Alberta Canada

Stephanie Stewart - Strange disappearances from the Canadian wilderness

Stephanie Stewart, Disappeared 26th August 2008, Athabasca fire lookout, Hinton, Alberta.

Stephanie Stewart, Athabasca fire lookout, Hinton

Stephanie Stewart worked for 18 years for the Alberta Natural Resources Group that keeps watch at 128 wildfire lookouts across Alberta in Canada. For 13 years she spent the summer at the isolated Athabasca lookout, which is 25 miles east of Hinton (145 km north of Edmonton), on a high ridge in the north west of the province. There is only a desolate road which leads from the valley to the 40 foot high lookout and log cabin. 

From Canmore, Alta, Stephanie was healthy and adventurous despite being 70 years of age. She had cycled solo across Canada and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. She had last talked with a family member the night before. When she failed to make her scheduled radio check-in for work that morning, another fire spotter was sent to her lookout to see if she was OK. She was gone.

Every morning Stephanie would either make or receive a phone call. The morning in question - there was a call made to her several times and whoever answered hung up repeatedly. Then the phone was un-plugged from its socket. Because of this Stephanie's Supervisor went out there immediately as she had never missed a call in the whole time she worked at the lookout.

When the supervisor arrived, there was a pot of water had been left boiling on the stove and her truck was still parked outside. Some items were missing from her cabin: two pillows with blue covers, a burgundy bed sheet, a Navajo-patterned duvet and a gold watch. Forensic evidence and other information gathered during the early days of the investigation led the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP) to rule out that Stewart was attacked by an animal, died in an accident or suffered a medical episode that caused her to wander away. They concluded she must have been killed by someone.

Because of the boiling water, either she must have received a visitor that morning just moments before the phone calls while she was preparing her morning beverage or a person or persons unknown had spent the night with Stephanie whether she wanted their company or not and the phone calls spooked the perpetrator. Either way, the supervisor that arrived on-site that morning must not have been too far behind the perpetrator. There were reports of a significant amount of blood at the scene, but no details were released.

Marc Symbaluk, a volunteer with Hinton Search and Rescue, managed the initial search for Stewart. It was one of the largest undertaken in the province.  “Stephanie has a special place in my heart,” says Symbaluk, who adds that from the back deck of his home he can see the lookout tower where she worked.

The tower itself was not very isolated as it is about 5km off a major highway. People could drive up there and look over the valley that extends out to the edge of the Rocky Mountains. But since Stephanie's disappearance access to the lookout from the road has been blocked to the public.

Friend Robin Slater said "her perfect place was the lookout, where she tended a huge garden, embroidered, painted and read stacks of books.". She welcomed the many visitors who came to her lookout.

Her body and the missing cabin items have never been found.