Valemount’s mountain-top liability

by Andru McCracken

If you have ever been to the top of Canoe Mountain you probably noticed it. The building holds a massive antenna at the very top of the mountain. It’s in a great location – about 50 feet from a cliff that drops 1000 metres towards Kinbasket Reservoir. But time and visitors have been cruel to it, and now some residents are concerned.

The building is open to the weather, doors and windows forced open by vandals, decorated with profane graffiti and strewn with trash.

Once part of Canada’s transcontinental microwave communications system linking remote sites to telephone, it’s now an eyesore. Some locals would like to see it removed.

Gary Forman wonders why the Ministry of the Environment isn’t taking action.

“It’s an absolute mess up there. The doors are open, the birds are in there, the animals are there,” said Forman. “I cannot understand how the (Ministry of) Environment doesn’t get after these guys, if you or me did it we’d probably be in jail.”

The top of Canoe Mountain is accessed by tourists, notably ATVers during the summer.

“I cannot understand how people can just walk away as we’re becoming more and more of a tourist destination,” Forman said.

The next tower over, located on Pyramid mountain in Jasper, was taken down and the site remediated.

Ken Nicholas used to run a snowmobile rental business and he was asked to guide some local members of a ham radio association up to the Canoe Mountain peak about 15 years ago. He said even then the building was in disrepair.

Nicholas feels strongly that the tenure holder should clean up the site and restore it to its natural state. He remembers how another tenure holder was made to remove a trailer from a lower site on Canoe Mountain amid the promise of a gondola and resort on the mountain.

“That’s what should be done with that piece of junk up on the mountain,” said Nicholas, “especially if they are not using it.”
Nicholas doesn’t think the site would be useful as a safety cabin.

“There is a limited amount of time you can get up there with a snowmobile,” said Nicholas.

Paul Caissie of Clearwater is one of the owners of TFRO Systems Inc., the tenure holder for the site.

“This location along with a few others were acquired from the old trans-canada microwave relay operation by CN,” said Caissie in an email. “Fibre optics made these mountain-top locations essentially worthless.”

He said he and his partner Dave Hatfield acquired the sites and, with the exception of Canoe Mountain, used them to deliver wireless internet.

“In retrospect acquiring this site was a bit of an over-reach for us and we would entertain donating it to some entity,” he said.

“I am sure they’d love to give it to us,” said local outdoor recreationist Rudi Thoni. “If somebody really wants to put their heart into it they could put a restaurant up there, but in time it will become a real liability. Eventually somebody is going to ask the question, why is that thing still there.”

Patricia Thoni, president of the Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association and wife of Rudi, hopes the current owners fix up the road to haul the building away.

“The people that own that horrible disgraceful thing up there are responsible for taking it down,” she said.

Further the state of the road is so bad she said she didn’t think most people would want to access it.

“It’s turned into a pile of rocks,” she said of the road. “When we first moved here we could easily drive our vehicle up there, but it just hasn’t been maintained for many years.”

Rudi Thoni said he has skied from the top of Canoe Mountain six or seven times in the 20 years he has been here. When he has, he used the building to get shelter from the wind to eat lunch, but he wouldn’t even consider going inside because of trash and the animals.

Caissie said they would be up soon to re-secure the site before the snow flies.