Joe Wall pictured with a relative in 1934

Family to memorialize Depression-era drowning tragedy

Family will gather to lay the headstone for Joe Wall who died at 17 in Revelstoke while working on the Big Bend Highway

Descendants of a Saskatchewan man who drowned in a work camp tragedy near Revelstoke 78 years ago this week will gather here to lay a headstone their family couldn’t afford when he died.

Joe Wall, then 17, was one of five men who drowned in the Columbia River on Aug. 26, 1934 after a cable car they were riding in plunged nearly eight metres into the river at 10 Mile.

The men were all migrants who came for work at a National Defence camp. They were employed building the Big Bend Highway.

During their spare time, six workers discovered a small, old cable car that crossed the river. Against the warnings of others, they rigged the car up to the nearby cable and crossed the river in two trips. On their way back, they all loaded into the car.

Their combined weight was too much and the cable car gave way, spilling the men into the river. The men were swept down the river and some of them reportedly floated as far down as Revelstoke. Townspeople looked on in horror, while others launched boats in an attempt to save them.

Only one man – Roy Palmer – survived when he was plucked from a rock he clung to.

PHOTO: Kari Dobson

Joe Wall had run away from his home in Fernview, Saskatchewan, fleeing the poverty of the Great Depression. He left with 50 cents to his name and rode the rails to the work camp in Revelstoke.

At the time, his family in Saskatchewan didn’t have the money to travel here for the funeral, which was handled by the community of Revelstoke. The townspeople floated a raft of flowers down the Columbia as a memorial to the dead.

His descendant Kari Dobson recently relocated to Revelstoke and is working on behalf of his relatives to put a memorial headstone on his unmarked grave. “The community came together for five guys that nobody knew – runaways that came to work on the highway,” she said in a recent interview.

Plans for the memorial are taking shape and the headstone is expected to be ready in a few weeks. Members of the family will travel here for the event.

“They care all so dearly about this man,” Dobson said. Their message to the man who rests in Mountainview Cemetery: “We’re here for you now, even though it’s 78 years later.”

 

 

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