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?
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
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
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
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.