Toy's rescue from frozen canal warming hearts

When Nico Lavallée's younger brother tossed his favourite stuffed fawn onto the frozen Rideau Canal, the family thought they'd seen the last of Rudolph. But then word spread online, and an alert skateway crew rescued the little lost toy.

Rudolph the fawn reunited with 4-year-old owner thanks to alert skateway crew

Nico Lavallée, 4, holds the recently rescued Rudolph as little brother Santiago, 2, who chucked the stuffy over the railing last week, follows behind. (Brenda Duke)

The stuffed fawn is small and somewhat scruffy, but it means the world to Nico Lavallée, 4.

The little deer, purchased at the Parc Omega gift boutique, even had white spots on its soft hindquarters. But instead of Bambi, Nico called it Rudolph, and the name stuck.

But then, disaster struck. While out for a family stroll along the Rideau Canal last week, Nico's little brother Santiago chucked Rudolph over the railing and onto the snow-covered ice below.

"The two-year-old, in toddler fashion, just saw the opportunity to grab it and … watch gravity to make sure it still works ... in the second that I wasn't looking," said mom Brenda Duke, 35.

Brenda Duke took this photo of her three kids looking down at a snow-covered lump that was Rudolph. (Brenda Duke)

There were tears as Duke tried to explain to Nico that they couldn't just climb down and retrieve Rudolph. Notices advise people to stay off the canal or face a fine, and there had been public warnings about unsafe ice.

Nor did Duke want to contradict her own exhortations.

"With the two-year-old especially, I still worry that he is going to fall in, so we made a very strong point of constantly saying that is so dangerous, you can't go there, the ice isn't ready."

I didn't want to bother anyone. I don't think anyone would care.- Brenda Duke

Several times over the next few days, the family "visited" Rudolph, who gradually became covered with freshly fallen snow. Luckily, the incident happened near a distance marker sign, allowing the family to locate the telltale lump below. They even spotted animal tracks nearby, as if some other creature had checked in on Rudolph. 

"I didn't want to bother anyone. I don't think anyone would care," said Duke. But then her six-year-old son Sebastian encouraged her to share the story on neighbourhood Facebook sites, which have seen activity grow since COVID-19. 

Suggestions began pouring in, including using a fishing pole to hook the stuffie, or scooping it up with a long-handled pool strainer. Still others looped in the National Capital Commission (NCC), pleading for a rescue mission.

The toy was rescued this week by Rideau Canal Skateway workers who brought it inside to thaw out. (Facebook)

The NCC promised its skateway crews would keep an eye out, and that they did. An alert worker found the lost fawn, crusted over with ice and snow but otherwise no worse for wear.

Duke showed Nico the picture the NCC posted of the rescued Rudolph thawing out.

"Utter disbelief. He stared. It took a while to click. He's like, 'Wait, that's mine?' He was just in shock, and then he was really excited."

On Thursday, one week after Rudolph's adventures began, the family went to pick the toy up from the skateway operations centre at Fifth Avenue. A joyful reunion ensued.


Meanwhile, the story has given some reason for optimism in these difficult times.

"This stuffed baby deer isn't the only thing melting ... so is my cold cold heart," tweeted Monica Ward, who spotted the rescue story on social media.

For Duke, it's reaffirmed her faith in the power of community.

"You just have to just have to ask. People do care. Assuming that they don't is something that adults do," she observed. "[My kids] are growing up knowing that other people have our backs and other people care, and that's really heartwarming."

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