Few remember the fifth of November when 75 years ago a soldier lost his life while on patrol in Prince Rupert.
A concrete relic from the past remains deep in the coastal rainforest, 30 metres from Highway 16 across from the Industrial Park. Approximately two months ago, members of the Port Simpson Canadian Rangers caught wind of the long-forgotten cairn for a World War II soldier.
“To us it seemed like a treasure hunt. We set out one day to locate the memorial to our fallen soldier and once we found it we knew we had a responsibility to fix it up … and make sure he was never forgotten,” said Mark Taylor, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces for eight years, and who is a member of the Canadian Rangers, a reserve force for the military.
When the Rangers found the cement pyramid-shaped memorial it was covered in moss, blending in with the surrounding forest. In the following weeks, they cleared a trail, built stairs in some sections and polished the cairn, including the circular brass plate that faces the direction of the highway with the soldier’s name inscribed on the face.
Private Allan Olsen was a member of the Midland Regiment of Ontario that was stationed in Prince Rupert to serve as home defence during World War II. On the evening of Nov. 5, 1942, Olsen was on patrol driving a Bren gun carrier along the newly constructed road. When he turned onto a bridge the light armoured tracked vehicle hit a patch of ice and rolled over. Olsen was pinned to the muddy earth under the vehicle.
The corporal who was with him, managed to escape and hurried back to Frederick Street camp to find help, but Olsen was dead by the time they returned. He was 22 years old. His body was returned to Ontario and buried in Coboconk Cemetery. A year later in Prince Rupert, members of the Midland Regiment, a padre and a firing party unveiled the six-foot cement memorial for Olsen — marking the place where he died.
But as the decades passed, nature slowly reclaimed the monument, and the Midland badge above Olsen’s name disappeared. The cairn was seemingly forgotten, but in 1993 the Daily News reported on efforts to restore it.
“A former Midland officer has sent another badge from Ontario to be mounted on it when it is fixed up, but it will not be put on now as it would possibly just be stolen again,” read one article.
There were also reports that the War Relics Committee planned to move the cairn to the Sunken Gardens behind the Courthouse, but that plan also fell through.
The Port Simpson Canadian Rangers don’t have any intention of moving the monument. Instead, they will reinforce the six-foot cement cairn and leave it where it stands.
“Eventually, when we have a more dedicated, solid prominent trail then we’ll start working on the monument itself bringing it back up to par, polishing up the brass, maybe get another cap badge,” Taylor said.
The Rangers, including Taylor, Ed McCarter and Dallas Allison, will continue working on the trail to make it more accessible for people to visit the cairn — and so it never gets lost again.
“Even if he was an out of towner, he wasn’t a Rupertite, he was still a Rupertite while he was here and he died in Rupert, so we’re going to keep on honouring his legacy,” Taylor said.