The Quebecers’ boat suffered $40,000 in damage when they rescued 2 canoeists

At the end of the afternoon, at the beginning of April 2021, Stéphane Boudreau and Catherine Audet responded to an emergency call.

Two canoeists were stuck in freezing waters off Miguasha, Que., swimming for their lives.

That morning, Mathieu Bélanger and five friends had set out in a canoe on a sunny and calm Baie-des-Chaleurs.

But the bay turned stormy at noon and boaters suddenly got into trouble, Belanger’s uncle, Pierre Belanger, said.

“The wind picked up quite fast and the dinghy tipped over and Mathieu and (a friend) were in the water – cold water, the water was two degrees – can you imagine?” said Belanger. “So they swam… (But) they were stuck between the big waves, 10 to 12 feet high, and the cliff for hours.”

Although four of the canoeists made it to shore, Belanger’s nephew and his friend Kelly-Ann Dickie remained stuck in the water next to the cliff until Boudreau and Audet rescued them.

“(Boudreau) heard the emergency call and responded right away,” Bélanger said.

The pair managed to reach the cliff and rescue the two canoeists, but Belanger’s nephew Mathieu later died in hospital of hypothermia.

Bélanger remembers his nephew’s deep love for nature and open water.

Mathieu Bélanger on a kayak trip with his dog, who also accompanied him on the unfortunate April 2021 canoe trip. The dog was rescued from the shore the next day. (Submitted by Pierre Bélanger)

“I was in Toronto and they called me in the evening to tell me that Mathieu had had an accident and that he had died and they told me that he had been rescued by Stéphane Boudreau,” recalls Bélanger. “Stéphane called me right away in the morning and just FaceTimed me… And then he said to me, you know, crying, ‘Pierre, we did everything we could do.'”

A year and a half later, Bélanger says the community continues to mourn the loss of Mathieu. The ashes of the 39-year-old father of two were buried last week.

As part of the effort to move forward, Belanger says it was important for him to help Audet and Boudreau with the damage their boat sustained during the rescue.

“The boat was hitting the cliff,” Belanger said. “It’s very sad you know after what they did, their punishment is to pay a bill for $40,000.”

The kodiak boat used for the rescue was badly damaged during the 2021 rescue. (Submitted by Pierre Bélanger)

Bélanger says Boudreau has already paid $10,000 for some initial repairs. When he learned that the municipality would not pay for the damages as he had initially hoped, Bélanger organized a fundraiser by go finance me.

So far they have raised over $5,000.

“What they did was something not many people would do,” Belanger said.

Recognized for their bravery

A few weeks after the incident, Audet and Boudreau, both of Carleton-sur-Mer, Quebec, received the Medal of the National Assembly for their act of bravery. They also received messages from the Sûreté du Québec and the coast guard.

“The effort was unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable,” said Ted Savage, director of search and rescue for the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary in Gaspésie Bas-Saint-Laurent.

Ted Savage has been a member of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary in Gaspésie Bas-Saint-Laurent for 16 years. (Submitted by Ted Savage)

“A lot of emotion for us, those of us who do this (work) consistently and also regrets…Anyone who’s been through something like this, there are lingering effects and it’s difficult.”

Savage notes that he has since become friends with Boudreau, after becoming a member of their organization and training with the rescue team.

“They are two people who reflect what we are best at and they rose to a challenge and put their own lives on the line. You can’t do anything but admire that.”

The Dangers of Near-Shore Rescues

Savage, who is also a volunteer firefighter and officer in charge of the Marine Rescue Unit, says the rescue Audet and Boudreau responded to was particularly tricky.

In 2018 he was part of a similar rescue, where they rescued two sailors near Rimouski in the middle of a storm near the shore.

“The difference between trying to deal with a rescue on land, close to shore, and a rescue at sea, it’s kind of like summer tires (versus) winter tires, you really need the right thing for the job that you’re trying to do,” Savage said.

“In cases like the one I went through, which is no different than what Mr. Boudreau went through, you make the decision to do the best you can,” he said.

“You do what you think you can do without getting killed… In many cases rescue services may not be available in the area you are sailing in.”

Prevent the tragedy from advancing

Savage notes that not all municipalities have the capacity to offer water rescue services. He says it’s “at the mercy” of local authorities and whether there are voluntary activities available.

The rescue Zodiac used by Ted Savage during the delicate 2018 operation in Rimouski. (Submitted by Ted Savage)

“The vast majority, for example, of firefighters in our country and in Quebec are volunteers, 90%. It’s the same with trying to cover a coastline,” Savage said.

“As my responsibility is across Rivière-du-Loup around the corner to Gaspé and back to Carleton. It’s an impossible task. It can’t be done.”

In addition to water safety education and best practices, Savage says there should be a willingness to develop local partnerships to expand search and rescue resources.

“So they can actually respond to something like that,” Savage said.

“Local partnerships like what we have in Rimouski, Matane, Gaspé, Carleton, we have tremendous support from our local authorities… And without that local support and injection of funding, it just wouldn’t happen. not. So there are recipes that work and they should be looked into.