Tumbler Ridge was built in the 1980s, when memories of World War II were already forty years old. Therefore it is perhaps counter-intuitive to learn that our community’s connections with the two World Wars are profound. By Charles Helm
WORLD WAR I
In 1914 Samuel Prescott Fay led a party of five men and twenty horses on a scientific expedition from Jasper to Hudson’s Hope. On October 5th they passed below what is now Tumbler Ridge. Camped out the next night, near what is now known as Bullmoose Marshes, his party heard the blows of an axe. Next morning they met Nielsen, the Danish trapper responsible for the noise. It was a meeting that would change their lives.
Nielsen was the first human they had encountered in three months. He told them about “the war”. They thought he was referring to the war between the USA and Mexico, but he meant the World War. Within weeks, four of them would sign up to serve. Two of them would lose their lives in France. Fay and Charles Cross, both Americans, volunteered with the American Ambulance Field Service, assisting the Allies in France. Cross lost his life helping move wounded soldiers from the trenches. Fay was cited for bravery. The expedition’s cook, Jack Symes, was killed in action at Ypres in 1916, soon after receiving his commission. The expedition outfitter Fred Brewster volunteered for service, became a Major, and was decorated for his company’s work in demolishing a German observation post.
WORLD WAR II
In the late 1930s grain farmers in Alberta’s Peace Region were faced with great challenges in getting their products to Pacific markets. Faced with government indifference to their petitions for a railway, they decided to take matters into their own hands and build a pass across the Rockies, just to the south of what is now the Tumbler Ridge area.
Alex Monkman led this initiative, over a pass he had co-discovered, and it became known as the Monkman Pass Highway. Their route passed close to Kinuseo Falls, then led into the heart of what is now Monkman Provincial Park via The Cascades and Monkman Lake.
By 1939 the trail had been blazed, a symbolic bag of grain had been carried over the pass to Prince George, tourists were driving a road to Stony Lake and Kinuseo Falls in droves, and the Pathfinder Car had made it over the pass and almost to the other side. Against the odds they almost succeeded, but in September the outbreak of World War II put an end to their epic attempts. Many of these heroic pioneers dropped their tools and soon signed up for service. Some paid the ultimate price. After the war the BC government prohibited further work on the pass, and the Pine Pass further north eventually became the conduit for road and rail traffic from the Peace Region to the rest of BC.
Were it not for World War II, it would likely be just a two hour drive now from Tumbler Ridge to Prince George, and Tumbler Ridge would be on the major northern highway.
TUMBLER RIDGE Place Names
British Columbia’s Geographical Names Office has supported a Commemorative Names Project in remembrance of British Columbians who have fallen in war service. At least twenty-six names of geographical features within the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark area, named after sixteen fallen veterans from the Peace Region, reflect the successful implementation of this project. (In the list that follows, Mount Merrick and Weaver Peak lie just outside the Geopark boundary.) Many Tumbler Ridge streets are named after regional mountains, and some are therefore also named after these veterans.
Named after Bruce Albright, a Beaverlodge, Alberta resident involved with the 1937-39 project to construct a transportation route from Beaverlodge through Monkman Pass and thence to the Fraser River. Later Albright, serving as a Flight Sergeant/Pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, was killed in action at Dieppe, 2 June 1942; he is buried at the Charleroi Communal Cemetery, Belgium, joint grave V.22-23.
Babcock Creek, Babcock Falls, Babcock Mountain
Named to remember Canadian Army Private Orville Edison Babcock, M39001, from Rose Prairie (near Dawson Creek); serving with the Canadian Scottish Regiment, RCIC, when he was killed in action 8 July 1944, age 27. Buried at Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France, grave VI- C- 9.
Named to remember Canadian Army A/Corporal Frank W. Barton, K42075, from Prince George; serving with the Canadian Scottish Regiment, RCIC, at Normandy when he was killed in action 16 August 1944. Buried at Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, Calvados, France, grave IV- H- 13.
Named to remember RCAF Pilot Officer Robert Douglas Albert Becker, SJ94373, from Pouce Coupe; serving as a pilot with 201 (RAF) Squadron when he was killed 14 March 1945, age 20. Buried at Irvinestown Church of Ireland Churchyard, County Fermanagh, UK, grave 2- 71.
Named to remember RCAF Pilot Officer Richard Albert John Bennett, J87679, from Dawson Creek; serving with 514 Sqn flying air operations over Europe when he was killed in action 22 January 1944, age 20. With no known grave, his name is inscribed on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, UK, panel 249.
Bergeron Falls, Mount Bergeron, Bergeron Cliffs, Bergeron Creek
Named to remember RCAF Pilot Officer John Albert Bergeron, J87384, from Pouce Coupe; Bergeron was serving as an Air Gunner with 408 Squadron when he was killed in action 13 June 1944, age 19. Buried at Canada Cemetery, Tilloy-les-Cambrai Nord, France, grave 2- G- 4.
