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5 March 2010

Revelstoke Commemorates 1910 Rogers Pass Disaster

Thousands of paper cranes hung across Grizzly Plaza.

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Revelstoke British Columbia - Guests from across Canada and the globe joined Revelstokians for a poignant ceremony in Grizzly Plaza to commemorate those lost in the 1910 Rogers Pass Avalanche disaster.
About 500 people filled Grizzly Plaza on the evening of 4 Mar 2010 for the 1910 Rogers Pass Snow Slide Commemoration Memorial Service, which marked 100 years since the disaster.
The Revelstoke Community Choir opened up the ceremonies with song before master of ceremonies Karen Tierney, Superintendent of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks and Rogers Pass National Historic Site, opened the ceremonies with a formal address.
"One hundred years ago tonight, 58 brave men lost their lives in a single avalanche at the summit of Rogers Pass, in the Selkirk Mountains northeast of Revelstoke. This evening, we are assembled to honour their memory, to reflect on our relationship with the mountains, and to hope for the safety of all those who travel in the mountains in the winter," said Tierney.
She then introduced Revelstoke historians Jennifer Dunkerson, Executive Director of the Revelstoke Railway Museum, and Cathy English, Curator of the Revelstoke Museum and Archives.
The pair told the story of the 1910 avalanche that swept down Mount Avalanche on 4 Mar 1910, claiming the lives of 58 men.
"In the early hours of 5 Mar 1910, word of the tragedy reached Revelstoke," read Dunkerson. "Alarm bells summoned the town to the rescue.
"The citizens of Revelstoke were quick to respond. Within hours a train of railway men and volunteers, old and young, headed into the night," continued English.
"Over the next few days, hundreds of workers converged on the site for the grim task of recovering the dead.
"The victims reflect Canada's cultural mosaic," said English. "They were Japanese, English, Irish, Scottish, Swedish, Danish, and Polish. Some had lived in Canada for generations, others were more recent immigrants."
Following a recital of "Come Ye Disconsolate" by the Revelstoke Community Choir, Rev. Ken Jones of the Revelstoke Ministerial Society led a prayer. "By gathering as community to support each other, we recognize that these deaths are not the final word, but an encouragement to the survivors to be sure, as much as humanely possible, that this would never happen again. Tunnels, snow-sheds were built and avalanche control was developed."
Julie Lawson is the granddaughter of Roadmaster John Anderson, who survived the 1910 avalanche through a twist of fate. He had travelled off of the work site where the men were toiling to clear an earlier slide in order to update the railway on their progress. When he returned, he was confronted with the worst avalanche disaster in Canadian history.
Lawson read from a letter that Anderson penned in the days following the tragedy. "I found the rotary pitched right on top of shed. Everything was in darkness, the wind blowing hard, and 58 men buried in the slide," he wrote. "I have been to one and two funerals everyday this week and there are still a large number of bodies left at the undertaking parlour.
"Well, Allan, you can image how bad I feel about losing all those men," wrote Anderson. "I have not decided yet what move to make."
Steveston, B.C.-based Socho Orai Fujikawa, Bishop at the Jodo Shinshu Temples of Canada then gave a short speech, followed by prayers and chants.
"Amida Buddha embraces all men and all forms of life with infinite love and compassion," said Fujikawa. "Particularly he sends forth loving thoughts to those in suffering and sorrow, to all those in doubt and ignorance, to all who are striving to attain truth, and to those whose feet are standing close to the great change men call death, Amida Buddha sends forth oceans of wisdom, mercy, and love."
"In loving memory of many victims [of] avalanches, I am going to chant to pay my tribute," said Fujikawa who then led an extensive prayer ceremony that included lighting incense, chants, scattering paper flowers, and many joining him in the gazebo for prayers.
