By Captain Dave Peabody/Calgary Highlanders
You never know what a passing thought might uncover, or where it may lead.
One evening two years ago, while serving with the Calgary Highlanders army reserve unit, out of curiosity I asked Major Kent Griffiths, the regiment’s museum curator, if there were any mountains named after members of the Calgary Highlanders. “Mount Mike!” replied the Major.
As a climber I was immediately intrigued, and started looking into a possible climb of the mountain.
At the time I had no idea of the different threads that would weave together through this journey to reveal the lost story of another young man and his little-known legacy.
Mount Mike is located in the East Kootenay and nestled in the Quinn Range between Canal Flats on the west and Sparwood to the east. While not geographically far from Highway 93, Mount Mike is not visible from the highway despite its towering height of 3,294 metres, giving the peak a remote feeling.
Once into the interior of this range the mountain is striking; a sharp, pyramidal peak towering above its neighbours, second in height only to Mount Harrison lying to the north-east.
Pictured: Approaching Mount Mike in the East Kootenay
The mountain was named in honour of Private Sebastian Mike, a Ktunaxa from the Cranbrook area, who was killed in action in the Netherlands on October 23, 1944.
The first connection was a personal one, myself having grown up in Cranbrook, though aside from being motivation to visit the mountain this in itself was not so peculiar as to be anything but coincidence.
The second connection emerged after some early research into the climbing routes on the peak. Four years earlier I had climbed another mountain named after the first Commanding Officer of my own regiment (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry), Mount Farquhar.
Mount Farquhar was first ascended by Doctor Michael H. Benn and his partner Ted Sorenson in the late 1960s. As it turned out, the first ascent of Mount Mike was also by Doctor Benn, Ted Sorenson, and T. Swaddle in August, 1969. This again was interesting but also not so unusual so as to be out of the ordinary, given Doctor Benn’s list of first ascents in the Rockies.
To Major Griffiths’ knowledge no members of the Calgary Highlanders had yet made an ascent of the mountain. However, several routes existed, the most common and popular among scramblers being the aesthetic South-West Ridge.
Some paperwork to get an adventure training activity approved followed, and before long the plan was set. My training companion, Sergeant Petruk, and I, left Calgary at 2 p.m. on August 26, 2019, and drove west then south through the spectacular Kootenay National Park. After a break in Radium for dinner, we headed up the Whiteswan Forest Service Road south of Canal Flats, and after a couple of hours driving on well-maintained logging roads we arrived at a clear cut on the west flank of Mount Mike. We caught glimpses of the southwest ridge on our drive and this excited us for the climb the next day.
We woke to a crystal-clear blue sky and began our hike at 7 a.m. After 45 minutes of hiking along an old outfitter trail paralleling a creek in old growth forest, we turned steeply uphill through fairly open terrain. The area was clearly a popular place for bighorn sheep and their many trails made our ascent above treeline much easier than it would have been otherwise. Once above the treeline we were able to follow a ridge for some distance, then traverse a large scree bowl to reach a saddle on the southwest ridge. From here the route was clear: follow the narrowing south-west ridge to the summit, which turned out to be a fantastic climb with breathtaking exposure.
Pictured: Captain Dave Peabody at the summit of Mount Mike, with the flag of the Calgary Highlanders.
The summit was a small jumble of boulders with stunning views of Mount Harrison to the north-east and Fisher Peak and the Steeples to the south. We managed a few shots with the regimental colours and left a new summit register. The old register, unfortunately, had leaked and the log-book inside was heavily waterlogged.
After transcribing the handful of ascents into a new book as well as a tribute to Private Mike, we made our descent without incident.
Throughout the climb my thoughts went often to the soldier whose name the mountain bears, and I could not resist wanting to know more. Who was Sebastian Mike, and how did this mountain come to be named after him?
Prior to the climb I was able to find very little information on Private Mike online, and the information on him in the Calgary Highlanders archives was scant. I resolved to find out more, and this was where the most interesting and peculiar connection occurred. Major Griffiths informed me a few days after I started my research that the archives had received a request from a researcher, Mr. Troy Sebastian, a member of the Ktunaxa Nation.
Troy, who had personal connections to the story, was working on his Master’s thesis and was also looking to uncover the story of Private Mike and his journey to fighting with the Calgary Highlanders in Europe. I felt it very curious that after 70 years since the naming of Mount Mike, that Private Mike would be the subject of independent inquiry by two people at the same time. After contacting Troy, the following history was pieced together.
Fortunately, Library and Archives Canada holds the personnel files of World War Two soldiers, and I was able to access Private Mike’s files online. He was from the St. Mary’s (Aq’am) Reserve near Cranbrook, born on February 24, 1924. His father was John Mike, a farmer, and his mother at his time of enlistment was listed as deceased. John Mike lived with his wife Mary Cecilia Mike.
