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Backcountry lodge operator of 57 years gets one last season to run historic Yoho site

The long-time, 82-year-old operator of a historic backcountry lodge in Yoho National Park has been given permission to run the site for one last summer — before the contract goes up for public auction.

Parks Canada lets Fran Drummond, 82, run Twin Falls Tea House till end of 2019

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

The long-time, 82-year-old operator of a historic backcountry lodge in Yoho National Park has been given permission to run the site for one last summer — before the contract goes to public auction.

Fran Drummond started operating the Twin Falls Chalet 57 years ago. 

Fran has saved the site from demolition, fought for its historical designation as the Twin Falls Tea House National Historic Site and contributed to two building restorations.

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

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

"She's a little disheartened that this is the last year," said Jessica Drummond, the chalet operator's great-grand niece. "She would do this until the day that she died — she absolutely would." 

The chalet's future became uncertain earlier this year.

Weeks before guests were scheduled to arrive, Fran received a letter from Parks Canada stating she would no longer be permitted to operate the site.

She hadn't been successful in negotiating a new lease since hers expired in 2014.

On July 12, she came to an agreement with Parks Canada that will permit Fran to manage the site until the end of the year. 

Parks Canada declined an interview request.

A small amount of rent was overdue and has since been paid, her great-grand niece said. 

Site to close for 2020 season 

In a statement, the federal agency said the meeting was "successful for all parties." 

"Parks Canada strives to work with all operators in a fair and transparent manner. The agency respects Ms. Drummond and her dedication to Twin Falls Tea House National Historic Site," it said. 

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

There will be an open, competitive process for the contract to run the Twin Falls Chalet. 

However, Parks Canada said the site will not be open in 2020 in order to provide sufficient time for government staff to manage the application process and upgrade the facility, if necessary. 

Jessica said her great aunt will be allowed to bid on the contract on the condition she does so with a partner. She said she thinks her great aunt will do so. 

"The consensus among people and all the comments, emails, phone calls, text messages has been that it just won't be Twin Falls without her," she said. 

Jessica added she wouldn't want to see the chalet turned into a big resort or spa.

The future of Twin Falls 

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 painter Lawren Harris and American self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie.

It was given a historical designation following a long battle between Fran 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," Fran told CBC after she received the eviction notice in June. 

Fran can host up to 14 guests at the backcountry lodge, which is run by volunteers. 

Her biggest goal there is to just get people to connect through conversation without distractions.- Jessica Drummond, Fran Drummond's great-grand niece

There's no cellphone service on the site and she has to hike up supplies herself. 

Aside from the beautiful scenery, Jessica said visitors from all over the world come to Twin Falls Chalet to meet her great aunt and hear her stories about travelling. 

"Her biggest goal there is to just get people to connect through conversation without distractions," Jessica said. 

Jessica plans to spend Labour Day weekend with her great aunt at the chalet — the last weekend Fran is guaranteed to operate it. In the meantime, she's taking chalet reservations for August. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated Jessica's last name was Savage. In fact, it's Drummond.
    Jul 16, 2019 3:58 PM MT

With files from Elizabeth Snaddon

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