Overwhelmed - Remembering the March 4, 1910 Avalanche at Rogers Pass

March 4, 1910 was the ninth day of a storm cycle in the Pacific Northwest. At the summit of Rogers Pass, more than two metres of snow had fallen – a half meter on March 4th alone. From a daytime high of minus 20 degrees celcius at the start of the cycle, the air temperature at the pass had soared to above freezing.

In the late afternoon of March 4th, an avalanche came down the slopes of Mount Cheops, burying the mainline of the Canadian Pacific Railway at the summit. With the mainline blocked, a passenger train bound for Vancouver was forced to wait at the Rogers Pass Station, just east of the avalanche.

A work train dispatched from Revelstoke made its way to the western edge of the slide. Scores of men, aided by a rotary snow plow, toiled in the night to clear the line. The rotary plow slowly churned a deep trench through the dense debris. The men worked within the trench with shovels, clearing the snow from the tracks.

 It was near midnight when the deadly slide hit. It came from the opposite side of the valley, off the slopes of Mount Avalanche. The trench where the men were working became a tomb. When the flurry of snow and wind subsided, there were few survivors. The final death toll: 58 brave men.

In the early hours of March 5th, word of the tragedy reached Revelstoke. 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. 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 – they were Japanese, English, Irish, Scottish, Swedish, Danish, and Polish. Some had lived in Canada for generations, and some were more recent immigrants. They were foremen, bridgemen, engine crew, and labourers. They were as young as 19 and as old as 48. All of them had family: wives, children, parents, siblings – in Revelstoke, or across Canada, in Europe and Japan. 

As the scope of the disaster was realized, a profound sadness descended on the town.  Hundreds of Revelstoke citizens gathered for a memorial service on March 20. They sang hyms, they said prayers, and they consoled each other. United in their shared grief, families of the victims faced their worst fears and mourned their loved ones. The mother of James Moffatt wrote to CPR Superintendent Kilpatrick from Belfast, Ireland:  “My son is a great loss to me…my heart is broke about my dear son cut away just in the bud of manhood, away where I will never see his grave.”

Respected in death as in life, these men found their last resting places across Canada.  Multiple funerals were held here and in other communities, notably Vancouver, where Bishop Sasaki of the Buddhist Church chanted sutras for the 32 Japanese men prior to their burial in Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver. Fourteen men are buried in the Revelstoke cemetery; two men are buried in Golden. Others are buried across Canada, and one in Wales.

In the words of one person at the time, speaking of the grief felt by families left behind, “the snowslides of the spring of 1910 will long be remembered.”

We remember the 58 men who lost their lives on March 4, 1910:

Masatora Abe, Charles Anderson, Richard Buckley, Victor Carlson, John Fraser, Thomas Griffiths, James Gullach, Matsuei Hayashida, Isamu Hirano, Shinzo Hirano, Heikichi Horiuchi, Ralph Hughes, Naosaku Ikeda, Takefusa Imamura, Kinsaku Ishiyama, Axel Johnson, Rennie Jones, Kenichi Kanegawa, Andre Klem, Koichi Kobayashi, Shokei Kumagai, Dougal Macdonald, Kanjuro Maeda, John Mahon, John Makawicjuk, Harold Martin, Kiyoshi Matsumoto, Mike Mazur, John McLennan, Thomas McMurray, Harry Meikus, Kitaro Miyake, Fusakichi Mizukawa, 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, Tokuichi Takeda, Yasuharu Takeda, Ginzo Tanabe, Aitaro Tsuboi, Genichi Tsuboi, Sentaro Tsujimura, Keisaburo Ueno, Fred Wagner, Otokichi Wasa, Fritz Wellander, Charles Wheatley, Mannosuke Yamaji

 Clearing out after the March 4, 1910 Avalanche

Clearing out after the March 4, 1910 Avalanche