Bud Brewster, whose family name has been synonymous with the wilderness experience in Banff National Park for five generations, was a weather-beaten outdoorsman who expanded his family’s holdings to include a guest ranch, a mountain lodge, a backcountry resort, an 18-hole golf course and a barbeque and catering operation.
Brewster died on Feb. 10 at the age of 83.
“To begin, he was a party animal, never out of rye whisky,” said former park ranger Rick Kunelius. “Coolest thing about Bud is he never had a desk or carried a briefcase. He was a trail rider who would sketch all his plans on the back of a cigarette package. If he really needed to, he’d hire an architect to put a stamp on it, and then submit the design to Parks Canada for approval. He was a carpenter in a cowboy hat. He was to my mind, very generous, always looking for help. He’d hire anyone who could pound a nail.”
The Brewsters are one of Banff’s founding families. Shortly after the National Park was created in 1885, John Brewster (Bud’s grandfather) and his four sons ventured west from Kingston, and established a homestead at the base of Mount Yamnuska. They started a dairy to supply milk to the newly opened Banff Springs Hotel. One of John’s sons became an outfitter and another started running horse-drawn carriages to take tourists from the train station to the hotel. It evolved into the Brewster Bus line, no longer part of the family holdings.
By the time Bud was born to Claude and Ruth Brewster on April 8, 1928, the Brewsters were as much a part of the landscape as the mountains. As the saying went, “You went to Banff for a rest and a change. You rest at the Banff Springs and the Brewsters take your change.”
Bud claimed he didn’t have a name for five years until his birth was registered as Claude Brewster. His grandmother, Missy, insisted he be called Buddie, and as he once told his biographer, “Her ways prevailed.”
He walked two kilometres to a one-room school in the mountain hamlet of Seebe, where he was one of only three students. His report cards indicate he was good in mathematics, nature study, art and history, but he really couldn’t spell and didn’t bother using capital letters when he wrote sentences, a habit he never really corrected.
When he was eight his parents took him backpacking for the first time and by the time he was 12, he had developed self-confidence in the wilderness. As a boy he was more interested in tending to his traplines than he was in book learning and he dropped out of school after Grade 8. At the age of 14, during the Second World War, he was given a chauffeurs licence to deliver coal to the German prisoner of war camp at Ozada. At 16 he was a licensed mountain guide, taking tourists on horseback into the Rocky Mountain backcountry.
In 1954 his uncle James sold him a lease to a cabin in the wilderness that had been built at Shadow Lake by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a bunkhouse. With land use in the park subject to the whims of Parks Canada, Bud spent decades seeking permission to develop the property. It wasn’t until 1991 that he was finally allowed to build the first of the 12 guest cabins that are now tucked into the forest along a subalpine meadow next to the original bunkhouse.
“There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t tackle. He was very much a risk taker; he saw the opportunities in the national parks, and he didn’t want to see that slip away,” said his widow, Annette. “We spent years in negotiations with Ottawa about things like closing off fire roads and maintaining horse concessions.”
During the 1960s, after Parks Canada eased restrictions in the mountains and the Banff Springs Hotel was winterized to accommodate tourists year-round, the catering business soared.
In 1968, Bud sought the Liberal Party nomination in the Rocky Mountain constituency, but lost to Allen Sulatycky, who went on to win the riding in the general election.
“Bud was quite a character,” said Doug Richard, who began working at the Brewster horse camp in 1967, and remained a friend until his death. “There was his tough, no-nonsense side, but he loved life. He could never sit still. He was always building something, fixing houses, doing some carpentry, always running on all six cylinders.”
When Brewster was nearing retirement age he achieved another life-long ambition by building an 18-hole golf course at Kananaskis. “My dad always used to say the secret to success is to go to bed thinking and to wake up thinking, and he didn’t mean thinking about a holiday,” said his daughter Alison. “At the age of 63, when most people are thinking of retiring, he started a brand new business. He didn’t look his age. I couldn’t believe how much enthusiasm he had for the project. Even when he could no longer physically do something, he was still thinking ahead to the next project. He had the most amazing work ethic.”
Brewster leaves Annette Dusdal, his wife of 52 years, and their daughters Janet, Cori and Alison. A memorial service will be held in Banff on April 14, during the week of what would have been his 84th birthday.
Special to The Globe and Mail