Manitoba

Mother of girl who died in Churchill boating accident leading food drive for northern town

A Winnipeg woman is spearheading a volunteer food drive to deliver Christmas hampers to people in the northern Manitoba town of Churchill to honour the memory of her five-year-old daughter, Danica deLaroque, who died when the canoe she was whale-watching in capsized.

Toni deLaroque lost her daughter Danica, but is grateful for the emergency workers who saved her son, husband

Danica deLaroque was just five years old when she was killed after the canoe she was in capsized while was whale watching in Churchill. Her mother has organized a food drive to help the northern town, while has faced hardships since its rail line flooded last spring. (Submitted by Toni deLaroque)

A Winnipeg woman is spearheading a massive volunteer food drive to deliver Christmas hampers to people in Churchill to honour the memory of her five-year-old daughter, Danica deLaroque, who died in a boating accident in the northern Manitoba community.

In July 2016, the canoe Danica, her father and her younger brother were in while whale watching capsized. She suffered hypothermia in the frigid waters and later died in hospital.

Danica's mother, Toni deLaroque, said that she could have lost her son and husband too, were it not for the rescue workers in Churchill who saved them.

"Emergency services workers performed CPR on my daughter and my son for three hours. Every nurse, paramedic and health support worker rallied to try to save my family." 

DeLaroque went back to Churchill last fall to thank the people there for their efforts, and to try to help emergency workers who might be suffering from the trauma of the incident with their own healing.

"It was so important for me to go back to Churchill to let everyone know that even though we lost Danica, their emergency efforts saved my son," she said.

"I didn't want them to suffer."

3,000 kg of food, toys to be shipped

She's grown fond of the community since the accident, and says she was heartbroken to hear about hardships faced by the town following flooding that damaged the town's rail line last spring, leaving it without any ground transport connection to the south.

That's why she started efforts to help through Danica's Village, a fundraising initiative she started in memory of her daughter.

Initially, she rallied volunteer support to fill 80 backpacks with toiletries and other supplies, and sent those north with the help of the RCMP. She also sent cereal for the school's breakfast program.

Now, her food hamper drive has collected more than 3,000 kilograms of food and toys, ready to be shipped by volunteers from Calm Air.

With the help of Winnipeg Harvest, she is adding fruits and vegetables to the hampers.

Food prices soaring in Churchill 

That food is desperately needed. Today, a banana in Churchill costs $7 and a carton of milk costs $10.

Louise Lawrie, a volunteer with the Hungry Bears Food Bank in Churchill, says almost a third of the town's population is now using the food bank. Residents are finding it tough to make ends meet. 

"Before the rail line closed, people were able to budget for the year because they could depend on jobs. Now, with the loss of jobs, people can't afford groceries," Lawrie said.

She has lived in Churchill her entire life. Her parents were fur traders there. She's hopeful that once this season's ice road is built, it will be easier for people to get more food. But for now, times are tough for residents and Lawrie says many people find it hard to use the food bank in a small town, where they know everyone. 

A Winnipeg woman is spearheading a massive volunteer food drive to deliver Christmas hampers to people in Churchill to honour the memory of her five-year-old daughter, Danica deLaroque, who died in a boating accident in the northern Manitoba community. 2:22

"Some people are very uncomfortable. A man came in with his son and asked if he was eligible. We really try to help put minds at ease and help everyone."

She also said the outpouring of support from local businesses, including donations made through the food bank's online fundraising campaign, has been incredible. 

"Even a church in New York donated to our online campaign." 

In the meantime, deLaroque is working countless hours to get the people of Churchill fed for the holidays. Working with a friend at Churchill's Tundra Inn, they are making soups, lasagnas and casseroles for the hampers. 

"I just want to help. Churchill is so important to me. I can't sit back and hear stories of how bad it is getting up there. I am so happy to help the great people of Churchill in their time of need."