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:

Parks staff and volunteers carry more than 10,000 origami cranes strung on long strings downtown from the Parks Canada office. David F. Rooney photo
Camera-laden Parks Canada photographer Rob Buchanan hustles to get ahead of the small parade. David F. Rooney photo
Buchanan manages to get ahead of the oncoming crane carriers, who don't stop or even pause as he focuses a video camera on them. David F. Rooney photo
Almost trampled by the oncoming crowd, Buchanan back-pedals frantically to stay ahead. David F. Rooney photo
Once they reached Grizzly Plaza the volunteers quickly began erecting their strings of paper cranes. David F. Rooney photo
Within a few minutes they had strung them from the bandstand to the Avalanche Centre. In shape it resembled a bridge, a bridge between the past and the present. David F. Rooney photo
The Yamaji family, relatives of a Japanese worker who died in the great avalanche of 1910, pose for photographers as John Woods, author of Snow War (left in red) talks to them. David F. Rooney photo
Aided by Tomo and Yuko Fujimura (center) and Nicola McGarry (right) and watched by a curious boy (left) John Kelly hangs one of the 58 large snow-white cranes — one fo each worker who died in the 1910 avalanche — that were to form the backdrop for the Thursday evening Commemorative Service. David F. Rooney photo drop
Alice Weber (right
Alice Weber (on the ladder) gets some help from Anne Marie Lefevre and Catherine Bellerose as she hangs some of the cranes that were sent to Revelstoke from places as far different as Japan, the Yukon, Ottawa and Arizona. David F. Rooney photo
A few minutes before 7 pm, the Community Choir sang hymns that set the mood for a spiritually and emotionally uplifting Commemorative service that combined elements of Christianity and Buddhism. David F. Rooney photo
As the Community Choir parted, Cathy English and Jennifer Dunkerson of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives and the Revelstoke Railway Museum, respectively, recounted the events of March 4, 1910, that ended with the deaths of 58 workers in Rogers Pass. David F. Rooney photo
Karen Tierney, MC for the evening and national parks superintendent, watches as Socho Orai Fujikawa, Bishop of the Jodo Shinshu Temples of Canada, prepares for a Buddhist ceremony at an altar set up on the bandstand. David F. Rooney photo
This view of the bandstand gives you a sense of place as the Buddhist ceremomy gets underway. David F. Rooney photo
Bishop Orai Fujikawa prays as author Julie Lawson, whose grandfather John Anderson fortuitously survived the avalanche, prays at the altar. David F. Rooney photo
Revelstoke Museum Curator Cathy English bows her head in prayer. David F. Rooney photo
Members of the Yamaji family tell the story of their relative, Mannusoke Yamaji, who spent three years working on the Canadian Pacific Railway before he died in the avalanche. Until the researcher Tomo Fujimura uncovered it, the Yamaji were completely unaware of their connection with Canada, a country they had visited before. David F. Rooney photo
Reiko, Kazumori and Tomoko Yamaji were greatly touched by the ceremony and their opportunity to participate. David F. Rooney photo
As descendants of men whose lives were snuffed out or altered by the avalanche, Julie Lawson and Tomoko Yamaji read the names of the dead. Afterwards, Clarence Boettger and Dennis Holdener rang the bell from a steam engine 58 times, once for each man who died. David F. Rooney photo
The Yamajis make their way down the steps of the bandstand as Julie Lawson trades a few words with Karen Tierney. David F. Rooney photo
Neilis Kristensen, chairman of the committee that organized the Commemorative Service, lights tapers for members of the audience. Hundreds of the slender candles were handed out to the crowd for the candle light portion of the service. David F. Rooney photo
Members of the audience hold their tapers, some shielding the gentle flames with their hands. David F. Rooney photo
A spectator holds her camera high above her head to take photo. David F. Rooney photo
Well-known and well-loved for their historical ballads, Saskia Overbeke (left) and Darrel Delaronde (right) folded Krista Stovel into their performance of the Ballad of William Lachance, which they wrote to memorialize the 1910 avalanche. David F. Rooney photo
With their candles burning brightly, the audience listened attentively and appreciatively to the ballad. David F. Rooney photo
The bandstand glows against an inky backdrop as Saskia, Krista and Darrel performed. David F. Rooney photo
About 800 people, most of them standing, attended the Commemorative Service in Grizzly Plaza. David F. Rooney photo
The plaza was wall-to-wall people on Thursday evening. David F. Rooney photo
Mayor David Raven expresses the City's hope that future disasters will be averted. David F. Rooney photo
Japanese Consul Yoichi Ikeda speaks to the crowd, extending Japan's deep appreciation of the honour shown by Canadians to the 32 Japanese workers who died in the avalanche. David F. Rooney photo
Ian Tomm of the Canadian Avalanche Centre describes how modern science and technology are helping make the mountains safer. David F. Rooney photo
Mark Rickerby, the CPR's director of Western Operations, tells the crowd of the debt the CPR owes to avalanche forecasting by the Canadian Avalanche Centre. David F. Rooney photo
Marilyn and Andy Parkin watch the service. David F. Rooney photo
A cascade of golden light form the Avalanche Centre gilds a camerawoman and other spectators. David F. Rooney photo
Chief Warrant Officer Gilks, Regimental Sergeant Major, First regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, describes the military's role in keeping the Trans Canada Highway safe for motorists. Each winter the army sends howitzers and gun crews into Rogers Pass to conduct avalanche clearance operations. David F. Rooney photo
Oblivious to the very young child watching them, two boys cradle their candles behind the bandstand. Little did they know the night was about to be ripped open by a cannon.. David F. Rooney photo
With a red flash and a resounding BOOM the cannon brought to Revelstoke by a Royal Canadian Horse Artillery gunnery crew fires in salute of the men who died in Rogers Pass 100 years ago. David F. Rooney photo
Ian Tomm and Neillis Krstensen were moved by a gift of paper cranes form the people of Japan. The gifts were brought by the Yamaji family. David F. Rooney photo
Neillis Kristensen had the last word as he thanked the volunteers who made the Commemorative Service possible and the audience who helped make it meaningful. David F. Rooney photo