2 dads, 2 boys die on northern Manitoba canoe trip

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The bodies of two men and two boys who were on a canoe trip have been recovered from a lake in northern Manitoba.

Lindsay Catherine Rose Sykes told CBC News that her husband, Conor Sykes, and their six-year-old son, Liam, were on the trip with Shane Cripps and his 14-year-old son, Dylan.

A distraught Sykes said it was the first canoe trip of the year for the two men, who were best friends. Her husband was 33 and Cripps was 44.

“I have a baby girl, her name’s Annabelle. She’s four and she lost her best friend, Liam, her brother; and her daddy,” Sykes said through heavy sobs.

“We were so happy. We were such a happy family.”

She described her husband as a “very hard-working man” employed with the local gas company.

“He worked very hard for his family. He loved us so much. He loved us so much.”

‘I knew … something was wrong’

The foursome launched their canoe trip near the causeway that connects to the Burntwood River, just northwest of Thompson, and were expected back before noon. But by 8 p.m., they had not returned.

Shane Cripps

Shane Cripps and his 14-year-old son, Dylan, were part of the foursome whose bodies were found on Monday. (Shane Cripps/Facebook)

Sykes tried phoning her husband but the call kept going straight to voicemail.

“I knew in my gut something was wrong,” she said.

She then got together with Cripps’s wife and they contacted the RCMP, who responded immediately.

“They were on it so fast. They were in the water so fast,” Sykes said, adding the Thompson Fire Department quickly joined in, along with a Manitoba Hydro helicopter and someone with a private float plane.

“My husband was a strong swimmer and I know he fought to get there. He gave it to his last breath.” – Lindsay Catherine Rose Sykes

“Everybody was just too late.”

The four, who all had life-jackets on, were found close to the capsized canoe, according to RCMP.

“They think the shoreline was just too far for them to swim in the water. It was still too cold,” Sykes said.

“My husband was a strong swimmer and I know he fought to get there. He gave it to his last breath.”

The deaths come just over a week after the retired police chief of Kenora, Ont., drowned while kayaking in Whiteshell Provincial Park.

‘Absolutely tragic’

Clint Saulteaux knew Cripps, who ran the River View Restaurant in Thompson.

He said Cripps would often keep the restaurant open after hours for young people in the community.

“Hip-hop artists, other nights there were poetry readings. Basically it was anything to do with the marginalized community and the marginalized youth of Thompson that he gave opportunities to showcase their talents,” Saulteaux said.

“In his restaurant right now are paintings by local artists and mostly First Nations artists that are pursuing painting, photography.”

Thompson Coun. Penny Byer said the community is reeling right now from the deaths. A critical incident team is meeting in the city to find ways to help the families.

Mayor Dennis Fenske added that trauma teams have been sent to the schools attended by the two boys.

“It’s absolutely tragic, devastating to the community,” he said.

Fatal canoe trip

The canoe trip started from this causeway through the Burntwood River on Monday morning. (RCMP)

The area of the causeway is popular with boaters and fishers and with the winter ice only recently having been melted away, this was the first weekend the water was open.

However, it was only about 3 C or 4 C, Fenske said.

“Although it looks nice, it can be very treacherous in that sense, if you happen to go into it.”

According to RCMP, it was members of the public, assisting in the search, who found the four victims.

“This is the worst result imaginable. Thank you to everyone involved in the search,” said Sgt. Ben Sewell of the Thompson RCMP.

“This is a devastating accident that has left the community of Thompson in mourning.”

Sykes said she has received numerous messages of support on Facebook, both from friends and strangers.

“I can’t thank the community enough for their support,” she said. “I’m very grateful to have been a part of this community.”

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2 dads, 2 boys die on northern Manitoba canoe trip

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