Bulley Creek, Bulley Glacier, Bulley Glacier Peak, Mount Bulley, Bulley Glacier Falls
Named to remember Canadian Army Private Kenneth Lloyd Bulley, M65404, from Gundy (southeast of Dawson Creek); serving in Italy with the 5 Armoured Division Transport Company, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, when he was killed in action 11 October 1944, age 23. Buried at Coriano Ridge War Cemetery, Italy, grave I- G- 10.
Named to remember two brothers from Dawson Creek: Canadian Army Private George Robert Freeman Chamberlain, M37571, who was serving in Dawson Creek as a Craftsman with the Royal Canadian Electrical & Mechanical Engineers when he was killed 29 August 1944, age 30; and Canadian Army Sapper John Henry Joseph Chamberlain, M54471, who was serving in Italy with the 10th Field Squadron, Royal Canadian Engineers when he was killed in action 11 September 1944, age 26. Private George Chamberlain is buried at Dawson Creek Pioneer Municipal Cemetery. Sapper John Chamberlain is buried at Gradara War Cemetery, Italy, grave I, G, 11.
Named to remember Canadian Army Private Wilfred James Collier, M11820, from Gundy, southeast of Dawson Creek; serving with the Calgary Highlanders, RCIC, when he was killed in action 20 July 1944, age 26. Buried at Bretteville-Sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, Calvados, France, grave X. G. 10. Wilfred Creek, nearby, is also named after him.
Named to remember RCAF Pilot Officer Wallace Watson Crum, SJ90064, from Dawson Creek; serving as Air Gunner with 432 Squadron when he was killed in action 23 May 1944, age 21. Buried at Le Mans West Cemetery, Sarthe, France, grave 21- C- 38-42.
Named to remember Canadian Army Private Sherwin A. Dokken, M8104, from Rolla (near Dawson Creek); serving with the Canadian Scottish Regiment, RCIC, when he was killed in action during the Allied advance through Normandy 17 August 1944, age 19. Buried at Hottot-led-Bagues War Cemetery, Calvados, France, grave I. C. 10.
Named after Private Maxwell Holmes, killed during training, 1944.
Named to remember Canadian Army Corporal Keith Warren Merrick, M54470, from Pouce Coupe; serving in Italy with 10 Field Sqn, Royal Canadian Engineers when he was killed in action, 25 May 1944. Buried at Cassino War Cemetery, Italy, grave XIII, D, 1.
Paxton Lake, Paxton Peak
Named to remember Canadian Army Rifleman Bernard G. Paxton, K51612, from Prince George; serving with Regina Rifle Regiment, RCIC, when he was killed in action 11 September 1944, age 20; buried at Calais Canadian War Cemetery, Leubringhen, Pas de Calais, France, grave 7.D.2.
Named to remember RCAF Pilot Officer Robert D. Reesor, SJ16023, from Pouce Coupe; serving with 402 Squadron when his aircraft failed to return from a mission over Europe 2 October 1942. With no known grave, P/O Reesor’s name is inscribed on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, UK, panel 101.
Named to remember Canadian Army Private Ambrose R. Suprenant, M56287, from Kelly Lake; serving in Normandy with the Calgary Highlanders, RCIC, when he was killed in action 1 August 1944. Pte Suprenant is buried at Bretteville-Sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, Calvados, France, grave III, B, 8.
Named to remember Canadian Army Private Tom F. Weaver, K42785, from Hutton Mills (northeast of Prince George); serving with the Canadian Scottish Regiment when he was killed in action 9 October 1944, age 26; buried at Adegem Canadian War Cemetery, Belgium, grave VIII. H. 12. Pte. Weaver is survived by wife Mary Constance Weaver, and by parents Charles and Harriet Jarmin Weaver, all of Prince George.
Named to remember Canadian Army Private Wilfred James Collier, M11820, from Gundy, southeast of Dawson Creek; serving with the Calgary Highlanders, RCIC, when he was killed in action 20 July 1944, age 26. Buried at Bretteville-Sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, Calvados, France, grave X. G. 10. Mount Collier, nearby, is also named after him.
Through our unique history and our place names, we who live in the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark are therefore deeply connected with those who have served. Every time we run the Emperor’s Challenge over Mount Babcock, gaze in awe up at Bergeron Falls, celebrate Bulley Glacier Peak’s status as our highest mountain, strive to summit Mount Crum, hike the Albright Ridge or the Caribou Highway to Mount Reesor, we can consider not just the glorious scenery but also those who served and did not survive, and whose memories live on through these mountain names.
The Tumbler Ridge News would like to thank Charles Helm for the photo of Kris Swanson, Norman Mytron for the photo of Wallace Crum, Gerry Bergeron for the photo of Jack Bergeron and Mary Brawner-Smit at the Pouce Coupe Museum for the rest of the photographs that accompany this feature.