Alan Tennant and his wife, Rona, were driving on the Trans-Canada Highway through the Rocky Mountains earlier this month when the unthinkable happened.
The two were on their way to Golden, B.C., to celebrate the anniversary of their daughter, Lisa, and her partner, Laura, who were married at a mountain resort two years ago.
Lisa Tennant was driving with her wife and their two children — Matéo, 5, and two-and-a-half-year-old Aviana — through the Kicking Horse Canyon, a rugged section of the highway between Field, B.C. and Golden, when a large boulder smashed through the top of their Jeep.
They had been on speakerphone with her parents, who were about an hour behind.
“We were having a great old chat,” Alan Tennant recalled this week in an interview. “The kids were wide awake and excited, calling to us and laughing away, and Lisa and Laura were cracking jokes.
“Laura said something funny just a few seconds before — I can’t even remember what it was — and we were all having a laugh and then (we) suddenly heard this horrific crash.”
Tennant said his wife yelled, “What was that?” and the kids started shrieking.
“Lisa … started shouting, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God’ … and then: ‘This is bad. This is bad. Then the call dropped.”
His daughter, he said, had ended the call to pull over and dial 911. The boulder had crashed down on the passenger side and struck Laura Tennant, 38, before landing in the back seat between the children. Tennant died a day later in hospital.
A tow-truck driver who removed the boulder from the car told the family it weighed about 113 kilograms.
In a statement, B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure offered condolences to Laura Tennant’s family and friends.
“This was a tragic incident related to freeze/thaw conditions that occur frequently at this time of year,” it said.
The ministry noted that rockfall is a hazard along many B.C. highways. It said it has warning signs in many locations, including that area, and puts “watch for falling rocks” on its real-time signs when there is a greater risk.
Alan Tennant said his family didn’t realize it could happen at all and wants others to be aware of the risks driving through the area.
“Lisa isn’t even focused on blame. She couldn’t stomach the thought of someone else getting hurt,” he said. “It’s preventable.
“These two were fantastic moms. We teased them all the time about over-researching things. It’s all about safety.”
He said his daughter-in-law, who was born and raised in Montreal, was a ski racer in Quebec before moving to Alberta, but was not a risk-taker.
He said his family may not have taken the highway had they known there was a possibility of rockfall.
“If the government had used that sign that talks about delays, as if it’s an inconvenience, and instead said traffic is delayed because there are a fair number of large rocks landing on cars, we would have (taken another route),” he said.
B.C. has been working to upgrade the Trans-Canada Highway in the area to four lanes from two. The final phase, which is the most difficult stretch through the canyon, is expected to be completed by winter 2023.
The ministry said in the statement that the rockfall was unrelated to the construction as work on that section hadn’t started yet.
Alan Tennant isn’t so sure.
“It’s a construction site,” he said. “We all want that highway to be safer, but is anybody going to guarantee it’s not causing things to break free or become unsettled higher up?”
Tennant said his family isn’t demanding an investigation, but feels the need to warn others.
“All we want people to do is think twice and be safe.”
—Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press