BOTRELL – For World of Wildlife exhibit founder Chester Mjolsness, hunting has been an opportunity to see the world.
The 98-year-old has been to every continent in the world except South America and Antarctica and hunted everything from elephants to walruses to polar bears and many other animals.
Mjolsness donated many of his works to the Sundre Museum and founded the Chester Mjolsness World of Wildlife exhibit over 10 years ago.
Today the facility is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mountain View County, with a vast collection of taxidermied trophy animals.
Retired from hunting, Mjolsness lives in Bottrell south of Cremona on a large acreage with his wife Martha in a beautiful log house.
The house has reminders everywhere of Mjolsness’s past, with stuffed animal heads such as bighorn sheep and water buffaloes as well as walrus tusks, elephant feet and even porcupine quills adorning the home.
Mjolsness was born in Didsbury and grew up on a farm near Sundre.
Chester’s father died when Chester was quite young, age 11, and he, his brother and two sisters were raised by their mother Millie at the farm.
Chester always enjoyed the outdoors and hunting and trapping animals.
“I wanted to work in the bush,” he said. “My mom kept us all together. We didn’t have much money but we always had food on the table. The clothes on our backs may have been passed down two or three times but we managed OK.”
After inheriting his father’s .22 rifle, Chester took up hunting as a way to help keep his family fed.
“I made it my job to put meat on the table,” he said. “It was pretty important to have meat, vegetables and dairy growing up. I hunted rabbits, partridges and chickens.”
Millie was a school teacher and also ran the farm.
Chester started up a sawmill in 1943 at the age of 23 and brought his brother Lloyd on board shortly after. The Mjolsness Brothers sawmill eventually became Spray Lakes Sawmill and moved to Cochrane.
The sawmill continues to operate to this day in Cochrane with Chester’s son Barry as president and CEO.
“I started the sawmill in 1943,” said Chester Mjolsness. “I began working timber to help my mother out. My brother came along in 1946.”
Spray Lakes Sawmill currently employs around 400 people and manufactures and sells forest products throughout the world.
After selling the sawmill to his sons in 1980 at the age of 61, Mjolsness began to dedicate more time to his passion for hunting.
His first trophy was a huge grizzly bear that he shot in northwest B.C.
A safari in 1990 hooked him on African hunting.
He has hunted in Botswana, Cameroon, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa and has collected a giraffe, water buffalo, three lions, a leopard and rare animals like the bongo, sitatunga and red lechwe.
Mjolsness has collected well over 150 animals, including the SCI Grand Slam of North America, bears of the world, cats of the world, the dangerous game of Africa, and the African Big Five — African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and rhinoceros.
He has also gotten the Ovis Super Slam of 12 sheep from around the world.
“I liked the excitement of the hunt,” he said. “I liked meeting different people and seeing different environments. We saw people that lived pretty primitively. Every animal I killed they ate the meat, even the lion.
“You shoot a buffalo, a big animal. They would celebrate a good part of the night. There was lots of meat. Our camp was near their camp and we heard them wee late in the morning after we got the buffalo (in Botswana).”
Mjolsness travelled to the Arctic near Cambridge Bay to take down a polar bear.
“We had 18 dogs, a couple of snowmobiles,” he recalled. “It was a great experience. You really have to be in the Arctic to appreciate it. We were out about eight days. One thing that amazed me, much of the time you can’t tell where the sky ends and the ground begins. It’s a whiteout. We’d be out all day on the snowmobile. I had no clue where the camp was. I don’t know how the guides knew where it was.”
When Mjolsness’s collection became too big for his trophy room at his home, he donated it to the Sundre and District Historical Society, which built a 6,000-square-foot addition to the museum for the Chester Mjolsness World of Wildlife exhibit.
Although he’s travelled the world, Mjolsness feels there is no better place to live than Central Alberta.
“It’s just super here,” he said. “It couldn’t be better. I don’t think there is a better place than here although the climate could be a little better. You just look out the window and you can see wild animals and nature right there.”