'He was the best person I knew': Best friend of man who drowned in floodwaters mourns his loss

André Lamontagne is still shaken, after finding the lifeless body of his friend Pierre Dugas on a flooded street near their neighbouring cottages in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts early Sunday.

André Lamontagne is still shaken after finding friend Pierre Dugas lifeless in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts Sunday

About 20 homes and the main road in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, in Quebec's Mauricie region, have been flooded this spring. (Jérôme Roy/Radio-Canada)

André Lamontagne is still shaken, after finding the lifeless body of his best friend on a flooded street near their neighbouring cottages on Sunday.

Pierre Dugas, a 70-year-old Montreal resident, set out from his cottage in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, about 140 kilometres northeast of Montreal, in a canoe to check on his flooded property Saturday afternoon.

Big heart, helping hand

"He was the best person I knew," said Lamontagne. "He had a big heart and was always helping others."

Lamontagne said over the course of their 26-year friendship, he and Dugas were always together, helping each other with repairs on their respective cottages, cutting down trees on each other's property or helping with anything else that needed doing.

Lamontagne said he last spoke with Dugas at around 1:30 p.m. Saturday, just before Dugas set out in his canoe.

He said Dugas put floaters on the canoe to stabilize it because it was tippy, and Dugas was afraid of water.

"He wanted to check on his firewood," recalled Lamontagne, who said he'd invited Dugas for supper later that evening.

A tireless search

When Dugas didn't show up for dinner, he started worrying and phoned other neighbours to find out if anyone had seen him.

Lamontagne said when there was still no sign of Dugas at dusk, he phoned 9-1-1 and reported his friend missing.

"A police officer and a firefighter paddled out to his property looking for him, but they called off the search once it got dark," he said.

Lamontagne headed back out on his own around 4:30 Sunday morning and said he found Dugas lying face down in the floodwaters near Villeneuve Road. He was not wearing a life jacket.

Dugas was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Quebec provincial police are investigating, but the main theory is that he accidentally drowned, said SQ Sgt. Stéphane Tremblay.

About 20 residences in the municipality have been flooded, and Highway 349, the main road, was closed Saturday due to the rising water.

With files from Arian Zarrinkoub