Growing up in Greater Trail during the Great Depression Ruth Roberts cherished what few belongings she had.
In 1943 when her brother went off to war he lent her his bicycle, the only one in the family, and his almost-new lunch bucket.
She carried that treasure proudly to school while most of her peers used lard pails and in the brighter day, re-used paper bags.
She considered her brother her hero and never thought war would take him. She has spent a lifetime missing him and revisiting the days before his death.
The 86-year-old Burnaby woman reflects this Remembrance Day with a long-awaited feeling of closure after a visit to Fruitvale officially let her say goodbye to her brother who was killed in the Second World War.
Ruth Roberts traveled home to Greater Trail with her husband Fred this fall to visit a mountain peak in the village that has been named after her brother Canadian Scottish Regiment Private Douglas Botterill McDonald.
After almost a decade of coming across the B.C. Remembrance Day Naming program, whereby a geographical feature can be named to remember a wartime fatality, Roberts feels that she’s accomplished a dream of hers and knows she’s made her brother proud.
“It’s just overwhelming and it brings tears to my eyes,”she told the Times back in September when she visited McDonald Peak for the first time. “We lived in Fruitvale all those years and we’ve been back so many times and looked up there in the mountains and had no idea that someday it would be named after him.”
The nearly 1,600 meter-high peak is known locally as one of the “Golden Hills” and is one of five peaks along a summit ridge of the mountain massif separating Kelly Creek and the Pend d’Oreille River. The peak that can be spotted from downtown is a constant reminder of the important contribution her brother made to his country.
Douglas Botterill McDonald was born Aug. 7, 1924 in Ashcroft but spent much of his short life in Trail, Robson and Fruitvale. His father brought his family to the Trail area in 1929 when he started working at Cominco.
The “country boy” always considered Fruitvale home, said Roberts, because he spent his teen years there before enlisting in the Armed Forces in 1943.
He went onto serve in Normandy with the 1st Btn, Canadian Scottish regiment and was killed in action Aug. 15 1944 at Falaise. He was 20 years old.
“I buried him on Aug. 17 in a burial ground near where he fell and alongside those who gave their lives,” said Roberts. “They say only the good die young, and he was good.”
She is certain that if her brother skipped fate, he would have spent the rest of his days in Fruitvale and would have celebrated his 89th birthday this past Aug. 7 if he was still alive.
“But since Doug was not able to return to Fruitvale himself, I feel that having this peak (McDonald Peak, which is only five miles from downtown Fruitvale) named in honour of him, that he will be forever connected to Fruitvale – symbolically and spiritually,” said Roberts. “He will forever be looking down at Fruitvale.”
Roberts ventured up to the peak early fall with her 89-year-old husband Fred.
The rough ride was worth the experience of a lifetime that she likens to her trip around the Baren Lake and through the Panama Canal.
Her husband’s nephew, Fruitvale resident Gerry Veysey (and wife Marian), brought the couple part of the way in his vehicle and then they were guided by locals Hans Laouwe and Bruce Donaldson for the last 25 minutes on ATVs.
“It was one of the most memorable events of my life,” recalls Roberts. “I’m just wishing I had persevered and pursued the matter years ago.
“I’m sorry that my parents weren’t alive and I wish I had done it sooner so my sister could come with me.”
Her sister Elaine MacNicol is 90 now and also has vivd memories of the time around her brother’s death, some that are unexplainable.
A program in the summer of 1944 brought her to the Okanagan, where she harvested fruit with Roberts.
Elaine left without an explanation one work day and she later realized the strong feeling to go back home to Greater Trail when she read a telegram that said her brother Doug was killed in battle.
That same afternoon her sister left, Roberts finished work early and with a friend decided to enjoy a rare treat. Not wanting to carry her lunch bucket into Summerland to buy a milkshake, Roberts stashed it in some bushes near the cannery to be retrieved later. Upon their return, she reached in and picked up Doug’s lunch bucket.
“I had an immediate, strange reaction — a jolt of supreme sadness, an overwhelming depression, a profound feeling of utter despair, such a strange experience/feeling that it is difficult to describe even after so many years of going over and over it in my mind,” said Roberts. “I didn’t want to talk, to laugh, to kibitz as we had been doing; I only wanted to be left alone with this feeling of profound grief, sadness and sense of loss,” she explained.
Whenever she thinks about this experience or talks about it, she is immediately back there in Summerland in 1944 holding that lunch bucket, which was her connection to her brother. She was too young then to associate this event with her brother’s death but since then she has appreciated the fact that he came to say goodbye.
“I have always been sorry that I did not recognize his farewell and give him my own farewell in return,” she said.
She has now said her goodbyes.