Alberta man canoeing down North Saskatchewan River to raise funds, awareness for SIDS

An Alberta man is canoeing across the prairies to raise money and awareness for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

David Hatto making journey in memory of granddaughter, Hazel

David Hatto reached Edmonton on Saturday. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

An Alberta man is canoeing across the prairies to raise money and awareness for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

David Hatto, 78, started his 1,450 km journey down the North Saskatchewan River from Rocky Mountain House, Alta. on June 2. On Saturday, he reached Edmonton and made camp.

The effort is Hatto's way of honouring his granddaughter Hazel, who died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) seven years ago. 

His daughter-in-law later started Hazel's Heroes as a way to help grieving mothers through retreats and community-building.

"I knew how I could fight," David Hatto said. He's organized similar fundraising trips abroad in the years since to support the organization.

David Hatto has made multiple trips to raise funds and awareness for Hazel's Heroes. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

"I've received a lot of emails, a lot of donations," Gillian Hatto said. "People that he met along the way and told the story to and shared with strangers all about Hazel and why he's doing what he's doing."

Gillian Hatto, who lives in Calgary, founded the not-for-profit in 2016.

"I started Hazel's Heroes in honour of my daughter, Hazel, who passed away suddenly and silently in the night when she was just three months and two days old," she said.

She found it difficult to find the kind of support she needed to help her with her grief.

"I felt extremely isolated and just misunderstood."

Hazel's Heroes offers mothers who have lost children to SIDS a chance to connect with each other through an annual trip — suspended during the pandemic — to Mount Engadine Lodge in Canmore, Alta.

A psychologist joins for the weekend to guide the group through talks and discussions alongside self-care opportunities like massages, art therapy, and yoga instruction.

"To be able to find a space where you can meet other people who understand what you're going through and can help you up that journey," Gillian Hatto said, adding that many friendships made at the retreat are life-long.

Through fundraising and the sponsorship of the SIDS Calgary Society, the volunteer-run organization is able to offer the retreats for free.

Gillian Hatto started the retreats in memory of her infant daughter Hazel, pictured right. She also lost a child named Lily during pregnancy, seen in the left photo. (Supplied by Gillian Hatto)

David Hatto, who lives in Jasper, Alta., said the journey along the river has been tough so far — more so than previous ventures.

"This is probably the most extreme," he said. His goal is to reach Cumberland House in eastern Saskatchewan.

The trip is being documented through David Hatto's blog, Hazel's Helper.