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Future uncertain for historic backcountry lodge in Yoho National Park

Twin Falls Chalet operator could lose operating license after 57 years in business

'Parks Canada needs me,' says Twin Falls Chalet operator of 57 years

Twin Falls Chalet was designated as the Twin Falls Tea House National Historic Site in 1992. (Supplied by Fran Drummond)

Fran Drummond calls her love affair with the mountains "better than marriage."

It's the reason she started operating a historic back country lodge in Yoho National Park in 1962  — and why she's taken care of it and its visitors for the last 57 years.

"That lodge owes me the bottom logs," said Drummond, who has saved the site from demolition and contributed to two building restorations over the years.

The future of Twin Falls Chalet is uncertain as Drummond and Parks Canada have been unable to reach an agreement that would allow the chalet to open on its usual July 1 starting date.

Fran Drummond started operating the Twin Falls Chalet when she was just 24 years old. (Supplied by Fran Drummond)

Drummond received a letter from Parks Canada stating they would be changing the building's locks because she wouldn't be permitted to operate the chalet this summer.

"I'm not quite sure [what's going to happen]. The word changes every third day," she said, adding she's expecting a handful of guests throughout July. 

Drummond can host up to 14 guests at a time during the short season, made shorter by an increasing number of wildfires.

Although she doesn't own the property since it's on crown land — in the mountains near the Yoho and Banff National Park divide — Drummond has held a license to operate her business for more than five decades.

She first wrote a letter to the owners in the 1960s asking if she could lease the chalet with an option to buy it.

10 days later, she received a two-word response: "It's yours."

The shortest hike to Twin Falls takes a minimum of two hours. (Supplied by Fran Drummond)

Drummond's most recent license expired in 2014 — and she hasn't been successful in trying to negotiate a new lease. But it isn't uncommon for license renewal paperwork to be delayed, she said, adding it's taken up to seven years in the past. 

A public bidding process

Alex Kolesch, a senior advisor with Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks said the federal agency is now going to proceed with a competitive public process for the opportunity to run the site.

Fran Drummond has been operating the Twin Falls Chalet for the past 57 years. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

Kolesch said the agency has a duty to ensure their hundreds of operators are in good standing and meeting the agency's requirements.

"We've been using that time [since 2014] to do both our due-diligence and to allow Mrs. Drummond a fair opportunity to prepare her business to apply for a new license," he said.

"Canadians have an expectation that we're treating everyone fairly."

He declined to comment further on Drummond's situation, citing privacy concerns.

'Parks Canada needs me'

Twin Falls Chalet was originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1908. It first opened for business as a tea house in 1923.

In its early years, the site hosted famous visitors, including American painter John Singer Sargent, Group of 7 member Lawren Harris and American writer Dale Carnegie.

It's since been designated the Twin Falls Tea House National Historic Site, following a long battle between Drummond and the Canadian government in 1969.

"I think Parks Canada needs me because I'm willing to help them, to provide a mission statement, a long-range plan and a five-year plan," Drummond said.

The current Twin Falls Chalet operator said she protected the site when the government started tearing down backcountry shelters and wanted to do the same to her chalet, citing poor repair and the absence of utilities.

The backcountry chalet is so remote that Fran Drummond personally hikes in all the supplies. (Supplied by Fran Drummond)

It takes a minimum of two hours to hike over eight kilometres to get to the site, which has no running water or an outhouse.

"Twin Falls Chalet is out in the middle of nowhere," Drummond said. "It is beautiful in its rustic form."

Kolesch said he couldn't provide a timeline for the next steps but that Parks Canada remains open to speaking with the current operator about the process.

Drummond said she'll go to Ottawa if that's what it takes to sort things out. 

In the meantime, Kolesch said those planning a trip to the chalet should contact Drummond about their vacation plans.

With files from CBC's Homestretch

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