The Baker Family:
Celebrating 94 years of business in Waterton Park
With this year marking 94 years in business for the Baker family of Waterton Park, it’s a wonderful time to reflect back on the history of this pioneer family and their accomplishments in the Park over the last nine decades.
William Baker moved his family from England to Alberta in the early 1900’s. They homesteaded in the Gladstone Valley and then moved to the Twin Butte area. The family finally moved to Waterton Park in 1912. William was a veterinarian but saw early potential in the business landscape of the young National Park. He set the Baker family up to grow in Waterton by taking out several long-term lot leases in the townsite, many just off of Emerald Bay. His son George, born in England in 1902, started his working life young and again saw the potential Waterton had to offer. He worked at the Oil City camps on Lineham Creek in 1919 and then went north to the oilfields of Turner Valley. Returning to Waterton in the winter of 1921-22 George built his first home of rough logs and timber on what is now Evergreen Avenue. He started his first business out of this house on February 29, 1922. He called it “Park Transfer Company” as he saw the demand for trucking of building materials into the rapidly expanding Park. He also began to sell gasoline as there was no one else in the area that was providing that service to vehicles and boats. George did it all in those first early years, “I was the business manager, front end man, mechanic and truck driver combined…I started work at 4 o’clock in the morning!” Winters were slow and he worked for the Department of the Interior in those long months. He always laughed and said, “ If I did $3 worth of business a month during the winter, that was big business.”
The Park Transfer Company grew and soon the business moved to a central garage location in 1925. Business was brisk enough in the summer months to hire one employee. By 1932 the business had grown enough for George to expand the building to its current size and architecture (the present day building of Tamarack Outdoor Outfitters). He began the family’s lengthy affiliation with Imperial Oil (Esso) as a gas station. This relationship would one day earn credibility as the second oldest station in Canada under original family ownership. In the same year George married Betty Annand of Waterton and they went on to raise two boys, Alfred and William Rae. Rae, born in 1936, would later remember ‘cutting his teeth’ as a gas jockey for his dad at the garage during the Depression. After a few years Park Transfer, now “Park Transport Company” expanded its operations to the running of various water craft on Upper Waterton Lake. George then acquired the concession to haul freight to the head of the Lakes for Parks Canada and the National Park system of Glacier, Montana.
In 1938 George took over operation of the AGT (Alberta Government Telephone) switchboard and operated it out of the Park Transport garage building and offices. At this time he was also made responsible for telegraph operations in the park. The next year took the family business to a new level; they bid and won the concession to develop Cameron Lake for tourism services. George, Betty and their sons operated the Cameron Lakes business for the next 25 years; it would include eight log cabins for rent, an excursion boat named the Lady Cameron, rental rowboats, a general store and tea room, laundry, service station, washrooms and a septic system. They stayed in business up at Cameron Lake until 1964 when the government bought the properties and the store and cabins were closed. The family then continued to run the boat rentals at Cameron Lake for many years. With the closing of the business at Cameron Lake, the Baker’s renewed their focus on their Waterton townsite enterprises. By now they were running a GM dealership and complete garage set up plus a retail store selling hardware and fishing tackle. They continued as the telephone service and transport company. Most were run on a year round basis. In 1952 George built the storage building on a lot diagonal to the Park Transport Garage. It still stands and is used as a storage facility by the family today.
Not only an astute businessman, George was also a firm believer in community service. He helped to found the Waterton Chamber of Commerce in 1953 serving as President the following year. He was also the first chairman of the Waterton Park Advisory Council and board member or director on numerous other community service boards and clubs. When George Baker died in 1968, he left his business legacy to his grown sons Rae and Alf, and twelve year old grandson Brian.
