Southern Alberta lost a true gentleman and sportsman last week, with the passing of Joseph “Joey” Coccioloni, a long-time resident of Pincher Creek. Joey was born in Coleman, Crowsnest Pass on November 17, 1929, and passed away November 29, 2017. He was in his 88th year.
“Cutch,” as he was called by his friends, was the quintessential outdoorsman, and epitomized the meaning of what a real mountain man was like.
Joey was one-of-a-kind, and one of the most colorful characters I have ever met. Nowhere was he more at home than when walking the mountains, forests, and streams of southwest Alberta. Few people were as familiar with this region as Joey, and he knew the landscape like the back of his hand. He spent a lifetime hunting, fishing, hiking, and exploring the backcountry, and enjoyed sharing stories of his adventures, and misadventures, with anyone who cared to listen. It seemed he always had an interesting tale or funny joke to tell, along with plenty of laughs and smiles.
The first time I met Joey was at a Trout Unlimited fundraising dinner in Pincher Creek, about 30 years ago. He had donated one of his custom-built fly rods for the main raffle and was on hand for the event. His fly rods were a work of art and were always in great demand.
Over the next few years, I would bump into Joey from time-to-time at the Beaver Mines General Store, and we became friends. Later, when I was operating the Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop in Crowsnest Pass, Joey stopped by regularly to pick up supplies and chat. I always looked forward to seeing him walk through the door. Joey was a wealth of information and I learned a lot from him. His visits to the shop continued until his recent decline in health.
On Golden Ponds
One of Joey’s many accomplishments occurred in 1959 when he assisted the local Fish & Wildlife Department in introducing golden trout to several alpine lakes in the West Castle Valley. Joey, along with three other men, backpacked 3800 fingerlings in galvanized Wajax containers up the steep slopes of Barnaby Ridge, where they stocked two of the three lakes that lay beneath the towering peaks of Southfork Mountain. These remote, high-country waters are a popular destination for adventurous anglers to this day.
The other men involved in stocking golden trout on September 18, 1959 were Pincher Creek Fish & Wildlife Officers, Chuck Gordon, Frank Somerville, and Lawrence Scheffelmiar.
Barnaby Ridge – 2002
Forty-three years later to the day, on September 18, 2002, I made a trip with Joey up Barnaby Ridge. He wanted to show me the original route taken by the group of men in 1959, when they transported the goldens into Southfork – Barnaby lakes. Unlike today, there was no trail leading to these waters, and the men climbed Barnaby Ridge a bit further south of where people ascend these days. The route they chose was shorter, steeper, and more direct than the well-worn switchback trail people follow nowadays. Not only did Joey carry his share of trout that day, he also served as a guide, showing the others the quickest way up the mountain. There was fresh snow in the high-country, which made climbing slippery and treacherous. Time was of the essence, and they needed to reach their destination as quickly as possible, before the oxygen in the water they were carrying had depleted. Otherwise, the precious golden trout fingerlings might suffocate and perish. The men made it safely and in time, and the tiny fish were soon swimming freely in their new home.
Joey was 72 years of age when we hiked Barnaby Ridge in 2002. He was extremely agile and in amazing shape, and climbed the steep terrain like a mountain goat. I was nearly thirty years his junior and had a hard time keeping up with him.
Joey was a man of integrity and had great personal attributes. He was a man of many hats and talents. He was a coal miner in Crowsnest Pass in his younger days, before starting Cutch Trucking, a Hot Shot trucking company, which he operated for 45 years. He was also a mountain guide and outfitter, trapper, hunter, angler, conservationist, fly-tyer, master rod-builder, musician, mentor, role model, devoted family man, and a great friend to many people. Joey was predeceased by his loving wife, Rita, of 51 years and is survived by a son and daughter, and five grandchildren.
A Memorial Service was held for Joey at the Pincher Creek United Church on Monday, December 4, 2017. There was not an empty seat available.
There will never be another Cutch, and he will be missed by all those who knew him.
Even the Mountains Will Miss Him
He was the odd man out
No coal mines or trains or city life for him
The paths he trod were in the mountains
And the mountains were his true home.
He climbed them all or as many as one can in one lifetime;
Followed the footpaths of the deer and
The elk, the mountain goats and even to the caved bear;
The wild things, the things he knew to be most real.
Today the trees will whisper together “where has gone that thin, strong man?”
Where the crunch of his boots and the smell of his rifle?
Where the fishing rod and his creel full of fresh caught trout?
“Where has gone that thin, strong man?”
And the wind in the mountains will shout down in answer,
“He has gone to the quiet place.”
And we who remain will hold him in heart and mind
And even the mountains will miss him.
-Jim Milvain (Joey’s nephew)
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Article References & Credits
Land, Forest, Wildlife (Alberta Government Publication)
Vol. 5, No. 2 (July – August, 1962)
Article – Golden Trout Established
Joey Coccioloni (image #1, 2) – courtesy of Bob Costa
Stocking golden trout (image #4) – courtesy of Chuck Gordon
Even the Mountains Will Miss Him – courtesy of Jim Milvain