Have you ever wondered how our mountains got their names? We sometimes think that they must get their namesake from the first person that stood atop their summit. Or perhaps the modern titles are respecting of the original names that First Nations groups had for the summits. However this is not the case for all of our mountains, many of the names are derived from Chilliwack servicemen who lost their lives on foreign battle fields defending this exact piece of ground during WW2.
This project began in the 1960’s and was originally known as the “Upper Fraser Valley Mountain Project”. I will quote local author Neil Grainger in his 1998 book “The Mountain Project” as he describes the project’s genesis. “The Mountain Project was an attempt to honor the servicemen from Chilliwack British Columbia, who were killed during the Second World War. By placing an engraved cross on or beside each geographical feature named for the war dead, participants in the Mountain Project paid respects to the fallen some forty years after the end of the war.” (Many long time Fraser Valley residents may remember the project and it’s coverage by the town paper, both then and now, The Chilliwack Progress, through the 1970’s and 1980’s).
Many of the mountains, well known to Chilliwack residents, bear the names of our fallen, peaks like Mt. MacFarlane, Mt. Northgraves, and Mt. Rexford. However not only the peaks reflect our past, Ling Lake, Eaton Lake and many other lakes and rivers also represent fallen men.
I was told second hand by a friend about the history associated with these backcountry features and so I took a trip to the Chilliwack Archives to see what I could find out on the subject for myself. After a few hours of digging through old maps and boxes of documents cataloging family histories of the fallen servicemen, and much of the accounts from the original summit climbs, I decided to call it a day. As I was leaving I asked the staff person at the archives office if she knew how I might contact The Mountain Project author Mr. Grainger to find out more information on the topic. She pointed me towards the corner of the room and said “ That’s Neil Grainger right over there if you want to go talk with him.”
That chance encounter has led to my fascination of the subject and it is one that I have absorbed myself in of late.
The story of Mt. Rexford was the most touching to me off all of the men’s tales and I thought to share a short recap of his life here. Douglas Milton Rexford was born on May 14th, 1923 and was the youngest of seven children. He grew up in the Chilliwack area as an avid outdoorsman, helping his father on the family trap-line along the Chilliwack/Vedder River. Doug watched as war engulfed Europe in 1939 and enlisted in the army illegally at the age of 16. The war took his life on December 15th, 1941, he was only 18 years old. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to an eager youth than the legacy of naming a mountain summit of the caliber of the Mt. Rexford after him.
The next time you take to the hills in our area, check out the Mountain Project list and remember the fallen men of Chilliwack.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
– Sam Waddington – Owner of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors: Equipping you for Rock, Water, Snow, Sand, Wind and anything else the Outdoors can throw at you!