In 1955, Rae had married Shirley Slawson of Lethbridge and they had four children, son Brian and daughters Penny, Shari and Robinn. Together, Rae and Alf ran Park Transport Company along the same lines as their father had. But things were changing rapidly in the little former outpost of Waterton. Increased tourism traffic and better access to goods and services for residents opened the small, once isolated town up to the big outside world. This changed things at the Park Transport Company as well. In 1969 the car dealership was closed and by 1977 the business had slowly evolved towards retail sales and tourism related services. Rae and Alf redeveloped the garage complex into the “Tamarack Mall”, dividing up the space into individual leasable units. In 1973 the family bought the “El Cortez Motel” (now Bear Mountain Motel) and by 1979 the Baker’s had got out of the trucking service that started it all, selling Park Transport Company’s interests and assets to Cardston Express. Alf remained a part of the business, mainly as head mechanic until 1985 when he retired. Rae was an active member of the Lions Club, the Waterton School Board, the TV association as well as the Chamber of Commerce. When interviewed in 1992 for the family’s 70th business anniversary, Rae Baker remembered how the community of Waterton had changed over the years. “At one time there were about 300 people living in Waterton year round. I remember we once had a sale on snow tires and sold 50 pair. Everone who operated a business in the park or worked for the government lived here. That’s not the case now.”
By the mid 1970’s the next generation of Baker’s was slowly becoming involved in the business. Rae’s son Brian had had his first experience with the family business as a ‘bilge pumper’ on the Lady Cameron tour boat. At age twelve he was pumping gasoline at the gas bar in front of the garage. By 1976 he was fully involved in the business operations. His love for the outdoors and optimism for the future of the park saw him take the Tamarack Mall to a new level of retail and visitor services. He married wife Lauren Bijou of Calgary in 1979 and they had two daughters, Aynsley and Kelley. Rae, Brian and Lauren worked together to evolve the Tamarack Mall into a more cohesive unit. Gradually all of the individual stores that had previously been rented out to other people were amalgamated into larger and more complete retail outfits. The gas pumps, still under the Imperial Oil/Esso flag, remained and a convenience store was developed to compliment. By 1995 the business, now called the “Tamarack Village Square” offered various storefronts within the original garage building. An outdoor equipment store, bookshop, convenience store and gas bar, take-out cafe, currency exchange and shuttle services made up the unique retail destination known fondly as “the Tamarack”. The late 1990’s saw the original Park Transport Garage continue to evolve. By the year 2000 the retail layout changed yet again and the building became home to two larger stores, on one side an enhanced outdoor retail store and on the other the convenience store with gift shop and gas pumps. In 2005 the gas pumps were pulled, having served the village of Waterton for 80 years. The name changed again to “Tamarack Outdoor Outfitters” and the entire interior structure was now one vast outdoor store. At over 4,000 square feet, it is one of the largest independent outdoor retailers in Alberta.
In the midst of all of the change to the Baker family’s business interests in Waterton, Brian was and still is a committed community member. He has been a founding member of multiple organizations such as Trail of the Great Bear and the Waterton-Glacier Peace Park Heritage Tourism Council. Past President of the Waterton Park Community Association, he now sits as a Councillor with Waterton’s Improvement District #4. He says with a smile, when asked how he finds the time for all that he does in Waterton, “It’s in my blood.”
In 2008 Brian’s daughter Aynsley began taking an interest in the business, having grown up, moved away and then moved back to Waterton with her family. In 2010 her husband Carey Tetzlaff took an active role as Manager/Guide of Waterton Outdoor Adventures, the newest business venture to occupy this pioneering family. Their son Arthur, born in 2010 is now a sixth-generation Baker living year round in Waterton Park.
In a 1952 Lethbridge Herald interview then celebrating 30 years in business in Waterton, George Baker stated that the Baker family had “ the oldest business in continual ownership in Waterton Lakes National Park”. He expressed his pride and deep affection for the mountain town he called home. This year, 2015, after 93 years of that same continual ownership, the Baker family still holds tight to those emotions uttered by George years earlier. Pride in their deep roots and strong sense of business and community accomplishment they have had over the decades. From 1922-2015 the Baker family has been an integral part of the business and cultural landscape of Waterton.