What began as a memorial to one man killed while logging has grown to include a project to remember all those who have died while working in the forest industry in the northwest.
“It was just going to be a couple of trees and a cross-cut saw in memory of my friend, Dennis Darby,” says Bill McRae, the son of Bill and Helene McRae, who has spent years in the forest industry.
But once word of McRae’s plan started to spread, he began collecting a list of other people who have been killed while working in the industry. And he began receiving donated equipment and truck time and other assistance.
“It’s snowballed,” he said. “It’s beyond myself and Terrace and now includes the northwest.”
McRae is still preparing a tree for his friend Dennis Darby on which will be placed a cross-cut saw and two hard hats – one of which is in the familiar round style.
But now there’s also going to be several large boulders placed on a concrete pad in front of the tree that’s located just beside the small chapel at Usk east of Terrace on Hwy16.
There, on Sunday, April 27 at 2 p.m., McRae’s loggers’ memorial will be blessed.
A plaque affixed to one of the boulders will read “in memory of those who lost their lives in the forest industry.”
To McRae’s knowledge, it will be the only memorial to deceased forestry workers in the northwest and perhaps in the province.
“It’s now way beyond my idea,” says McRae. “Everyone I’ve talked to, it’s tapped something emotional.
“If you grew up in the northwest, you were touched in some fashion. You went to funerals of someone you knew. It was your friend at school’s dad.”
McRae said equipment owners and operators he hired to work on the project donated more labour and equipment time when they heard about his plan.
“They just showed up for the job and ended up staying extra,” he said.
“The first man had lost his brother-in-law and the second, two of his best friends,” said McRae of some of the people who helped out.
The list of those assisting McRae grew to include people he’s never met before.
“You know what rolling sevens is all the time? That’s what this is like,” he said.
Also growing was the list of people who had been killed on the job – more than 30 names and a number which then doubled when McRae was given a list from Haida Gwaii/The Queen Charlotte Islands.
And as much as the memorial is about men killed while working in the forest industry, it’s also about those who they left behind, McRae said. “You can’t do anything without a good woman,” he adds.
For McRae, all of the effort is a way to remember friend Dennis Darby who was killed at one location in 1994 while McRae was working at another.
McRae wasn’t able to immediately visit the location where his friend died, something that’s stayed with him to this day.
“That’s always bothered me. Maybe it’s guilt or something,” he says.
“I get to play with my grandkids and Dennis doesn’t.”
The memorial’s design of boulders placed on top of each other follows a common practice among loggers in this area.
When clearing for roads, crews would pile rocks they’d dug out on nearby stumps.
“It was just something we did,” McRae recalls.
The April 27 blessing falls just one day before April 28, recognized in Canada and around the world as International Workers’ Memorial Day to remember those killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.