Donald McCrae was famous for his cross-country ski touring adventures and was in charge of building Heather Lodge on Mount Revelstoke

Memory of Revelstoke Second World War dead lives forever in local mountain names

McCrae Peak is named after extraordinary skiing pioneer and pilot Donald McCrae who died in 1944 while on a bombing raid over Europe

The brown-bag lunch history series hosted by Revelstoke Museum & Archives curator Cathy English is always a great meet-up to learn about interesting chapters of local history.

It was at the tail-end of a recent presentation on Revelstoke place names that caught my attention. English mentioned briefly that several local mountains, mountain peaks and creeks were named after Revelstokians who were killed in action during the Second World War.

I followed up with English, who told me little was known about how it came to pass, besides an undated Revelstoke Review article from the 1960s. After a little more poking around, I found out a little more about popular hiking and early/late season ski-touring area McCrae Peak just south of Revelstoke.

Here is the undated article from the Revelstoke Review, believed to be from the mid-1960s:

At a recent executive meeting of the local branch Royal Canadian Legion, President George Booth referred to a letter the branch had received from T. P. McKinnon, government agent at Kaslo, formerly of Revelstoke.

Mr. McKinnon enclosed a copy of a letter he had received from Alan Rayburn, executive secretary, Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, Ottawa. He was replying to a letter from Tommy McKinnon concerning some names of creeks and mountains in the area of map 82K13.

The letter attached a list of names of geographical features which commemorate World War II casualties in this area as approved by the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names.

Here is the list:

Mount Darling, after L.A.C. William Darling, R.C.A.F., son of the late Mr. and Mrs. William Darling.

Mount Kenneth, after O.S. Kenneth William Watson, R.C.N., son of the late Chas. Watson and Mrs. Watson. He was mentioned in dispatches for his exploit at the time of his death.

Mount Llewelyn, after midshipman Francis Llewelyn Jones, R.C.N. He was lost when the HMS Hood on which he was serving was sunk in the Atlantic. He was the son of the late Dr. and Mrs. A. L. Jones.

Mount Mackinlay, after Pte. Stewart Arthur Mackinlay. He was the son of the late Robert Mackinlay and Mrs. Mackinlay.

McCrae Peak, after P.O. Donald McCrae, R.C.A.F., whose parents were the late Mr. and Mrs. Alex McCrae. He was a noted skier.

Mount McKinnon, after F/S William McKinnon, R.C.A.F., son of the late Joseph McKinnon and Mrs. McKinnon.

Pulley Creek, after F.O. Harry G. Pulley, R.C.A.F., son of the late Harry Pulley and Mrs. Pulley.

Drimmie Creek, after F.O. G. R. Drimmie, DFC, R.C.A.F., whose parents were long-time residents of Revelstoke.

Holyk Creek, after P.O. Nicholas Holyk, R.C.A.F., member of a well-known Mount Cartier family.

Geographical features bearing the names of Canadians who gave their lives in time of war are lakes, rivers, islands, bays, peninsulas, falls, rapids, narrows, channels, creeks and points. They are located in every province, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

Here is a later addition to the list:

Mount English, named to remember Canadian Army Sergeant George Melville English, K42180, from Revelstoke; serving with the Royal Canadian Artillery when he died 15 September 1943, age 24 (circumstances not cited). Buried at Mountain View Cemetery, Revelstoke, grave lot 52. bl 28. ~end of article

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Right away, McCrae Peak jumped out at me; due to its popularity with outdoor enthusiasts, it could be a great way to make a geographical connection with newcomers and long-time residents alike.

I contacted Barb Vigue, a Revelstoke resident and niece of Donald McCrae. She helped me by providing the following bio of McCrae, a champion skier and alpinist who was famous in his day for his athletic victories and marathon cross-country ski touring adventures. Would he have likely climbed McCrae Peak? Skied it? Vigue says its more than likely.

As you’ll discover, the popular ski-touring spot couldn’t be named after a more deserving person.

Here’s more on an extraordinary life cut short by war, as told in a bio prepared by Barb Vigue:

Donald (Don) McCrae

Born September 22, 1916

Died May 28, 1944

Don McCrae was regarded as one of the top performers among slalom, downhill and long distance skiers in Canada in his day. He participated in local, Western and Dominion Tournaments, and in the winter of 1940 represented Canada in the Silver Skis Downhill Tournament at Mount Hood, Oregon making a first class showing.

He became known across the country in February, 1939 when he travelled the 190 mile route from Revelstoke to Golden via the soon to be opened Big Bend Highway with his brother Bill and Jim MacDonald. The next year the three boys went to Banff via the Big Bend, Jasper and the Columbia Ice Fields, a 500 mile journey. Made in the dead of winter and facing a wide variety of weather the two treks received much publicity.

Don and 22 other skiers made many trips to the summit of Mount Revelstoke during the winter months in 1937 and 1938. Craig Rutherford applied to build a lodge at the summit of Mount Revelstoke hiring Don to be in charge of erecting what was to become Heather Lodge. Don managed the lodge with his brothers Alex and Bill until he joined the  R.C.A.F in 1941.

Don took his elementary training at Boundary Bay, B.C. A notation is his log book read “extremely good pilot but weak on take-offs and landings.” Don graduated as a pilot from the Service Flying Training School in Claresholm, Alberta in October 1942. After a course at Summerside, P.E.I. he was sent overseas and had been on bombing service flying Lancaster Bombers for nearly a year when his plane went down over German-held territory. Don had just recently received a promotion from Warrant Officer 1st Class to Pilot Officer. The pilot and crew were reported missing in action and they were never found. The final entry in Don McCrae’s log book reads: “Pilot Officer McCrae failed to return.”   ~end of bio

For me, learning about Don McCrae is a reminder that the youth of Revelstoke in his time lived lives filled with the same pursuits enjoyed today by young people here. A youth interrupted by war.

Next time you head up McCrae for a few turns, pass the story of R.C.A.F pilot Donald McCrae on to newcomers and old-timers alike. Too few know it. Take the time to remember and honour Donald McCrae.