December 19th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 51
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Looking Back at Looking Back – 2018
Looking Back
courtesy of
John Kinnear- Flight engineer on Lancaster AJ-B- age 21-Royal Air Force
It has been thirteen years since I started sharing thoughts and stories with the Pass Herald in the Looking Back column. Prior to that I wrote for ten years for the Fernie Free Press, doing exactly the same thing. The column was called Then and Now and allowed me to connect to and share interesting stories with the people of that amazing town called Fernie.

It is interesting to note that in my 25 years in Fernie (1980-2005) I watched that city transform itself from a struggling former mining town to an eclectic tourist hotspot that has promoted its mountain opportunities to the hilt. There are many amongst our community here in the Pass that have this same vision and have been working diligently to create and maintain a wide variety of events that they hope will strengthen and support our last-best-place offerings.

Just recently an author and publisher friend approached me with a challenge. A challenge to consider putting together in book-form a collection of my columns to the public. To publish no less! Good Grief! I am daunted by his suggestion. I welcome your input into this idea.
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As I approach 2019 it is now almost 25 years since I have taken up the quill. The craft of composing my thoughts and what I felt would be interesting stories onto paper for the public. It was in fact an ink pen that I started writing with. I deliberately bought a gold-tipped fountain pen with disposable cartridges to write my first articles with in 1995. I had not, back then, embraced the concept of using a keyboard and didn’t believe you could compose your thoughts on one properly. I was old school, so to speak. I have long since abandoned those blue stained pen-fingers and steno pads for the more advanced craft I learned in a hallway at the old Coleman High School. On an ancient Remington typewriter. Middle line – asdf- jkl; Click, click, space, click.

Given the in-depth road I go down each year to create works of interest I thought it would be a good idea, once again, to step back and revisit where I have gone with my columns these past twelve months. I am often asked how I come up with the column topics that I chose and how much work it is.

These days to create a piece of 1400 words with pictures is a lot of work. The resources available to me to round out a story, keep it accurate and interesting, are remarkable. The internet was a game changer for me. When I started writing in 1995 it was off to the library to see what I could see. Yes I used the Dewey Decimal card system to search out ideas. By topic, author and subject.

Now I access databases so comprehensive and varied I am stunned at their depth and the links within them. I regularly contribute to the non-profit resource Wikipedia, a source I draw on heavily at times. More than ever I recognize that, in this age of questionable information, I need to back up and verify anything I put out to you the readers. And of course, acknowledge my sources. I also realize that most of you are quite capable of digging deeper into any given story I chose to present.

The feedback on my offerings has been interesting. It seems that when I connect with local stories and stay personal on reflections that I resonate better with most of you. At least that’s what I am hearing in aside comments at the local grocery store or wherever I encounter a reader that has connected with a piece.
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Keeping it local I started off 2018 by running a four part series on the life memoirs of a Czechoslovakian immigrant by the name of Frank Wejr. Frank’s life story reflected the coming to Canada to find opportunity legacy that is such a part of Pass history. I connected with family members in British Columbia and expanded the story to show how Pass immigrants like Frank survived and thrived through the often difficult times here.

I liaised with Frank’s family members and worked hard to find images to help visually unfold this wonderful story. It was so rewarding and as I wended my way through Wejr’s life history I realized he represented the very core of what it was to be a newcomer in our new land.

I then moved on to women’s hockey and to the story of the 1923 Canadian world women’s championship team called the Swastika’s. It connected in a way to the tragic unfolding of events in Fernie with their arena last year, an event they have now mercifully moved passed. It is no small irony that there was serious consideration given to show due diligence here with our own ice plant’s condition and steps taken to make it right. Painful but necessary.

I followed this with a story of the drowning of most of the islands at Kananaskis Lakes by the construction of the Calgary Power dam in the 1930’s and 40’s. The significance of the naming of those islands prior to this damming had to do with a surveyor by the name of Arthur O. Wheeler who chose to commemorate them years prior to the flooding by naming them after World War One battles. Much of the Rocky Mountain landscape in the Banff/Kananaskis area is linked to little known war generals, battles and British royalty.
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Through the late winter and early spring I visited the worlds of tagging, caving and photography. The tagging issue is becoming more omnipresent here and still asks the question: “Is this appropriate or is it vandalism?” The caving story was intended to help people recognize the significance of the amazing karst topography here in the Pass. Since that article ran caver Henry Bruns has since given an in-depth talk on caving and a story connected to it has surfaced that I will chase down for you next year.

It involves the naming of a spectacular cave (Bisaro Anima) discovered and explored recently in the Fernie area and the World War Two soldier, Torindo John Bisaro that it was named after. I followed that caving exploration story with a look at photographing Crowsnest Mountain, that iconic klippe of upside down geology that we all live in the shadow of. One is hard pressed to not find the dome of the Crow in the background of most landscape pictures.

In late spring I did a three part series on the Kerr family that once again retraced an immigrant family’s story, this time from Scotland to here in the Pass and beyond. Back in 1999 Jim and Florence Kerr’s property west of the Pass was donated to the Nature Conservancy of Canada demonstrating their determination to preserve its natural integrity. Recently that property was bound up with eight other sections of crown land and adjacent NCC lands to become the Jim Prentice Wildlife Corridor. This would have made Jim smile I am sure.

Mid August I had the privilege of meeting the great grandson of the mine rescue hero of the Bellevue underground mine disaster of 1910. He came all the way from Brussels, Belgium to retrace Fred Alderson’s footsteps and to share with us never before seen memorabilia of Fred’s life. It gave further insight into the complex story that led Alderson to leave Britain and eventually die thousands of miles away underground.
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For me the highlight of my summer was to attend and write about the 75th anniversary of the Dam Busters Raid. It was spectacular and a chance to meet many of the 41 family members of 617 Squadron who travelled from all across North America to be there. I bought Ted Barris’s book on the Dam Busters which he signed: “In Memory of John Kinnear- Dam Buster- never to be forgotten.” My namesake was only 21 years old when his plane AJ-B went down on its way to the Mohne Dam killing the whole crew.

In the follow-up article in September I mentioned Blairmorite and surviving Dam Buster Daniel Revie Walker and his role in the story. This fall Kirk Muspratt showed me a postcard that Daniel had sent his mother Helen way back during the war when they had dated. Talk about connecting the dots. October’s offering on the validity of white crosses on the highway seems to have resonated well and many whose stories I shared thanked me for helping put across the point- so they are not forgotten.

My Armistice column centered around a local story of family service to our country through both wars. The Harrison column goes deep into generations of family history and defines who survived and who didn’t. Following that I told the story of David L. Denning an American F-106 pilot who died in 1977 on a NORAD training mission in the Porcupine Hills. Retired Forest Ranger Al Gehman shared with me this interesting fact in a phone call after it ran. He said that an officer with Malstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls told him at the crash site that Denning’s jet had rolled over just before the crash.

Given he probably clipped some trees just before crashing that is entirely possible. On reflection that may mean that ejection would have been impossible for Denning.

So 2019 will mark the beginning of 14 years of writing for the Herald. More stories to explore, more dots to connect. Keep an eye out for an interesting piece on the “death penny” this spring. And of course I will dip into Mrs. Mundie’s library of past Pass events. For now my wife Lorraine and I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Author’s Note: Should you want to visit or revisit any of the above stories they are all on line in my archives that Lisa has so graciously continued to maintain. Each story has many more pictures that the printed edition allows.
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December 19th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 51
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