SHORTTS LAKE, N.S. – When Julie Stewart heard a yell, she knew the two canoeists who paddled by her house were in peril.
A woman on a paddleboard was pleading with a man to stay calm after his canoe capsized. He was one of two men in the water, whom the woman was trying to help on the morning of Sept. 6 at Shortts Lake in Colchester County, N.S.
Julie ran down to her pontoon boat and raced to the scene. One of the two men struggled briefly to stay above the water before going under.
“I couldn’t find him, I assume he’d already sunk to the bottom,” recalled Julie a day later. “I wish I could have done more. I wish we could have gotten there a minute sooner, just to save that second man.”
Julie saw the men paddle by as she was clearing away lawn furniture ahead of hurricane Dorian’s arrival. She heard one of the men tell the other he was rocking the boat and to sit down, just before the female paddleboarder yelled in alarm.
Julie's husband, Shaune, and her sister, called 911 before joining the rescue attempt.
Julie herself was in the lake by then, using a lifejacket to stay afloat. She peered underwater trying to locate the drowning victim, but only saw the reeds on the lakebed.
She told the surviving canoeist to kick his sneakers off, grab another lifejacket and directed him to her pontoon boat, manned by Shaune.
“I had no idea how quickly it happened,” said Shaune. “By the time we got over and he was under, we never saw him again.”
As Shaune helped the survivor back to shore, Julie climbed on the other woman’s paddleboard and continued searching the lake for the man. They remained on the water for about 45 minutes.
As they continued the search, emergency services arrived on-scene. Brookfield Volunteer Fire Department helped RCMP recover the man’s body.
Colchester District RCMP say the deceased man was a 58-year-old from Truro.
Police also say personal flotation devices were in the canoe, but were not used.
The RCMP has also requested help from the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service in their investigation.