Ottawa

Officials to discuss safety measures after drowning near Wakefield covered bridge

Officials in the Muncipality of La Pêche, Que., will meet this week to discuss possible safety measures that can be put in place after a man drowned near the Wakefield covered bridge over the weekend.

25-year-old man failed to resurface while swimming with friends Sunday afternoon, body found that night

Residents say education, personal responsibility key to water safety after Wakefield drowning

2 months ago
0:39
Wakefield-area residents Melanie Phipps and Pat Dooling say more could be done to educate people about swimming on the Gatineau River — but personal responsibility still plays a role in safety. 0:39

Officials in the Muncipality of La Pêche, Que., will meet this week to discuss possible safety measures that can be put in place after a man drowned near the Wakefield covered bridge over the weekend.

The body of a 25-year-old man who disappeared while swimming with friends Sunday afternoon was found that night by police divers.

"It's a tragic incident. It's upsetting for the community and everyone is touched by something like this," said Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux.

He plans to convene the local council and police officials to discuss precautions that can be put in place to prevent similar tragedies at the popular swimming hole.

2nd death in 6 years

In 2015, a 24-year-old Algonquin College student drowned after he fell into the river and got swept away by the current. At the time, police said he was intoxicated and unable to swim.

The next year, the family that owned the land near the bridge donated it to the municipality. Councillors voted to turn it into a public park, allowing the municipality to crack down on excessive partying at the site by prohibiting alcohol consumption and enforcing a curfew.

The mayor of the Municipality of La Pêche, Guillaume Lamoureux, is hoping to convene a meeting with local councillors and police to discuss possible safety measures that could be put in place to ensure similar tragedies don't happen again. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"I think they addressed the biggest concern, but there's always room for improvement," said Lamoureux.

While he is open to considering additional safety measures, Lamoureux said he won't support restricting access to the river.

"People should be able to go into a natural setting and enjoy the water," he said. "We don't want to limit that freedom."

Locals stress personal responsibility, education

Drew Haughton frequents the rocks near the covered bridge. He told CBC he supervises his kids as they play in the water, while teaching them to be comfortable with the current.

"Closing an area like this doesn't solve the problem," he said.

"Eventually someone is going to end up swimming somewhere there's a current, and then they could have an accident because they've never experienced it before."

Pat Dooling has lived in the area for years. He said although what happened Sunday is a tragedy, he recognizes there are limits to what the municipality can do to protect people.

"I'm all about safety and I try and exercise that, but people have a certain amount of personal responsibility," he said.

"If they wanted to go swimming, there's lots of other places to go swimming. People have to go swimming according to their ability."

Lamoureux has issued a warning to would-be swimmers who may underestimate the dangers of the water around the picturesque bridge.

"Rivers are not your typical lake, your typical beach. They're not as predictable," he said. "Don't hesitate to wear a floating device, a safety vest. These accidents can be avoided very simply."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Andrews

Reporter

Ben Andrews is a reporter with CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at benjamin.andrews@cbc.ca or @bendandrews.

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