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New Westminster woman recalls 'A Ride to Remember'

Lillian Caton Major on her horse Kitty, ‘four miles from Sunset.’ - Contributed photo
Lillian Caton Major on her horse Kitty, ‘four miles from Sunset.’
— image credit: Contributed photo

When she was growing up near the town of Nordegg, Alberta in the 1940s, Lillian Caton Major rode a horse to school, which was two miles away and had a student barn.

She grew up with horses and loved riding, so when the opportunity came for a horseback trip that would take her from Jasper back to her hometown more than 200 miles away, saying no wasn't an option.

Now 86 and living in the same Sapperton house where she raised four children, Caton Major has captured that journey through the Rockies in the book, A Ride to Remember in the Alberta Rockies, which she co-authored with her friend Thelma Jo Dobson, who was also on the trip.

On Caton Major's kitchen walls hang pictures of herself as a 20-year-old fording rivers and crossing mountain passes on horseback with her two friends Dobson and a third friend, Mary Jo Van Kleek. In them, the women appear modern and fashionable, a striking contrast to the rugged scenery which surrounds them.

These photos, and a diary Caton Major kept during the trip formed the basis for the self-published book, which was released last week by Trafford Publishing.

The adventure came about in the spring of 1947, when three doctors from Ohio showed up in Nordegg wanting to take horses to Jasper. They hired Raymond Mustard, a local outfitter, to guide them. The doctors wanted to return to Nordegg by car, so Mustard arranged for his wife, Beth, to drive their car to Jasper and bring three riders to get the horses back.

The Mustards' nephew was Caton Major's boyfriend, so Beth asked her to come along with two of her friends.

"It was fantastic. I can't believe I had the privilege of going up there," Caton Major said, sitting at her kitchen table with her daughter Connie Smith and her husband, Don Major—the Mustards' nephew.

The three young women set off on the 10-day trip with the Mustards and a wrangler, six saddle horses and five pack horses.

"We had all our food with us and the horse wrangler did a lot of the cooking," said Caton Major.

They ate sardine-and-mustard sandwiches for lunch and for dinner either beef and mushrooms or ham and bacon with canned vegetables.

At night, they laid spruce bows on the ground, covered them with a ground sheet and then threw their sleeping bags on top.

Even though they wore halter tops to tan when it was sunny, Mustard called them "dudes" just like he did all his customers.

Not everyone thought the trip was a good idea for young ladies, though.

At Malign Lake, they ran into a group of American motorists who, after praising the beauty of the landscape, wondered about the three women who'd undertaken the trip on horseback.

"They felt they were at the absolute pinnacle of wild adventure," Caton Major and Dobson wrote. "When told girls would be going over the mountains on horses, the southern ladies were politely skeptical, doubting the possibility and gently expressing their view that perhaps we were just a little too daring!"

For Caton Major, it wasn't a big deal, just an opportunity to create memories that she's now able to share with the public.

A Ride to Remember in the Alberta Rockies is available at Black Bond Books at Royal City Centre.

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