Banff National Park changes policy after Beaumont man's memorial goes missing

Parks Canada staff in Banff National Park say they will no longer discard unauthorized memorials.

Maggie Parr’s unauthorized tribute to her late husband disappeared this spring

Maggie Parr's husband, Murray, died by suicide in 2018. Her memorial to him in Banff National Park was removed in June. (Maggie Parr)

Parks Canada staff in Banff National Park say they will no longer discard unauthorized memorials.

The change comes after a woman from Beaumont, Alta., complained this spring about a missing plaque she installed in 2018 in honour of her late husband.

Maggie Parr's husband of 17 years, Murray Parr, died by suicide on February 22, 2018.

That spring, Parr travelled to Banff with family and friends to fulfil her husband's wish that his ashes be scattered in the mountains. 

Banff had always been important to the couple. They got married under a gazebo in the town and often visited the area, travelling around the park with their holiday trailer and eating Thanksgiving dinners at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

Parr chose a spot under a tree near a meadow for the memorial. It was a place where the couple had often stopped to take breaks during their travels. 

She placed a steel plate — made by a family friend to honour her husband, who had been a welder — just off the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, a 24-kilometre loop not far from the town of Banff.

Maggie Parr and friends and family members gathered at this spot off the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive to scatter Murray Parr's ashes. (Maggie Parr)

After months of not being able to visit the memorial because of the park's closure during the COVID-19 pandemic, Parr returned to the special spot on the morning of June 1, the first day the park re-opened to visitors. 

She brought along a painted stone to honour a granddaughter who had died in January, and planted wildflowers native to the region at the spot.

About two weeks after that visit, Parr's niece discovered that everything — the flowers, the plaque, the stone and even a stuffed bear — was gone.

Parr told CBC News she was devastated to learn of the memorial's disappearance.

"Who would throw out a grave marker?" she asked.

Parr said the news was distressing after a year and a half in therapy processing the post-traumatic stress related to his death. 

"It brought all that back again," she said.

Parr complained to Parks Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office about the incident.

Over the phone, she recalled, a warden told her leaving items in the park was not allowed. 

Another Parks Canada employee told her she had searched for the items but could not find them.

Removed items now to be stored temporarily

Justin Brisbane, a public relations and communications officer for Parks Canada's Banff field unit, said in a statement that the agency collects items placed in the national park without permission.

"This is in accordance with the Canadian National Parks Act, and the National Park Highway Traffic regulations, which protect the natural state of all national parks, including Banff National Park, and the safety of its visitors," the statement reads.

In the statement, Brisbane said the agency "regrets the unfortunate experience with Mrs. Parr's memorial" and apologizes that her mementos were not returned.

He said Banff National Park has since changed its practices and now plans to keep found memorials for a period of time so loved ones may retrieve them.

Parr said the change comes too late for her and her family members.

She said she knows she should not have installed her own memorial in the park, but doing so was an attempt to honour her husband and keep his memory alive.

Parks Canada runs a memorial bench program in Banff National Park, which Parr researched but decided not to pursue because of the limited bench locations and the expense. (Donations for benches start at $4,000 for a 10-year period).

Parr said she has no plans to return to Banff anytime soon.

"I feel hurt, I feel devastated," she said. "I feel my country has let me down."

About the Author

Madeleine Cummings is a digital associate producer who produces stories for CBC Edmonton's website and its afternoon radio show, Radio Active.