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Three Things I’ve Learned: Dorothy Carleton


By Lynn Martel

Mountains make the greatest teachers and provide us with countless opportunities to contemplate, question and learn. At the ripe age of 97, Dorothy Carleton recounts some of her life’s greatest lessons.

When Dorothy Carleton’s husband, Ed, first brought her to the cabin that would be their home, she was shocked. More storage shed than cabin, the log building was equipped with a wood-burning stove that had a small oven attached by a pipe to the main chimney.

Air raid wardens get together at Congressional church hall in Reading. [1943]. Photo: courtesy Mike Carleton

“It was a shock to me when I first met that stove,” she recalls some 70 years later. “I had to learn a lot. I learned how to make my own bread in that stove. And cookies. Ed loved my cookies.”

Like every other challenge she faced in life, Carleton embraced this one with gusto. As a young woman in London during the Second World War, Carleton (then Dorothy Fowler) volunteered to serve as an air raid warden, patrolling the nighttime streets with a flashlight half-covered with dark tape, making sure people had their black-out curtains closed.

“It was quite scary,” she admits. “You would hear the German planes, Hitler dropping bombs.”

Then she met Ed Carleton, a Canadian soldier from Didsbury, Alberta, and soon became a war bride. In 1946, she and her infant son Mike boarded the S.S. Letitia, one of the so-called “war bride ships,” for a ten-day journey across the Atlantic. They landed in Halifax at Pier 21, then rode the train across Canada to reunite with Ed.

Moving in to the rustic cabin near Bow Summit, 40 kilometres from her nearest neighbours (who were stationed either in Lake Louise or at Saskatchewan River Crossing), she embarked on her new life as a national park warden’s wife while her husband patrolled the backcountry.

“Bath night was quite an event,” she recalls. “I had to haul water from the creek in the morning so it was warm enough in the evening for a bath. Mike, the baby, would get the bath first, then mom – me – then Ed would be last. Then we’d wash the dishes. You had to be economical, you didn’t want to always be running to the creek for water.”

Within a few years, Carleton was looking after three young sons in the backcountry (Mike was joined by Brian and Terry), first at Stoney Creek near Banff in an A-frame house with an outdoor biffy and no electricity, then at Castle Junction, where she had a nice kitchen, bedroom and veranda, and yet another outhouse.

Ed & Dorothy Carleton tie the knot. [1945]. Photo: courtesy Mike Carleton

“We spent a lot of time in the kitchen; that was the coziest place,” Carleton recalled. “It was such a nice noise to hear the fire crackling.”

She insisted her boys receive a proper education and drove them down the gravel road to Banff in the mornings, returning home to keep up with chores until the afternoon when she drove back to bring them home, five days a week.

When the family eventually moved to Banff in 1961, Carleton wasn’t exactly thrilled.

“That was tough,” she recalled. “It was quite a treat to push a button and have the lights come on. But I was not too excited. We went from a nice wood stove to an electric one. There’s more romance to living in the backcountry than there is to living in town.”

Dorothy, Ed and Michael in Didsbury, Alberta. [1946]. Photo: courtesy Mike Carleton

Though her beloved Ed passed away in 1994, Carleton is always ready for her next backcountry adventure. She spent her 85th birthday at Elizabeth Parker Hut in Yoho, sleeping between two snoring men, both strangers. For her 90th birthday she flew into Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park with her sons and their families. Sepp Renner, Assiniboine Lodge manager at the time, picked her up in his arms from the helicopter and set her on the ground, then reversed the process when she left. The pilot even let her wear the headphones.

Lively and cheery at 97 – with a new hip and a knee replacement, all since she turned 90 – Carleton looks back on her family’s years living in remote wilderness with fondness and gratitude.

Three Things I’ve Learned:
Dorothy Carleton

Dorothy Carleton in Banff. [2017]. Photo courtesy Cheryl Craver.

1 / Be Prepared.

“We had to be prepared to get through the winter. We would make a trip to Calgary in October. My shopping list was as long as this,” she says, running her hand up her arm to her bicep. “We had to have enough supplies to last the winter. And we had to be sure to have a lot of dry wood. Some nights it was so cold you didn’t dare let the fire go out. We took turns staying up to feed the fire.” With that, Carleton began singing, “Keep the home fires burning, while your hearts are yearning,” a WWI song.

2 / Self-Reliance.

“I learned how to be dependent on myself. I made preserves. Mike caught cutthroat from lakes nearby. Parks Canada allowed the wardens to hunt and get one elk or deer per season. I had to learn to cut and process the meat…. I made delicious elk stews. We ate every bit of the elk – tongue is good! You can eat it warm or when it’s cold you can slice it and eat it in a sandwich. Kidney, too. Roll it in flour, cook it in a pan. Liver is good, too. It was a healthy life, it really was.”

3 / Make Do with What You’ve Got.

“Sometimes Ed would be on patrol for two weeks, checking on the lookout men, and other assignments. I’d look forward to when he came back. Like the weather, you have to do the best you can, adapt yourself to the conditions. Getting older? I take it day by day. I’m doing just fine. I know I have to do it, so I just do it. I think positive.”

Editor’s Note: Sadly, Dorothy Carleton passed away on June 30, 2018. She will be forever remembered in the Banff community.

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Dorothy on horseback, Bow Summit. [1948] Photo courtesy Mike Carleton.

Discover more mountain wisdom in our “Three Things I’ve Learned” series at Featuring Charlie Russell, Chic Scott, Richard Guy, Lynne Huras and Eddie Hunter.


The team at the Canadian Rockies Annual is devoted to high-quality storytelling, carefully curated content and top-notch photography – all wrapped up in a meticulously and thoughtfully designed publication. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing (available worldwide) or picking up a copy at one of our retail locations. 

Author of two books of adventure and nine mountain biographies, Lynn Martel explores the Canadian Rockies backcountry by skis, boots, camera and the written word.

The views and opinions expressed in the articles on are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.

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