Rundle rock commissioned for Air India memorial

Craig Douce - photo

Louis Kamenka at his Harvie Heights quarry.

By Tanya Foubert - Canmore

There are a few occasions in life when people, places and events converge and the underlying message that bridges them is almost poetic.

Last weekend, in front of a memorial for those who lost their lives in the worst terror attack in Canadian history, two Canmore residents discovered how sorrow and renewal can be connected with a 220 million year old piece of Rundle rock from the Bow Valley.

Brenda and Louis Kamenka made the trip last week to Toronto for the unveiling of a memorial to the 329 lives lost when Air India Flight 182 went down off the coast of Ireland in 1985.

"You do not realize how many people are affected until you see them all in one place and see their names on the plaque," Kamenka says. "As this project has gone on, it has had deeper and deeper meaning."

A memorial sundial was commissioned for the city, which saw the largest loss of community members, to mark the passage of time and contain the names of those who lost their lives in the disaster.

A rock from every province in the country was gathered to create the timepiece and the piece selected from Alberta came from Kamenka Quarry in Harvie Heights, which was a particular honour for the long-time locals.

Dixon Edward, with the Alberta Geological Survey, says he suggested Kamenka's Rundle rock to memorial organizers because it is the "kind of rock that you could think of as an Albertan rock."

While it was not immediately clear to Edward if they were looking for a commonly used rock, a rock that is only found in Alberta, or just a unique stone, Kamenka's stone fit all three categories.

Kamenka, a geologist by training, says the Rundle rock from the quarry that has been in his family since 1954 is a fine grain sandstone or siltstone locally referred to as Rundle rock. The name came from the first quarry in the valley that mined it on Rundle Mountain, which is where the rocks that form the Banff Springs Hotel were quarried.

The front range of the Rockies is the only place in North America this kind of rock is found and it can be dated back 220 million years ago, to when the Bow Valley was under a shallow sea and part of one giant massive continent called Pangea.

Kamenka says the rock formed in the water right after the greatest mass extinction on the planet. Following the destruction, life was reborn again and the particular layers of Rundle rock represent how life carried on.

"Ninety-five per cent of all life died in the ocean and then started to resurge and it is recorded here in these rocks."

As time went by, the scope and connection between the event and the rock itself became more apparent to Kamenka and his wife. He says while there was a lot of sorrow and sadness, the families also had a lot of hope for how life and memory carry on.

"That is what amazed us," he said. "They all had gone on with their lives, but they did not forget.

"Finally, the Canadian government and provinces recognized (with this memorial) this is a tragedy that really happened to all of us in a way and life goes on."

Five 50-pound rocks were sent to Toronto from Canmore, where one was chosen and stone masons put it together with rocks from the other provinces, the U.S. and India to be unveiled 22 years after the explosion that brought down the Air India flight off the coast of Ireland, which has an identical monument.

Thought of as the worst

terror attack in Canadian history, Air India Flight 182 went down over the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Ireland on June 26, 1985, taking 329 lives, 280 of which were Canadian.

The cause of the disaster were explosives allegedly planted by Sikh extremists in luggage from Vancouver's airport. Suspected

mastermind of the plot

Talwinder Singh Parmar was

arrested in November 1985 and charged with weapons, explosives and conspiracy offences that were later dropped for lack of evidence. He later died in 1992 in India.

Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were acquitted of all charges in March 2005 after the costliest investigation and prosecution in Canadian history.

Uproar over the ruling helped pave the way for a public inquiry headed by former Supreme Court Justice John Major, who is reviewing all aspects of the attack. The inquiry into the tragic event has been adjourned for the summer and is expected to reconvene in September.

Bomb-maker Inderjit Singh Reyat was sent to prison as part of a 2003 plea bargain.


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