Family of Cochrane woman killed by falling boulder on B.C. highway speaks out about safety

Family and friends of 38-year-old Laura Tennant gathered Wednesday in Cochrane, Alta., to celebrate the mother of two who was killed by a falling boulder on the Trans-Canada Highway in B.C.

Tennant and her young family had been driving on March 4 through the Kicking Horse Canyon, a stretch of mountain highway near the town of Golden, B.C., parts of which are under construction to make it safer for motorists.

Alan Tennant, Laura’s father-in-law, said he and his wife were travelling about an hour behind on the highway. They were all planning to meet and celebrate Laura and wife Lisa’s second wedding anniversary. They were married on Kicking Horse Mountain on March 7, 2020.

“We were about an hour behind them, having an excited, animated conversation [on the phone]. Laura had just made a couple jokes,” Alan said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener

“It ended with a tragic, horrible sound, and that was the last contact we had with Laura. But we know her last seconds were pure joy.”

The boulder came right through the roof of the vehicle, striking Laura in the passenger seat but landing between the two children sitting in the back seats. Lisa was also spared.

“Laura had no chance. There was no warning whatsoever,” Alan said. “It’s very tragic.”

Safety concerns

The Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 project is upgrading about five kilometres of road through a rugged and difficult section of Highway 1 between Golden and the Yoho Bridge.

In a statement, a spokesperson with the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said the ministry’s thoughts were with the family and friends of the victims of the rockfall incident.

“This was a tragic incident related to freeze [and] thaw conditions that occur frequently at this time of year,” the spokesperson said.

“The rockfall is unrelated to work on the Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 project as it occurred in an area where work has not yet been initiated.”

Alan said the family had been unaware about the scale of the risks related to freeze and thaw conditions at the time while travelling through the area.

“I hope that [B.C. officials have] a look at this. There’s a lot more that could be done to make people safe,” he said. “The use of electronic signage and road reports using social media, using map apps, those kinds of things, are available tools.”

The Trans-Canada Highway upgrades include twinning a dangerous stretch of road. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation)

In its statement, the spokesperson with the B.C. ministry said it has dedicated staff that work to mitigate rockfall hazards throughout B.C.

“The rockfall protection near this site predates the project and was installed by [the ministry] in an area identified by geotechnical engineers,” he said. “The recent rockfall occurred adjacent to existing fencing.”

That all speaks to a less-than-perfect scenario for Alan.

“Adjacent tells me there is no fencing at that point,” he said. “The fencing there has probably served a purpose over time. There’s changing environments around us.”

Identifying natural hazards

The ministry said the highway through the Kicking Horse Canyon travels through very challenging terrain with areas that are susceptible to rockfall and avalanches.

“While it isn’t possible to identify and mitigate all natural hazards, past work in the area has worked to reduce the hazard and included the rockfall protection netting that predates the initiation of the Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 project,” the spokesperson said.

As construction work proceeds, the contractor will be constructing larger catchment ditches and new rockfall protection.

All of that still leaves a big hole in the lives of those grieving the loss of Laura.

“I think there’s an additional risk here that we want people to know about. And I think that’s what Laura would want,” Alan said. “If there’s any possible good from this, it’s for people to really question safety around them.

“Laura was a woman who lived for the mountains, and she didn’t take risks, and certainly not for her kids. I think these two great moms would have taken any information they received and made a different decision on the route.”

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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