Virtually there: B.C. museum launches website as part of avalanche education
REVELSTOKE, B.C. — It only makes sense that a community located along "avalanche alley" would have a museum focusing on the deadly force of nature.
Revelstoke, B.C., is along a 40-kilometre stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway in the Rogers Pass that has the dubious distinction of having the highest avalanche hazard index of any route in Canada.
Parks Canada says there are 134 avalanche paths in the region and up to 2,000 avalanche events each year.
"Revelstoke is really the epicentre of avalanche research and a lot of the major events and avalanche education. We thought there was more we could do to get out the message of both avalanche history and current avalanche research and education," said Cathy English, the curator of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives.
Revelstoke was founded in the 1880s when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was built through the area and mining was an important early industry.
The museum includes snow collection kits, snow science kits, early transponders and an avalanche rescue kit. They aren't ancient artifacts but do date back to the 1950s and 60s.
"There's nothing going back a really, really long way — it's the information that goes back," said English.
The area has had a history of tragic avalanche incidents, most notably March 4, 1910 when 58 men died while attempting to dig out a blocked CP Rail line. It's believed to be Canada's deadliest avalanche.
You don't have to go to Revelstoke to view the museum's latest exhibit — you only need a computer. The Land of Thundering Snow website is being billed as Canada's first virtual avalanche exhibit.
"The idea was to provide information on the history of avalanches in Canada and it's not just Rogers Pass or Revelstoke — it covers all of Canada," she said.
"We are providing information on historic avalanche events. The earliest recorded one we were able to find was 1782 in Labrador. We also wanted to show how avalanches impact people and we have a section on avalanche safety."
English said one of the features of the site is an interactive map of Canada which has all of the fatal avalanche events listed. She said users can click on a certain event and find out the details including how many people died, the date of the event and the location.
"What we're doing that I don't think has been done before is showing the historical context," she said.
"The majority of the modern incidences are almost 100 per cent recreation. The earlier ones were almost 100 per cent industry or transportation — miners or railway employees."
Retired Parks Canada biologist and naturalist Dr. John Woods documented the country's 870 avalanche-related deaths from the past 150 years. The website also features more than an hour of video content and interviews with those involved in avalanche safety.
English said she's not sure the new site will bring more people through the doors of the small museum in Revelstoke but expects it will raise the region's profile.
If You Go...
Visit the The Rogers Pass Discovery Centre http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/bc/rogers/visit/visit2.aspx
Revelstoke Museum and Archives http://www.revelstokemuseum.ca
Land of Thundering Snow website http://www.landofthunderingsnow.ca
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press