'The love they showed to me': Nunavut community, RCMP rally around woman who lost her fiancé

Kugluktuk RCMP Const. Graham Holmes' fiancée says the day he died in a snowmobiling accident was the worst day of her life. But the community and the RCMP stepped up to ease her grief and help Holmes' legacy live on.

Const. Graham Holmes, 30, died in a snowmobile accident in April

Const. Graham Holmes died in a snowmobiling accident in April near Kugluktuk, Nunavut, where he was stationed. He left behind his fiancée Kelsey Foote. (Kelsey Foote)

On what would end up being their last adventure together, RCMP Const. Graham Holmes and his fiancée Kelsey Foote fell in love with Kugluktuk during his posting to Nunavut's westernmost community.

That love was returned after the 30-year-old officer was killed in a snowmobiling accident and the community rallied around his grieving spouse.

And while Kelsey Foote says the Northern hamlet will always hold a place in her heart, Holmes won't soon be forgotten in Kugluktuk either, thanks to a grassroots fundraiser by Nunavut RCMP.

Kugluktuk RCMP Const. Graham Holmes body was flown back to his family in B.C. in the days after he died in an off-duty snowmobiling accident. (DnV Photo)

'The worst day of my life'

Foote struggled in the wake of Holmes' sudden death on April 6.

"That was probably the worst day of my life and the days following that, they were so dark," she said.

But a $10,000 cheque that arrived in her mailbox last week will help carry on Holmes' legacy; some will go to a scholarship fund, some will go back into Kugluktuk to support a sports program for the hamlet's youth.

"We're still kind of speechless and in awe," said Foote of receiving the cheque. "I had to read the letter a few times for it to sink in."

Const. Graham Holmes became an RCMP officer to protect Canadians. His fiancée Kelsey Foote says "he treated everyone with respect and dignity and above all, kindness." (Kelsey Foote)

'One big family' in the North

After travelling the world together, the British Columbia couple decided in 2016 to set off on a new adventure.

Initially daunted by the remoteness and the weather, Foote and Holmes left the mild West Coast for a three-year posting to Kugkuktuk.

They arrived in December, when the lows average around –29 C, but the welcome they received was warm.

"Once we got up North, all our fears and worries were dissolved and we were just overwhelmed by the friendliness and the kindness that the community showed us," said Foote.

"We've travelled all over the world and we've never felt anything like that  we were part of one big family."

Kelsey Foote says she and her fiancée Graham Holmes were initally a little worried about moving so far away from friends and family but once they got up North, the couple was "overwhelmed by the friendliness and the kindness" that the community showed them. (Kelsey Foote )

The proposal

One year after they moved to Nunavut, in December 2017, Holmes proposed to Foote on a Christmas trip to Tofino.

She was excited to spend her life with such a "bright light;" a man who loved life, believed in his work and "protected Canadians for a living."

"He treated everyone with respect and dignity and above all, kindness."

They believed they had the rest of their lives to make plans together, which would include more travel and adventure.

And more of Holmes' favourite activities: being outside camping, fishing and exploring.

On a trip home to B.C. for Christmas 2017, Graham Holmes proposed to his girlfriend Kelsey Foote. They had only been engaged four months when he died in a snowmobiling accident. (Kelsey Foote)

The accident

He was doing just that on April 6 when his snowmobile tumbled off a 30-meter cliff near Bloody Falls in Kugluk Territorial Park. 

Holmes' friend, a fellow RCMP officer, barely stopped himself from going over the cliff as well. 

The young men had been en route back to town. Holmes was only about 10 kilometres away from the hamlet when it happened. 

A group of six officers from Iqaluit was dispatched to relieve the team in Kugluktuk. They arrived the night of April 6 to take over shifts, sending officers there home to rest and grieve.

Const. Graham Holmes' final posting was to Kugluktuk. "Kugluktuk and Nunavut will have a special place in our hearts," says Holmes' fiancee Kelsey Foote. (Kelsey Foote)

An impromptu vigil

A day after the Iqaluit team  including Cpl. Bryan Bowskill  arrived, about 75 people from the small hamlet showed up outside the RCMP detachment for an impromptu vigil. 

When they realized what was happening, the officers headed outside.

"Certainly something I'd never seen before in my 14 plus years," said Bowskill. "It was meaningful to all of us... to see the community grieving."

Foote was there too. 

"Just being in that community they really showed their support, overwhelming really the love they showed to me," she said.

"I just can't describe how much that meant to me and how much that really helped me."

Nunavut RCMP officers carry Const. Graham Holmes' flag-draped casket to a waiting plane to be flown back to his family in B.C. (DnV Photo)

Hockey winnings donated

Days later, in a flag drapped casket, Holmes' body was flown back to B.C. by an RCMP plane following an emotional ramp ceremony in Kugluktuk. Foote's mother had travelled to Nunavut to be at her side.

Just weeks after Holmes was killed, the RCMP Bisons hockey team won a tournament in Iqaluit. Their prize was $5,000 and when Bowskill, the team captain, suggested the money go to a scholarship fund in Holmes' name, nobody hesitated.

Bowskill says he was "extremely proud" of the team.

But they wanted to double that and with help from individual RCMP officers, local businesses and other community members, Bowskill was able to sign a cheque for $10,000 and sent it off to Foote. 

"I was hopeful that it would bring a bright spot to a very dark time in her life," said Bowskill.

Kelsey Foote is comforted by a colleague of her fiancé's and her mother as his casket is loaded onto an RCMP plane to be flown to B.C. (DnV Photo)

Foote had no idea what was about to show up in her mailbox.

"It's just so wonderful and so touching."

Right away she wanted some of the funds to go back to the place and people which had kept her head above water in those early days.

The Kugluktuk recreation department, or more specifically its youth lacrosse program, will receive a donation in Holmes' name.

The idea is for Holmes to continue "to help and do good for people," says Foote who is trying to get through day by day.

"The world is just kind of pretty bleak and empty here without Graham."

One of Const. Graham Holmes' colleagues salutes the half-mast flag outside the Kugluktuk detachment after he was killed in a snowmobile accident in April 2018. (Facebook, Amanda Peat)

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.