George Alan Morton, who retired at the ripe old age of 88 in 2017 as park manager at Reid Lake territorial campground, has died.
Members of his family and many Yellowknifers are singing praises of the man this week who greeted campers and maintained the site for more than two decades. He passed away on June 2, at the age of 89 at his home in Elliot Lake, Ont.
Born on Nov. 21, 1930 in Birkenhead, UK, Morton first came to Canada to work as a miner with Rio Algom in Elliot Lake in the 1950s. For a period of time he moved back to England where he met and married his wife Mary in 1975, before crossing the pond once more to work in the uranium mines in Elliott Lake in the early 1980s.
When those mines closed thereafter, he moved with his family to work at Con Mine in Yellowknife in 1990. He worked as a mechanic at the local gold mine for eight years before retiring at age 68.
Morton subsequently became the caretaker and host of the Reid Lake campground 65 km from Yellowknife with his wife Mary beginning in July 1998. Over the years, he greeted thousands of campers and tourists from as far away as Germany, Switzerland, and Alaska as well as many other places across the world.
His caretaker role included manning the gatehouse and checking in and out camping permits, supplying and selling and wood, cleaning sites as people left and cleaning, taking reservations of other facilities on site and ensuring visitors were generally accommodated.
Morton’s daughter Pamela Wynne Roberts-Walker said in an interview with NNSL Media this week that the job allowed her dad to enjoy the wildlife and work with his hands as well as be close to her mom much to his enjoyment late into life.
“My mom and dad used to love coming up to Reid Lake and they were there before there was any gatehouse or anything and they used to go with their own camper,” Roberts-Walker said. “They would then go around collecting money from site to site and the camping soon changed, until they built the gatehouse and everything moved online.
“A lot of the same people liked to come to Reid Lake and over the years, it became like a big family.”
Every summer, Morton marked Canada Day with parades and cake feasts as well as Parks Day with pancake breakfasts or other festivities at the campground – special moments that campers always looked forward to, Roberts-Walker added.
Kris Johnson, regional superintendent of the North Slave office with the Department of Industry Tourism and Investment, recalled meeting Morton as a camper when first coming North in 1998.
“It’s just amazing that by the time he and Mary retired, he was 88 years old,” Johnson said, noting his age longevity was always a topic of discussion. “He was just built like an ox because he would chop firewood and would empty the garbages. We really felt that he found the best retirement job because he looked like he was 65 years old. It was just pretty amazing what he could accomplish at his age.”
Johnson explained that the job of manager at a territorial park requires an introvert type personality or someone who can stand to spend hours and days away from people. The job also requires an extrovert type personality, or someone who has the ability to greet and welcome guests when they arrive.
“It’s not an easy job because you are are spending a lot of time out there by yourself,” she said. “And when people come, you have to be an ambassador for the park. Both Al and Mary were really good people to have there.”
Morton is remembered for always having a story for people about his unique experiences, Johnson said.
“He was pretty used to dealing with bears,” Johnson recalled. “He had all kinds of stories about chasing way bears or looking out the window of the gatehouse and there would be a bear there.”
Johnson said he would have seen considerable amount of change to the park after more than 20 years of service as an operator.
Among the major events included a loop extension with additional sites in 2012 and helping evacuate people from the park during a major forest fire in 2014.
“It was a big fire season and Alan and Mary stayed in the park and hosted the fire crews from Environment and Natural Resources,” she recalled. “They made sure that the crews had everything they needed and they watched after the facilities for us. An evacuation is always very stressful time, but over the years I think they had been through a few evacuations.”
In 2011, the Mortons were recognized with a Parks Hospitality Award by then minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment David Ramsay.
They were remembered for being passionate site keepers.
“The Mortons are an ideal example of the outstanding people that staff our territorial parks,” Ramsay said at the time. “It is people like Mr. and Mrs. Morton, who regularly go above and beyond in giving superior service to their guests and helping to ensure visitors to the Northwest Territories get the very best experience in our beautiful parks and campgrounds.”
Morton is survived his wife Mary and children Andrew Morton (wife Laurie and two children Holly and Rhea); Jacqueline East (husband Christopher and child Hannah); Pamela Roberts-Walker (husband Richard Walker and two children Carl Roberts and Matt Walker).