Ville Marie, QB Canoe Accidents, June 1978
HIGH WAVES KILLED 13: CORONER.
Ville Marie, Que. (CP) -- Twelve schoolboys and an instructor from a school that teaches survival and self-reliance spent as long as 12 hours in the frigid waters of Lake Timiskaming on Sunday before they drowned, a coroner said Tuesday.
Dr. Leonard Julien of Rouyn, Que., said all the victims were wearing "good life jackets ... attached
to the neck and stomach," and that autopsies performed on about seven of the victims showed they did not die of exposure as speculated earlier.
The temperature of the lake at the time was about 6C.
The tragedy occurred after a group of 27 boys, aged between 10 and 15, and four instructors from St. John's School of Ontario, in Claremont, northeast of Toronto, began canoeing up Lake Timiskaming, about 370 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.
All the dead students were between 12 and 14 years of age.
Eighteen survivors were rescued from the west side of the lake, which straddles the Ontario-Quebec border.
Julian said the victims drowned, despite wearing the life jackets, after taking in water because
"there were very, very high waves" on the lake after a sudden, violent thunderstorm hit the area.
The group apparently was unaware of a severe storm advisory that had been issued for the area only hours earlier.
Julian said there is a possibility that the victims were suffering from exposure before they drowned,
but added that until the autopsies are complete, the effects of the cold would not be known.
Richard Bird, a professor from Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., and a counsellor who accompanied the 31-member group, fought back tears as he told a press conference later how he rescued three boys from the wind-swept waters, only to have them die later.
BIRD, a volunteer at the school in Claremont, about 25 kilometres northeast of Toronto, said the expedition set out from Temiscaming, Que., about 8:15 a.m. EDT Sunday in only light winds.
The group was bound for Moosonee, Ont., on James Bay, about 350 kilometres north of here, where they were to meet an older group of 20 students and teachers from the same school, who were starting out from Wawa, Ont.
The other group learned of the tragedy early Tuesday when Ontario Provincial Police reached their campsite south of Wawa near the Michipicoten River, about 230 kilometres north of Sault Ste. Marie.
A school spokesman said the second group would return home.
BIRD, 29, said three of the canoes each carried nine boys and an instructor and one carried six boys and instructor PETER CAIN, 37. They paddled four hours before stopping for lunch on the east shore.
Then, with BIRD navigating in the first, the four 22-foot cedar canoes, laden with food and baggage, left for the west shore, about two kilometres away, to get out of the wind.
BIRD sobbed as he told of hearing a shout and looking back to see the last canoe, supervised by 24-year old NEIL THOMPSON, capsized in the narrow, storm-tossed lake, stirred by winds estimated by weather officials to have gusted between 60 and 100 kilometres at the time.
Then a second canoe, supervised by MARK DENNY, 21, also capsized as its crew attempted
to help THOMPSON and his crew, BIRD said.
BIRD said he put his canoe to shore to let off the two youngest boys and some packs, then returned to DENNY'S overturned canoe where he plucked two boys from the water and took them ashore. CAIN also managed to pull in two boys.
BIRD said his canoe overturned when he returned for two more of DENNY'S crew. He said he pulled DENNY, who was swimming away, back into the group that by then consisted of seven boys and instructors BIRD and DENNY.
"I told him (CAIN, who was returning to help more from the water) we'd swim our canoe to shore and he set off to help THOMPSON," BIRD said, adding that he, DENNY and the boys swam the canoe to within about 25 metres of the shore where the wind made further progress impossible.
"The boys were panicking and it was difficult to get them to kick in any organized fashion," said BIRD, his voice breaking with emotion.
CAIN, who had only three boys to help paddle the ungainly canoe, was unable to reach THOMPSON
and while trying to help DENNY into his canoe, it too overturned.
BIRD said he then took the smallest boy, who was losing consciousness, to shore and tried to keep him warm. When he looked back toward the lake, the others were being washed along the shoreline.
"I didn't have the strength to go back out."
BIRD covered the boy with life jackets and struggled along the shore to return to the members of his crew he had left behind earlier and was told three boys in a small bay nearby were calling for help.
Three times he swam out, each time returning with an unconscious child to the desolate shore where he and the two boys began artificial respiration in a vain attempt to revive them.
BIRD said he returned for the boy he had left under the pile of life jackets about 30 minutes later and encountered CAIN and two or three members of his crew. CAIN told him some of the boys who had been with him were still in the water.
BIRD said some of them, seeing that CAIN and the others had reached the shore, tried, but,
"some of them made it, some of them didn't."
BIRD, who said he had been canoeing for 15 years and that CAIN also was highly experienced, told the press conference that he and CAIN returned to the original place where they reached the shore.
There, he learned the three boys he had pulled from the icy waters had died.
The survivors were exhausted, he said, and they set about erecting a survival camp and awaiting rescue.
"It seemed to be a chain of accidents ... until my canoe dumped, it was a normal rescue operation."
The shivering survivors spent the night with little shelter or food, huddled on the shoreline beside a flickering fire in the wind and drizzle.
Gary Smith of Hearst, Ont., a pilot with Trans-Quebec Helicopters, discovered the tragedy about 7:30 a.m. CDT Monday as he flew on a routine flight over the lake en route to Ottawa from Rouyn-Noranda, Que. He contacted police who located the group.
In Claremont, anxious parents gathered Monday night at St. John's School, a converted nursing home and one of three such private schools in Canada administered by the Company of the Cross, a lay order of the Anglican Church.
After the names of the victims were read by a school official, about 25 parents boarded a chartered bus for the 7 1/2 hour trip to Ville Marie.
They were taken to the civic centre in this town of 2,500 persons, most of whom are French-speaking, about an hour before the first survivors arrived in a single-engine Beaver floatplane early Tuesday.
As the skies cleared and cold winds fanned the lake, grief-stricken survivors were escorted through a waiting crowd on the government dock to police cars and taken to the centre for reunions with parents and friends. Many cried, happy to have survived, but saddened by the loss, a school appointed spokesman said.
Winnipeg Free Press Manitoba 1978-06-14