stayed on duty at the request of a radio technician working in the area. This young man certainly used his head that night, for when he heard my wife's mayday call to Nordegg, he did not answer but phoned the local superintendent in Rocky telling him John has had an accident and that he would keep him informed when he heard more news.

The superintendent chased up to the helipad where the pilot was servicing his machine, "How soon can it be airborne? Take off as soon as possible and pick up John, he has had an accident."

Meantime the Nordegg boys were really pushing my truck, about seventy-five miles per hour. I was bleeding copiously, and as we reached Nordegg the helicopter came through the Saskatchewan Gap, set down in the middle of the road and picked me up and landed in the grounds of Rocky Mountain House Hospital where the doctor was waiting to transfer me to the operating theatre. Exactly an hour and a half after my accident I was lying back on the operating table.

The doctor proceeded to inject an anesthetic. "Use a sharp needle, Doc," I told him. He growled, "It's a brand-new one." "Well blow on it, it is red hot," I replied. He trimmed off the ragged bone and sutured the stumps but found it impossible to re-attach the severed fingers.

Returning to my station a few days later I was given a temporary assistant, David Glover, who helped me for a few days while my hand healed. Together, one day we found a party of young teenage girls from the Pioneer Holiday Ranch with three canoes, proposing to go down the treacherous Saskatchewan River. They were to be guided by an eighteen year-old boy who was not experienced in river travel, and none of the girls had been on the river before. Their canoes were not properly equipped, no prow splash sheets and no tail rope. When we found the party they were camped on the bank of the Saskatchewan River ready to start down the river when they had finished breakfast. They had unloaded on the road at Cline River Bridge and man-handled their canoes down the shallow Cline River to the main river where we found their camp. As it would have been very difficult to go back up the Cline, they were permitted to paddle down to Windy Point where we pulled them off.

The Saskatchewan River could be very treacherous, with several gorges and a number of rapids which were only navigated by very experienced river-men. In hot weather the river carried a tremendous amount of glacial silt; it was the colour of milk and sometimes as thick as soup. After the summer run-off, the silt could play havoc with our river fords, and this I found out to my cost one time. I was crossing at a ford, used many times before, when my horse got into difficulties with the silted bottom. In his struggles he lost his footing and was swept off his feet. Being thrown from the saddle, I managed to grab his tail, and we were swept some distance downstream before we could find a bank suitable to climb out. Soaked and cold, but I didn't develop a cold. Instead I got Bell's Palsy and it was over six months before it started to get better. It left me with a slight impairment of one eye.

I continued on with my work as a Forest Officer and my department told me that as long as I could manage administration and public relations, not to worry, just carry on. This was fine; I tried it for six months but became so frustrated, I had to give up! It was a one-man district, although it did cover seven hundred and forty-three square miles. There were so many things I could not do that I had always done before; it was much too frustrating. I resigned December 1st 1965.