When Agnes Bishop and her son Craig Gillam climbed to Mark Rock 14 years ago, they had no idea it would be Gillam’s last hike to the mountain just outside South Branch.
Nor could either have predicted that Bishop would one day return to the mountain — not with her only son by her side, but rather in his memory.
Sgt. Craig Gillam of South Branch was a soldier with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. He died in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2006. He was 40 years old.
“Every year when Craig would come home we’d go up to the Mark Rock. I told Craig then (during their hike 14 years ago) I’m not going to be able to make this trip up here anymore,” Bishop recalled during a recent phone interview.
Honour the soldiers
Thanks to efforts led by Colin and Cindy Seymour of Port aux Basques, the trail leading to the mountain — which had grown in over the years — has been cleared, and on June 23 Bishop was among an estimated 30-plus people who hiked to the top of the mountain to honour Gillam and all of the Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan.
During the trek, 158 yellow ribbons – each containing the name of a fallen soldier – were placed along the trail to mark the way to the top.
Bishop and her husband Graham live in Corner Brook.
They both made it to the top of the mountain, as did their daughter Lisa Bishop Janes and her husband Trevor Grimes.
Bishop has dealt with some health issues over the years. When she started the hike, she had no idea if she would make it to the top. There were times when she needed a helping hand to manoeuvre over the rocks and the rugged terrain.
However, Bishop took her time and, the further up she got, the more driven she was to keep going.
“By the time I got up (to the top of the mountain) I was tired, but I was so proud that I made it. I just sat on the ground. I was so excited but overwhelmed,” she said.
When it comes to her son’s personality and character traits, the apple really didn’t fall far from the tree.
Her son was a very determined man, Bishop said.
“If he said he was going to do something, he would get it done, no matter what.”
Bishop described Gillam as a wonderful son, brother, father, soldier and friend to everyone.
He would go out of his way to help others, she said.
“He was very generous and caring. He loved his family and his military family,” she said.
Gillam and his wife Maureen (who died in 2014) have a son, Stephen and a daughter, Gale.
Bishop said, in addition to his family and friends, her son loved fishing, hunting, farming, hiking, and riding. He also enjoyed hockey and martial arts.
Her son was a prankster, she said, and loved tormenting his sisters — Lisa, Cindy and Janet.
Colin and Cindy Seymour have been working on the trail to Mark Rock Mountain for several years and have erected a memorial to Gillam at the top of the mountain.
Bishop said it’s difficult to find words to express her thanks to the couple for what they have done to honour all Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan.
“I lost one son but I gained another,” she said. “I feel like I’ve adopted Cindy and Colin.
“There are no words to explain how we (the families of the fallen soldiers) all appreciate what they’ve done.”
Just shy of her 73rd birthday, Bishop and 85-year-old Classie Marshall sat for a rest at the top of the mountain.
The irony of their combined ages wasn’t lost on these two strong-willed hikers.
“(Classie’s) age and my age adds up to 158. That’s the number of ribbons they placed along the trail. And we felt all of those 158 soldiers with us, pushing us up (to the top of the mountain),” said Bishop.