On an otherwise fairly uneventful day in October of 1839 in Ireland, a boy to be named John George Brown was born. He would grow up to become a Canadian legend.
After a short stint serving as a commissioned officer in India with the British Army, Brown left the old world in 1862 and crossed the ocean to join up with the many thousands of other glory seekers, adventurers and fortune hunters from around the world who were heading to British Columbia to join in the Caribou gold rush.
Alas, a career as a successful prospector was not in the cards for Brown, so he dropped his pick and shovel and donned the mantle of a would-be hunter and trapper. This didn’t work out for him either, so he became a police officer in a now defunct gold rush town. But, by 1865, Brown decided it was time to try his hand at something, anything else, so he picked up stakes and headed east, to Winnipeg.
This is where things begin to really get interesting. From the Caribou he first headed south and east to the Waterton Lakes area of southern British Columbia and then found his way to Winnipeg where he set up shop as a whiskey trader. As usual, this didn’t quite go as planned, and so again Brown was on the move, crossing south to the U.S., where one thing led to another and he wound up being taken captive and nearly killed, in 1869, by the legendary Sitting Bull. We still don’t quite know how he got out of this Sitting Bull situation, but he did and married a Metis woman. They set up house keeping and Brown hunted bison and wolves for a living.
However, all was not to be biscuits, bannock and bliss. Ever the one to not back down from any challenge, Brown one day found himself in Fort Benton, Montana, where he and a fellow hunter by the name of Louis Ell got into what can politely be called a bit of a dust up.
As per the rules of the day, the two combatants squared off, pulled out their big irons, and shots were exchanged. Ell was killed, and Brown found himself in a bit of a pickle. He was arrested and put on trial, but was acquitted in Montana court by a jury.
This pretty much sealed the deal for Brown, and he again figured it was time for him and wifey person to again shuffle off to a place where perhaps the buffalo, and gun fighters, didn’t quite roam so freely.
As you’ll recall, Brown had briefly visited the Waterton Lakes area in B.C.’s Kootenay region on his travels from the Caribou to Winnipeg. He had always held a soft spot in the back of his mind for the region, so that’s where he and his family settled. Brown soon built up a strong reputation as a reliable wilderness guide and also as a strong advocate for the preservation of the pristine attractiveness of the locale.
Brown was instrumental in the creation of the Kootenay Forest Reserve in 1895 and he first served the area as a fisheries officer and then a forest ranger. By 1914 the original forest reserve had expanded to include both the Waterton Lakes National Park on the Canadian side and Glacier National Park on the U.S. side of the Canada/USA border. Brown died in July of 1916 in Waterton Lakes, Alberta. The Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek, Alberta, celebrates his contributions to Canada and the world, and the Kootenai Brown Trail may be followed in the Waterton Lakes National Park.