76 years after his death, WW II soldier honoured with plaque placed at summit of B.C. mountain named after him
Now, the climber who put it there wants to find Cpl. Merrick's family
A plaque honouring the life of a Canadian soldier killed in the Second World War has been placed at the top of a mountain named after him near his home in Pouce Coupe, in northeastern British Columbia.
And the man who put it there hopes to connect with the soldier's family, if any are still alive.
"I would really love for them to see this and feel proud of their great-grandpa or whoever it is in relation to them," Dan Leonhardt told CBC Radio West host Sarah Penton. "I would love that."
Leonhardt made his way up Mount Merrick this past week after two failed attempts at finding a passable route. It's a goal he'd had ever since first seeing the mountain while working on a pipeline in B.C.'s Peace region earlier this summer.
"Right from when I first saw it, I kind of was taken with it and really wanted to get to the top and see the views up there," he said.
While researching the trip, Leonhardt came across the history of Cpl. Keith Warren Merrick, the Second World War soldier for whom the mountain was named by the Canadian government in 1961.
According to the Canadian Military Engineers Association, Merrick's family were homesteaders in Pouce Coupe near Dawson Creek when the war began. He enlisted in July 1940 and was killed in battle in Italy in May 1944 — the year before the war officially came to an end. He is buried in the Cassino War Cemetery southeast of Rome.
After his death, Merrick's wife and son lived with his parents in Pouce Coupe, which is approximately 200 kilometres northeast of the mountain that bears his name.
Learning this, Leonhardt decided he'd like to do something to honour Merrick's legacy when he reached the summit. On the advice of a contact with the Royal Canadian Legion, he had a plaque made up with Merrick's name and information, complete with the cypher belonging to the military branch to which he belonged.
He then carried it with him on the 7.25 kilometre climb, with an ascent of 631 metres through bush, wind and snow.
Placing the plaque on top of the mountain, Leonhardt said he had "a moment of peace" contemplating the mountain and Merrick's sacrifice.
"It was quite the feeling," he said. "It's tough to put into words."
Leonhardt has tried to track down Merrick's descendants but said it appears his son has already passed, and he's not sure how to get in touch with his children or grandchildren. But he's hopeful his story will reach them and inspire more people to make the climb.
"I'd love for many more people to hike up there ... and this maybe becomes an established trail that people will do," he said.
- An earlier version of this story said Leonhardt carried the plaque for 14.5 kilometres with an ascent of 1,731 metres. In fact, he carried the plaque for 7.25 kilometres with an ascent of 631 metres.Oct 04, 2020 11:23 AM PT