March 4, 1910 Rogers Pass Avalanche
There are many home, temple and graveside services performed by Buddhists, who place a great deal of importance on honouring their ancestors. A request was received to locate the grave site of Mannosuke Yamaji from someone who had heard rumours of a great uncle having passed away in an avalanche in Rogers Pass. He did not find his grave site in the family plot so he wrote the Consulate General of Japan in Vancouver to see if there was a grave site in Canada.
After getting more information from Japan, visits were made to Rogers Pass and the Revelstoke Museum. The winter of 1909/1910 was a bad one with heavy snow falls causing many avalanches in the North Western parts of the US and Canada. The March 4, 1910 avalanche at Rogers Pass was one of the worst ones. There is small scale replica of the avalanche site at the Rogers Pass Interpretive Centre and a large file of information at the Revelstoke Museum.
Sometime during the day on March 4th, a snow avalanche descended Cheops Mountain into the valley at the Summit of Rogers Pass. It covered the CPR railway. A crew of men and a locomotive-driven snow blower were dispatched to clear the tracks. The men would clear the debris from the snow and the snow blower would move in to blow the snow off of the tracks. As the men struggled through the night to clear the first snow slide, a second avalanche descended from the opposite side of the valley and hit the railway at the point where the men were working. Sixty men were caught in this slide and only two of them survived. Among the dead were 32 Japanese workers. Roadmaster John Anderson had been working with his men but was temporarily away from the site when the second slide hit the crew.. The locomotivedriven blower was thrown fifty yards from where it was idling.
Thirty two of the crew were Japanese. They were contracted to CPR by the Nikka Yotatsu Kabushiki Kaisha, Canada Nippon Supply Company (C.N.S. Co Ltd). No information was available from the Railway Museum in Revelstoke but the Revelstoke Museum revealed that Brandon Bowers Funeral Home (then Howson’s Funeral Parlour) had received the bodies from the avalanche site. It was assumed that the Japanese remains were sent to the Canada Nippon Supply Company in Vancouver. CPR had paid forty seven dollars and fifty cents per person to cover funeral and burial costs. On the list was M. Yamaji. The trail ended there with no information about where the burials took place.
Assistance was requested to the National Nikkei Museum, the BC Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Churches Federation and the Consul General’s office in Vancouver to assist in the research. Ten months and two visits to Rogers Pass and Revelstoke had not revealed the whereabouts of the grave.
The Yamajis make an annual trip to Kelowna to visit friends and they planned to make the trip in 2008 on August. A visit to Rogers Pass and Revelstoke was made to prepare them to receive the family. A tour to the avalanche site and an informational package of the file was requested for them.
On the morning of August 6, Linda Reid of the National Nikkei Museum was looking at the website of Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver and she spotted Rogers Pass Avalanche. She recalled a request and went back into the file and found that the burial information contained the name M. Yamaji. As the Yamajis were arriving on August 8, the information was forwarded to them in Japan. A visit to the cemetery was made to locate the grave site as there were no grave markers. The site was located and marked and this information was forwarded to Kelowna. Should the Yamajis visit to the cemetery take place on a week end, it would have been impossible for them to locate the site. Fortunately, using the information from the research, the Yamajis were able to visit the site where the great uncle had died and the site where he was interred.
There are three lists of the names. The Revelstoke Museum list from CPR, (first name initials only)the Mountain View Cemetery (some spelling errors) and the one from the UBC Library. The UBC list was translated by Mr. Tsuneharu Gonnami, retired librarian from UBC. He did the translation for UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections department, on September 12, 2008 using the information from the March 8, 1910 issue to Tairiku Nippo (The Continental News). It contains the last and first names of the victims and also the Prefecture from where they had immigrated. Mr. Gonnami explained that some Sino Japanese characters names may be pronounced differently.
There are some activities started to memorialize the avalanche. Cathy English, curator of the Revelstoke Museum and John Woods, retired Chief Park Naturalist, are planning on writing a book about the avalanche. The Interpretive Centre at the Rogers Pass summit opened a tour to the avalanche site this August for the Yamaji family and may continue the tours into the future. A committee has been struck with members from the Revelstoke Museum and Archives, Parks Canada, City of Revelstoke, Canadian Avalanche Centre, Friends of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, Revelstoke Railway Museum and CPR. Their plan is to create a commemorative event for 2010 marking the centennial of the Rogers Pass Avalanche.An evening memorial service is planned for Thursday, March 4, 2010 in Grizzly Plaza in Revelstoke.
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