Railway Days In Pictures: Sunday’s Commemorative Ceremony in Rogers Pass

By David F. Rooney

The bonds between two cultures were strengthened Sunday as Japanese and Canadians gathered together in two poignant and moving ceremonies to commemorate the 58 workers who died in the 1910 Rogers Pass avalanche.

The main ceremony, which was sponsored b y Parks Canada at the Rogers Pass National Historic Site and included the public inauguration of Rob Buchanan’s remarkable Memory Garden, mirrored the March 15 ceremony in many ways.

The workers of both Japanese and European ancestry were honoured and prayers were said in both the Buddhist and Christian traditions for the repose of their souls.

Poems were read in Japanese and English and The Current is pleased to publish the poem Go On by Parks Canada’s Laurie Schwartz:

Time stopped for you
That day in March
But for us time marches on

My son, my brother, my husband, my love

Remember catching snowflakes on your tongue?
How light

That snow

They dug you out
Without a scratch
As natural as in life, they said

Found men standing as if in conversation
Frozen with one last joke on their lips
What remains
Your Bible

Personal effects
Last pay cheque

Sent to the new bride, just three months married
Sent to the aging mother without a pension
Sent to the family overseas
Who would never see your grave
Simply grieve

And go on

What, then, of the men who survived?

Witness to that terrible night

Helpless against a mountain’s blind destruction

Of fifty-eight lives

We do on

Move tracks, build tunnels
Learn to read the mountains

Study slope, aspect, snowfall
Blast Howitzer rounds to shake slides down
on our terms

We go on
Send spirits home in paper cranes


Go on

Some of the Japanese visitors were so touched by the ceremony and the effort to honour the members of their families who vanished from history one cold March night that they wept openly.

This event was not just a commemoration. It was also an affirmation. Lessons were learned 100 years ago. The 1910 snow slide was one of several that were spawned by a vast snow storm. Little was known about avalanches at the time and the death toll was so shocking that scientists, industry and business began to finance research into their causes. The end result here is the existence of the Canadian Avalanche Society and its Centre here in Revelstoke.

Their work doesn’t mean avalanches won’t continue to happen. And it won’t stop people from ignoring the warning signs and, as a result, dying under the snow. But it does mean that we can do work towards better control programs and lower death tolls.

The most important affirmation was a simple human one as people from different cultures reached out to each other seeking the comfort and the bond that comes from shared pain and sorrow. This was most evident during the post-commemorative launching of 58 floating lanterns. The Japanese families who hosted this touching event invited local residents to write the names of departed loved ones on the lanterns. At the edge of the Columbia River the lanterns were floated out onto the current as dusk fell. A Japanese tradition, its spiritual solace was shared by everyone present.

It was sad, therefore, that the major media of this province chose to ignore this event, especially when you consider how quick they are to rush to Revelstoke whenever people die on our mountain slopes.