Descendants of slide victim Mannosuke Yamaji, who travelled from Japan to take part in the ceremonies, then took to the stage to deliver reflections.
Kazumori Yamaji is the great-nephew of Mannosuke Yamaji. He was joined on stage by his wife Tomoko and his mother Reiko, both of whom wore elegant kimonos to the evening ceremonies.
"My great uncle Mannosuke Yamaji and his cousin Hikohachi Sakoda died in the Rogers Pass Avalanche," said Yamaji. "I am here today representing the Yamaji and Sakoda families. I first knew of my great uncle's death in Rogers Pass three years ago. I was very surprised a shocked by the news because I have visited British Columbia many times over several years with no knowledge of my family's history here."
Yamaji continued:  "Of course, I and my family became very curious to learn about Mannosuke's life here in Canada and his final resting place."
As a result of further explorations including working with the Japanese Consulate and others, Mannosuke's final resting place in Vancouver was located and Kazumori was able to visit his great-uncle's grave for the first time in the summer of 2008.
Julie Lawson then remounted the stage to join Kazumori to recite the names of 58 victims of the slide, which was followed by 58 rings of a bell.
The names are:
Masatora Abe
Charles Anderson
Richard Buckley
Victor Carlson
John Fraser
Thomas Griffiths
James Gullach
Ralph Hughes
Matsuei Hayashida
Isamu Hirano
Shinzo Hirano
Heikichi Horiuchi
Naosaku Ikeda
Takefusa Imamura
Kinsaku Ishiyama
Axel Johnson
Rennie Jones
Kenichi Kanegawa
Andre Klem
Koichi Kobayashi
Dougal Macdonald
Kanjuro Maeda
John Mahon
John Makawicjuk
Harold Martin
Kiyoshi Matsumoto
Mike Mazur
John McLennan
Thomas McMurray
Harry Meikus
Fusakichi Mizukawa
Kitaro Miyake
Yasujiro Mochizuki
James Moffat
George Nichols
Samuel Oliver
Kesakichi Omura
Takeshi Onodera
Kisaburo Otake
William Phillips
Albert Pottruff
Hikohachi Sakoda
Kitaro Sasaki
Seiichi Sasaki
Kenjiro Sato
Masayoshi Suzuki
Tokuichi Takeda
Yasuharu Takeda
Ginzo Tanabe
Sentaro Tsujimura
Aitaro Tsuboi
Genichi Tsuboi
Keisaburo Ueno
Fred Wagner
Otokichi Wasa
Fritz Wellander
Charles Wheatley
Mannosuke Yamaji
* * *
Following the recital of the names of the victims, Prairie recording artists Saskia and Darrel Delaronde got some Revelstoke help from Krista Stovel who joined them for a performance of the "Ballad of William LaChance", which commemorates the experience of the fireman who was badly injured in the 1910 and was one of the only survivors to tell the tale of the tragic evening.
Mayor David Raven then gave a special introduction, and reflected on the real and lasting loss the disaster has meant to the community. "Thinking about that, I tend to personalize things," said Raven. "I think that these men were the same age as my grandfather when he came here. And what we have been able to contribute to our community and our country over 100 years."
Consul Yoichi Ikeda of the Consulate General of Japan in Vancouver gave an address, thanking organizers and also Revelstoke resident Tomoaki Fujimura for his research and efforts.
"I would like to acknowledge the organizers and thank them for their hard work to arrange this commemorative ceremony. In particular, I would like to express my deep appreciation to Mr. Tomoaki Fujimura, who diligently researched the name of each victim one by one, helping to ensure this part of hisotry and the individuals involved are not forgotten."
Executive Director of the Canadian Avalanche Association and the Canadian Avalanche Centre Ian Tomm addressed the audience, followed by Mark Rickerby, Director of Western Operations for Canadian Pacific, who recalled fondly his days working on the plows in the Revelstoke area.
Chief Warrant Officer T.K. Gilks and Regimental Sergeant Major of the First Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery then gave and address, which was followed by a Howitzer salute.
The large cannon was located just across the tracks from Grizzly Plaza in a vacant lot on CPR Hill. The two blasts rattled windows across town.
Aaron Orlando.

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