October 17th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 42
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
So They Are Not Forgotten
Looking Back
Double crosses for Brenda and Barry Pickwick near the weigh scales
For twenty five years I drove to work daily down the Elk Valley Highway from Fernie to the Line Creek Mine north of Sparwood. In 1994 I noticed a small white cross had appeared in the ditch on what is referred to as 16 Mile Hill just west of Sparwood. I stopped at that lonely sentinel one day and discovered that there was a woman’s name on the cross – Oltea Cozea.

Oltea was killed that year in a car crash very near the cross. She was 64 years old. The name has long since faded from the cross but Oltea’s silent message still resonates with me. Every day that I drove by that simple memorial I made a point to remember that something tragic happened here. I found myself sitting up straighter, checking my mirrors and paying just a little bit closer attention to the road. And I thought about family.

White crosses have messages, some seen and some unseen. There are several crosses and memorials spread out through the Crowsnest Pass area which remind us all that on or near that spot loved ones were lost. There are mixed feelings about the appropriateness of them but there can be no doubt they make us think. Give us pause.

I have often wondered about the stories behind some of them. Not so much about what happened there but more about the person being memorialized. Each person has a story. Each was loved. Each had family, hopes and dreams and an important life. So what say we take a bit deeper look into a few of them.

Most of us have seen the two Pickwick crosses just west of the weigh scales on the Alberta/BC border. As you round that long sweeping curve they stand out prominently. The story behind them is of a loving couple Brenda and Barry Pickwick who, on December 29th, 1999, were on their way west to Sparwood for a Chinese food dinner. The Pickwick’s were originally from Courtenay on Vancouver Island where Barry worked at Island Valley Copper. When that mine shut down in 1996 Barry came to work here at Coal Mountain as a shovel operator.
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Brenda lost control on that curve that day and ran into another couple who ironically were on their way from Sparwood to the Pass to also go for dinner. The Pickwick’s left behind two sons on the island and a daughter Cheryl who lives in Lundbreck. Cheryl described them as close, family orientated and people who would give you the shirt off their backs. She recalled that their service was standing room only and noted that years later, when they changed the Alexander Creek Bridge just west of their crosses, construction crews took great care to protect and not disturb them.

About a half mile further west of the Pickwicks you will find another small white cross on the north side of the highway in the middle of the canyon area one passes through before the Coal Mountain turnoff. It is on a small bench up high and easy to miss. The cross has a white rose fastened to it and nearby one can find a boulder with the name “TOM” painted on it in white letters.

Tom stands for Thomas M. Makin another Coal Mountain employee who lost his life near that cross. It seems that Tom and another co-worker were on their way home from night shift through that canyon. The sun had just broken over the ridge to the east and it was blinding. Traffic had stopped for construction and their vehicle ran into the back of a semi halted by traffic control. The driver walked away but Tom did not.

Tom was 37 years old and had three children. His wife Shauna told me that his passion was his three kids and the Hillcrest Fire Department on which he served for many years. There is a fire department emblem on his marker in Hillcrest. Long time Hillcrest fireman Warren Jones told me their nickname for Tom was Susie and that their Hillcrest fire truck was named the same after him.
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Just a couple hundred yards west of Tom’s marker at a small pull-off at the exit to that canyon one can find yet another distinctive cross. Distinctive in that the crosses vertical member is a hockey stick. There is a white wicker basket filled with artificial flowers hanging from the cross and a plasticized obituary affixed to the top of the cross. It gives the details of the life of a man named Clark Bohmer.

Clark Dennis Bohmer was the youngest of four sons born to Melvin Bohmer and Linda Joinson. Clark was described in that weather-worn plastic tribute as a “Hillcrest boy through and through, born and raised there and a guy who loved hockey”. His memorial tribute has the emblem of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the top left corner of the page. It says he was: “A proud step-dad and a wonderful and caring husband, uncle and cousin; family and friends were everything to Clark.” Clark was only 35 when he passed and his wife Marianne said that his nephews, who he was always so supportive of in hockey, erected that hockey cross monument to him.

Clark died near that pull off on August 27, 2012 in a terrible crash. He was also an equipment operator at Teck Coal Mountain. It was surprising and sobering to me to note that these three memorials were all men who worked at that same coal mine.

Not every person lost through the Pass is commemorated. No doubt every one of us can harken back to tragic incidents that go back decades. That includes yours truly who lost my beloved brother Alex along with his workmate Arnold Beever in a terrible motorcycle crash in 1971. It seems there are just enough memorials along the highway to keep reinforcing a message.

West of Coleman a white cross high above the highway remembers Eric Michalski who was only nineteen when he was lost on the big corner above West Coleman. Eric was on his way to pick up his girlfriend to give her a ride to school before he went to work. Further east in the middle of the Frank Slide one can find another white cross with a beautiful autumn wreath on it that marks the spot where young Cody Hellevang died tragically. He was only 24 years old.
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On the very east edge of the slide near the old highway turnoff to Bellevue lies the double marker for Joey Mahieux and Stewart Schlender who died in a crash nearby on April 16, 2004. Joey was 20 and Stewart was 27. Stewart’s mother Brenda described him as a: “little guy with a big smile” and referred to him as a drugstore cowboy who wore all the cowboy gear including a huge belt buckle he won in a wild cow race.

Stewart loved and played hockey and baseball and after his passing his family organized an annual tournament that Brenda says was run mostly: “for the love of the game.” That tournament ran for 13 years and raised over $100,000 for such worthwhile efforts as Stars Air Ambulance and Crowsnest minor hockey. Stewart meant everything to Jeff and Brenda and sister Jen and the message from Brenda to us all is: “never say goodbye to your loved ones without saying I love you”, something she has done all her life.

I stopped a former Coal Mountain employee, Luigi Sagrafena , on the street the other day to ask about Barry Pickwick, Tom Makin and Clark Bohmer. Luigi knew them all and still finds it painful as he passes by those crosses. Any cross for that matter affects him. But as I left Luigi I asked him why do you think that the crosses are there? Luigi’s reply to me was simply: “So they are not forgotten”.

Author’s Note: I acknowledge that there are many more, recent and long ago, stories of family members lost along our highway that are not mentioned here. It was not my intent to cover them all, merely to put a more human face to some of those white silent sentinels.

It is one thing to lose a loved one through age but another altogether to lose a family member as abruptly as those listed above. They were all so young. So as you pass by their crosses remember to be safe, hug your loved ones often and tell them you love them every single day.
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October 17th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 42
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