Glen Hodges of Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver adjusts one of the special "boats" created by the Japanese visitors to honour all of the dead workers. These spiritual craft carried tea lights that were to be lit just before they were launched into the Columbia River on Sunday evening. Meanwhile, they were used as a decorative element for the commemorative ceremony sponsored by Parks Canada at the Rogers Pass National Historic Site on Sunday afternoon. David F. Rooney photo
Canadian Pacific invited scores of people— among them Reved Publisher Heather Lea and local Filmmaker Frank Desrosiers (both on the right facing the camera) to ride the The Empress from Revelstoke to Glacier Station for the official inauguration of Parks Canada's new Memory Garden and a commemorative ceremony to honour the 58 workers who died in 1910. David F. Rooney photo
RCMP Staff Sgt. Jacquie Olsen enjoyed a day out of uniform as a guest aboard The Empress. Here, she snaps a photo of the locomotive as it negotiates a curve in the track. David F. Rooney photo
Once at Glacier Station, the Japanese families who travelled here (some for the second time this year) to honour their ancestors and dead relatives get organized at Glacier Station before boarding one of the buses laid on to take them to the Historic Site. David F. Rooney photo
Don McLean was one of the friendly bus drivers who ferried passengers from Glacier Station to the Rogers Pass Historic Site. David F. Rooney photo
Guests weren't too interested in sitting in the hot sun when they arrived at the Rogers Pass Historic Site. David F. Rooney photo
What guests most wanted to see, besides the breathtaking scenery in the Pass itself, was the Memory Garden designed by Parks Canada's Rob Buchanan and crafted by him and local machinist Rob Maraun. The different panels honour the people who explored the pass, built the railway and later the Trans-Canada Highway and the soldiers whose cannons protect travellers from avalanches in winter. It also honours the dead, of course. David F. Rooney photo
Marilee Planden holds a bottle of water in case Linda Marc needs it. The visitor tripped and fell, hitting her head. An ambulance eventually arrived and took her to Queen Victoria Hospital in Revelstoke. David F. Rooney photo.
Darrel Delaronde and Saskia Overbeke performed a selection of their historic ballads beore and during the commemorative ceremony. David F. Rooney photo
Parks Canada had pavilions that provided snacks from The Modern and a special cake by the Chalet Bakery, as well as children;s activities and an area where guests could fold origami cranes. David F. Rooney photo
Kendra Von Bremen and her daughter Fiona enjoyed some quiet colouring time in the children's activity tent before the start of the commemorative ceremony Sunday. David F. Rooney photo
Parks Canada's Alice Weber (right) guides people through the process of making an origami crane. David F. Rooney photo
The ceremony begins. David F. Rooney photo
Parks Canada Superintendent Karen Tierney welcomes the 287 people who attended the ceremony in Rogers Pass as John Woods looks on. David F. Rooney photo
John Woods, retired chief biologist for Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks and author of Snow War, addresses the crowd. Woods was a major force behind the organization of this ceremony as well as the community one that was held in Revelstoke in March. David F. Rooney photo
Lighting conditions were tough, forcing photographers such as Rob Buchanan to hunt for new angles and approaches to covering the event. David F. Rooney photo
Marnie Digiandomenico (right), of Parks Canada, watches for a discrete signal from her boss, Superintendent Karen Tierney, as the Rev. Ken Jones and other spectators listen to John Woods talk about how the avalanche of 1910 changed not only the CPR's practices but forced scientists and governments to begin studying the avalanches that, every winter, threatened to cut North America's critically important transportation routes. David F. Rooney photo
Japanese Consul Yoichi Ikeda addresses the crowd as Karen Tierney listens attentively. Ikeda praised the work that went into the 1910 Avalanche Commemoration. The ceremonies in March and this weekend answered questions for many families and showed what is possible when people of different cultures work together. David F. Rooney photo
The Rev. Dr. Leslie Kawamura of the Living Dharma Centre, Jodo Shinshu Temples of Canada, rings a bell at the start of a poignant Buddhist ceremony for all of the dead workers. David F. Rooney photo
Prayers for a dead ancestor. David F. Rooney photo
Julie Lawson, granddaughter of 1910 avalanche survivor John Anderson, prays at the simple shrine on the stage. David F. Rooney photo
Tomo Fujimoro, the man who did so much to make the 1910 avalanche commemoration ceremonies a success by finding the families of the Japanese workers who died, prays before the shrine on stage at Rogers Pass. David F. Rooney photo
Robert Kennell, Canadian Pacific's manager of heritage services who accompanied the company's museum car bearing the Last Spike to Revelstoke, sprinkles incense into the burner at the on-stage shrine. David F. Rooney photo
Revelstoke Museum Curator Cathy English prays at the shrine before the audience. David F. Rooney photo
The Canadian Avalanche Centre's Ian Tomm sprinkles a pinch of incense in the burner before saying a prayer for the dead. The Centre and the work performed by Tomm and his staff is a direct result of that long-ago disaster. David F. Rooney photo
Glenn O'Reilly, president of the Friends of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier, bows before the shrine at the Rogers Pass Historic Site. David F. Rooney photo
Parks Canada's Marnie Digiandomenico prays for the dead. David F. Rooney photo
Rev. Ken Jones speaks to the audience about the importance of prayer and remembrance as Karen Tierney looks on. David F. Rooney photo
Members of the Imamura family speak to the audience of the importance of the commemoration to them. Their relative, Takefusa Imamura, died in the 1910 avalanche. David F. Rooney photo
Photographers gather images of the crowd during the commemoration ceremony on Sunday. David F. Rooney photo
Naofumi Kumagi speaks of the impact the loss of his grandfather, Shokei Kumagi, had on his family over the generations. David F. Rooney photo
Julie Lawson and Tomoko Yamaji read the names of the dead as his wife and daughter listen. David F. Rooney photo
Darrel and Saskia perform their iconic song, The Ballad of William Lachance, which speaks of the 1910 avalanche. David F. Rooney photo
Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks Superintendent Karen Tierney presents representatives of the Japanese families who attended the ceremony with a memento of the ceremony — sections of steel rail. David F. Rooney photo
Robert Kennell, CP Rail's manager of Heritage Services, tells the audience how important an event the avalanche was in the company's history. David F. Rooney photo
Mas Matsushita, may be retired from Parks Canada but he played special role in the organization of the commemorative ceremonies. You don't often see Mas in anything but casual or outdoor gear and yet here he is in a suit shooting photos of the commemoration services. David F. Rooney photo
Tomo and Yuko Fujimoro, the Revelstoke couple who worked tirelessly to research the 1910 disaster, then contact the Japanese families and teach people how to make origami cranes, were given the honour of ringing the bell at the Memory Garden, thereby disgnalling its inaugration. They were assisted by Bill Fisher, Parks' director general for Western and Northern Canada. David F. Rooney photo
Parks Canada's Bill Fisher poses formally with Yuko and Tomo Fujimoro. David F. Rooney photo
When the commemoration service ended, people gathered to speak to one another, inspect the Memory Garden or walk along the Abandoned Rails Trail that leads from the Rogers Pass National Historic Site to the Rogers Pass Centre. David F. Rooney photo
Descendants of the Japanese workers who died in the 1910 avalanche prepare to take 58 candle-lit floating lanterns made of wood and paper to the edge of the Centennial Park boat launch where they, and local residents, launched them into the Columbia River. The lanterns bore the names of not just the European and Japanese workers who died, but the names of loved ones who recently died. This was a particularly poignant and moving ceremony. David F. Rooney photo
The Japanese families who hosted the lovely and touching launching of paper lanterns onto the Columba River current pose for a photo before the ceremony. David F. Rooney photo
A Japanese family carries a floating lantern down to the edge of the boat ramp. David F. Rooney photo
And this is what the surface of the river looked like: candle-lit lanterns bearing the prayers and wishes of the living for the dead sailing to eternity. Actually, there was a boat just beyond the point that retrieved all of the the floating lanterns lest they somehow manage to start a fire. David F. Rooney photo
A candle glows warmly through its rice paper wrapper as it floats on the current. Krista Stovel photo
Paul Salva enjoyed the ceremony with young Tettey Tetteh. Krista Stovel photo