North

2001 death prompted calls for 'dangerous ice' signs on Prosperous Lake, but where are they?

Frank Hope says his sister didn’t have to die in 2001, and he fears the failure to follow up on coroner recommendations made at the time means someone will again die a needless death.

Freda Hope died on Prosperous Lake 16 years ago, and a coroner's recommendation goes unheeded to this day

Frank Hope holding a photo of his late sister Freda, who froze to death near Prosperous Lake on December 2, 2001. (Submitted by Frank Hope)

Frank Hope says his sister didn't have to freeze to death in 2001, and he fears failure to adhere to all the coroner recommendations made at the time means someone could, again, die a needless death.

Freda Hope, 31, plunged through the ice on the narrows of Prosperous Lake near Yellowknife in 2001 while on a snowmobile. She pulled herself out and made her way to one of the many cabins in the area, but the door was locked and she froze to death.

After three people went through thin ice in the same area recently, Frank is worried it will happen again.

For Frank, the day he learned his sister was missing 16 years ago is like yesterday.

'It had snowed that day'

He was attending a gathering at the Salvation Army in Yellowknife. He was pulled aside and told his youngest sister Freda was missing.

"Her and her boyfriend Dean were heading out to a cabin and got lost," he said. "They were doubling back when the accident happened."

Frank said his sister "was beautiful, gentle and was just starting a career with the federal government."

An undated photo of Freda Hope, who lost her life in 2001 after plunging through the ice on Prosperous Lake near Yellowknife. Some recommendations of the coroner's report have not been followed. (Submitted by Frank Hope)

Her boyfriend was ahead of her: "His sled was a new, faster one, it had snowed that day and covered up the open area and went over it. But Freda was further behind on a slower machine and went through."

She managed to pull herself from the icy waters, but ended up dying of hypothermia next to a cabin, one kilometre from where she went through the ice.

The 2001 coroner's report says her boyfriend hit a rock — around a bend and out of sight — ahead of her and was thrown from his machine and broke his leg. He was picked up by another snowmobiler, and flagged down a passerby on the Ingraham Trail with a pickup truck who drove him to Stanton Hospital.

The driver tried to call 911, a service the N.W.T. still does not have.

"Garbled communications and confusion caused authorities to respond to Madeline Lake, a short distance from Prosperous," states the report.

'Chronically dangerous area'

The narrows on Prosperous Lake are described as a "chronically dangerous area," in Percy Kinney's coroner's report. It recommended warning signs be installed, among other precautions.

N.W.T. Chief Coroner Cathy Menard was the deputy coroner at the time.

"I was out there that night. So many of these cases over the years stay with you and Freda's did as well," said Menard.

Warning signs were put up the year after Freda's death. But they haven't been seen since.

"My sister's death was preventable, and hopefully something can be done to mark the area for other recreational users," Hope said.

"Places like Jackfish Lake for example, they have markers around the open area. It's an easy thing to do to prevent people from falling in and losing lives. It's preventable."

In an email Great Slave Snowmobile Association's Bruce Hewlko, says members are "trying to get some flashing lights from [the department of] highways and a couple danger signs."

That would be a start, but it comes 16 years after the coroner recommended the Canadian Coast Guard — not a local snowmobile club — "enhance the department's ice safety awareness program to include ice safety warning signs in similar chronic areas of the N.W.T. and increase the marketing campaign regarding dangerous ice areas."

New websites are in place

"The recommendations from 20 years ago are still valid," Menard said.

Other recommendations included enhanced ice condition and safety websites, something which both the N.W.T. government and the City of Yellowknife maintain.

"The [City] website is a great way for information to get out there for folks from and not from around here," she added.

"Information and public awareness is the big thing when the ice is forming, on how to rescue someone or how to perform a self rescue and what to bring with you."

A spokesperson for the Government of the Northwest Territories said the government couldn't immediately address "questions about the coroner's recommendations stemming from the Freda Hope case" regarding the lack of signs in chronically dangerous areas around Yellowknife.

The territorial government's ice safety website is found here. The City's ice safety website is found here.

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