Sebastian had one sister, Mary Ann, a half-sister, Mary Madelaine, and a half-brother, Gabriel. He was Roman Catholic and attended residential school at the St. Eugene Mission, where he completed Grade 5.
Sebastian left school to work as a farmer. He was single, and was living with his grandparents in Cranbrook. His Personnel Selection Record stated the young man enjoyed going to shows, did not dance, read a little, and went to church. He played baseball and hockey, enjoyed swimming, fishing, and hunting, and he was five feet, 11 inches tall, 135 pounds. In his selection record Sebastian stated he never drank.
Shortly after he turned 19, he joined the Home Defence on April 7, 1943. His Personnel Selection Record reveals a little of his character, though the description is written in the language of the time. The selection officer wrote that Private Mike “Is a typical Indian [sic] in appearance and manner, somewhat at a loss on interview and lacking in confidence. Does not imply as being particularly aggressive and resourceful. This man may have difficulty in the actual respects of training and his case should be reviewed by A.E. [Army Examiner] at Basic who may be able to make a more complete assessment of this recruits [sic] personality when he is more adjusted to Army Life.”
The young man arranged for $10 a month of his pay to go to his grandparents.
After a year training as an infantryman with the Rocky Mountain Rangers, the Edmonton Fusiliers, and the King’s Own Rifle Corps, Private Mike transferred to the Winnipeg Grenadiers, and was shipped overseas on April 15, 1944.
Generally, his first year in the army had gone well. A follow up review by an Army Examiner stated, “Attitude to army is rather passive. Crime sheet is clean. Says he finds it a little difficult to follow training sometimes. His Coy. [Company] Commander reports that he seems to be getting along satisfactorily. Mike feels a little strange yet about the army but he seems to be trying to make an adjustment. He is lonesome on occasion and he thinks that some of the boys sometimes pick on him. With more experience in Army life, things will likely go more smoothly for him.”
The report concluded, “Well-adjusted Kootenay Indian Soldier. Very pleasant, good natured young man who is looking forward to O/S [overseas service]. Not particularly aggressive but gives impression of being good combatant material. Suitable for O/S service in Operational C.I.C. [Canadian Infantry Corps].”
Sadly, like so many others in the infantry, Private Mike’s short period of service at the front was not a pleasant one. On June 2, 1944, Private Mike arrived in the United Kingdom where he spent two months with the Winnipeg Grenadiers before being transferred to the Calgary Highlanders on August 8, who were taking part in Operation TOTALIZE, the Allied effort to break the German line at Verrieres Ridge. As the Regiment was in action, he likely was not able to join them until a lull in battle a week later.
Pictured: Field supper in Holland, 1944. (Photo courtesy of the Calgary Highlanders Museum and Archives)
An untested Private Mike was advancing on the town of Bourgtheroulde in France on August 26 when the unit came under heavy fire. He was one of 65 men wounded, receiving a gunshot wound to his left thigh and was evacuated to hospital.
He recovered and returned to the Highlanders on September 15, 1944. He participated in the battle of the Scheldt, at places like the Albert Canal, Eindhoven, and Hoogerheide.
On October 23, the Highlanders began an advance that would eventually take them to the Walcheren Causeway. Under cold, foggy weather with a light drizzle, the regiment soon ran into heavy opposition from German forces, receiving machine gun fire and a mortar barrage.
Tragically Private Sebastian Mike was one of the men killed by enemy fire that day. Military records of the day typically did not go into details, and Private Mike’s stated simply “SOS [Struck of Strength] deceased Killed in Action.”
Pictured: Infantry attack in Holland, 1944. (Photos courtesy of the Calgary Highlanders Museum and Archives)
While the military language was brief, Sebastian Mike’s story was destined to persist. In 1946, the Government of B.C. elected to name several mountains northeast of Cranbrook after soldiers from the area lost in the war, and Sebastian Mike was one of the names selected. Unfortunately, a record as to how the names were selected was not uncovered, and this remains a goal for the future.
As well, no photographic record of Sebastian Mike was discovered during the research of this article which perhaps makes this account only the beginning of the story.
Sebastian Mike’s final resting place is at Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian Military Cemetery, Grave 5, Row B, Plot 4. But while his body lies across a continent and an ocean, his spirit remains captured by the mountains of his home, and the Calgary Highlanders regiment that perpetuates the memory of its fallen to this day.
Climbing the mountain bearing his name was the smallest of tributes, but the connections that emerged reveal the power of history to continue to affect the living.
* With thanks to Major (retired) Kent Griffiths, Calgary Highlanders Regimental Museum and Archives, and Mr. Troy Sebastian.
Note: If anyone has any further information on Private Sebastian Mike, or any photographs of him, it is kindly requested to contact the Calgary Highlanders Regimental Museum and Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured: The gravestone of Private Sebastian Mike, at Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian Military Cemetery, Grave 5, Row B, Plot 4.. (The War Graves Photographic Project)