A Lifesaving Rescue and Testimonial for Beaver Canoe Club Training

This account of a rescue was recently sent to me by two club members who completed the Basic Paddlers and Introduction to Moving Water training in the spring of 2022. Early in the following summer they were required to execute a life saving rescue. Except for a few minor edits this is their account.

Bob Podesta  


Hi.  This is Harry and Marian Schwaiger.

We are first year members of the Beavers Canoe Club.  After completing the basic paddling course and (me, Harry) the moving water course recently, I felt we had the tools and confidence to do some canoe trips this summer. We set out on a canoe trip to McLennan Lake circuit located about 4 hours north of Prince Albert, Sask.  All went well, and the lake(s) and portages went very well…and we completed this trip in about 4.5 days with no mishaps.

About 2 weeks later (July 4th, 2022), we (in our Chestnut cedar strip/canvass canoe) along with a couple of close friends (in their kayaks) went on a trip to the Bowron Lakes canoe circuit.  They are very experienced kayakers.

The water was very high for this time of the year.  We did very well even though we encountered lots of rain/hail and wind.  However on the 4th day of our trip, 2 of our party suffered a mishap.  The Caribou river (on the exit side of McLeary lake) was also very high and there were dead heads and sweepers everywhere.  Our friends (kayakers) unfortunately tipped out, and were swept downstream in the icy, fast running waters.  One of them ended up in a log jam debris (with the current running underside) and the other (his wife) ended up on the edge of the water on the flooded banks further downstream in knee deep of water.  

I taxied our canoe to the fellow who was clinging onto the log jam pile in the middle of the rapids, but initially had to abort rescue… because a huge log deadhead/log was approaching and aimed straight for us.  We avoided direct collision and circled back and paddled hard up the rapids for a second attempt at rescue. (He was in the water clinging onto the log jamb for about 20 minutes up to this point) We were able to “park” our canoe next to our fallen friend and had him, “shimmy” into our middle portion of our canoe, from the side, staying as low as possible, while I was on the other side of the canoe to counterbalance the vessel to prevent capsize of our boat.  After ensuring that our canoe was properly centered (and the live load and equipment on board was balanced accordingly), we were able to continue downstream.  The “patient” in our boat was shivering and was still in medical danger (hypothermia).  The weather did not help us in our case.  Lots of thunder and the hard rain kept pelting onto us.  

I was able to place a silver foiled survival blanket over our patient and a blue tarp as an outer shell (to try to keep him reasonably warm and out of the stormy elements) as we preceded to a emergency phone system on the shoreline (to request a jet boat crew to assist).  This emergency phone system did not work. We then made the decision to “book it” to the nearest emergency shelter (3 to 4 km away…at Turner Point on Lanezi Lake).

Along the way downstream the river, we encountered our patient’s wife beside her over turned kayak at the flooded shoreline standing in about 3 feet of water.  Her kayak was full of water, and she was not able to make this boat serviceable. She was blowing her whistle as we approached her.  As I was passing her, I assured her that I had her husband in our canoe and that a guided canoe group behind me would pick her up and transport her to the same emergency shelter that I was headed for.  I wouldn’t have been able to help her…as our canoe was already quite over loaded (4″of freeboard).

Both patients were able to be transported to the emergency shelter where they were able to get out of their wet clothes and into sleeping bags directly in front of a warm wood stove. Their kayaks and all of their camping gear, were left behind because of the dangerous water conditions on the river (our focus was to get our patients to safety first).  

We tried the emergency radio at this shelter as well but were unable to contact any park warden staff until about 2 hours. The park wardens finally came to the shelter.  They provided clothes for our friends and transported them out to their (Rangers) cabin. (Since it was too dangerous to retrieve their kayaks and camping gear, they had to abort their trip).  We continued and completed the trip 2 days later. As it turned out, over a span of 3 days, there were 5 overturned boats and rescues (including ours friends). I feel that this lake circuit should have been closed to the public until the water levels were down to safe levels.

I really appreciate the training sessions that your club provided for Marian and I and this helped us immensely with our situation. A job to be done…no panic or drama or confusion within the rescue operation. And that was because of the training that the club had provided to us. It was so valuable!  Thanks for what the club and its instructors does for its members.

Harry and Marian Schwaiger

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