In Pictures: Revelstoke honours the men who lost their lives in 1910
By David F. Rooney
Hundreds of people gathered in Grizzly Plaza on Thursday evening to honour, with simplicity and grace, the 58 men who died in Canada’s greatest avalanche.
The Commemorative Service that was months in the making, blended elements of Christianity and Buddhism, with United Church Minister Rev. Ken Jones speaking for the Revelstoke Ministerial Association, and Socho Orai Fujikawa, Bishop of the Jodo Shinshu Temples of Canada, offering three Buddhist chants in Japanese, offerings of flower petals and incense.
“With the mountains come unstable terrain and so we come to you this March 4th 2010 to remember those 58 men whose lives were ended 100 years ago in an avalanche at the Rogers Pass,” Rev. Jones prayed. “An avalanche that reminded everyone just how fragile life is. We are grateful, God, for places like Revelstoke that face tragedy like this by gathering as a community to support each other.”
And gather they did. At least 800 people gathered in the plaza for the hour-long ceremony that saw Revelstoke Museum Curator Cathy English and Railway Museum Executive Director Jennifer Dunkerson recount the terrible events of that night 100 years ago when 58 men were buried alive as they worked to clear the Canadian Pacific Railway’s main line of the snow from an earlier avalanche.
Thirty-two of the men who died were Japanese contract labourers and three descendants of one of those men, Mannusoke Yamaji, travelled from Japan to participate in the evening’s events. Reiko, Kazumori and Tomoko Yamaji were greatly touched by the ceremony and they told of their surprise when they learned of their family’s connection with Canada. Kazumori said he had visited British Columbia several times and had never know his relative was buried in Vancouver with the rest of the Japanese workers. He found out only after he was told by researcher Tomo Fujimura who has been researching the history of the Japanese workers who died in the avalanche. (You can read brief profiles of all the dead workers here)
BC author Julie Lawson is simply grateful to be alive. Her grandfather, John Anderson, survived that terrible night only because he walked to a communications shack to contact Revelstoke and tell CPR managers there of his men’s progress clearing an earlier avalanche. That had slide had rumbled down Cheops Mountain and buried the track. When he returned to where he had left his men at work, he found only snow. Just minutes, before a second avalanche had swept down from Mount Avalanche on the opposite side of the valley and buried the men, including his brother Charles, their train and their machines.
Music for this special event was provided by the Community Choir who sang the traditional hymns Rock of Ages and Nearer My God To Thee as well as by Saskia Overbeke and Darrel Delaronde, accompanied by Krista Stovel. They sang a favourite historical song they had composed, The Ballad of William Lachance.
There were also remarks by Japanese Consul Yoichi Ikeda who expressed the appreciation of Japan for the way the Japanese workers were honoured and by Mayor David Raven. Ian Tomm of the Avalanche Centre who talked about the tremendous progress there has been in avalanche forecasting over the last 100 years, much of it here in Revelstoke, and Mark Rickerby, CP Rail’s director of western operations, who expressed the company’s deep appreciation for the Avalanche Centre’s work.
Keeping Rogers Pass clear of avalanches today is work for the army which annually sends gun crews into the pass to clear avalanches. Chief Warrant Officer Gilks, Regimental Sergeat Major, First Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, talked briefly about the cannon he and his men had brought down from the pass to fire a salute to the men who died.
Minutes after the echoes of that salute had faded away it was time to go. Organizing Committee Chairman Neillis Kristensen had a few last comments for the audience before it departed, not the least of which was a public acknowledgement of retired Parks Canada biologist John Woods — who also wrote the book Snow War: An Illustrated History of Rogers Pass and Glacier National Park — as the person who conceived the idea of memorializing the dead workers. With that, the The Commemorative Service was over.
Here is a selection of 39 images of the Commemorative Service from its set up on Thursday afternoon to the last word from Organizing Committee Chairman Neillis Kristensen: