P.E.I. Green candidate, son die in canoeing accident days before election

Political parties in Prince Edward Island have suspended election campaign activities after P.E.I. Green Party candidate Josh Underhay and his young son died in a canoeing accident in the Hillsborough River on Friday.

Josh Underhay 'touched the lives of everyone who knew him,' says Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker

Josh Underhay was a teacher, musician and passionate cycling advocate. He is survived by his wife and another child. (Pat Martel/CBC)

P.E.I. Green Party candidate Josh Underhay and his young son died in a canoeing accident in the Hillsborough River on Friday.

Underhay was the party's candidate in District 9, Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park.

Elections P.E.I. said, in accordance with the Election Act, a byelection will be held in his riding in the coming weeks. The election is set for Tuesday.

Queens District RCMP received a call Friday at about 4:20 p.m. reporting two people missing on the Hillsborough River, said Sgt. Leanne Butler. She said the pair had gone canoeing in the afternoon, but had not returned to the agreed pickup spot at the appointed time.

Rescue crews found the man and boy at about 7 p.m. in the water near Heartz Road in East Royalty, Butler said. They both had been wearing flotation devices, and their capsized canoe was nearby.

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker called Underhay a "dear friend and colleague" for many years. (Elisa Serret/Radio-Canada)

They were taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, where they were declared deceased. The P.E.I. coroner's office will determine the cause of death, Butler said.

Underhay is survived by his wife and another child.

Underhay was also a teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School in Charlottetown, a community volunteer and an avid trumpet player. 

Josh Underhay and his young son were found in the Hillsborough River near their capsized canoe on Friday. Police say they were both wearing flotation devices. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"Josh has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for many years, as a volunteer, musician, passionate cycling advocate and Green Party supporter," said P.E.I. Green Party Leader Bevan-Baker in a written statement.

"He has touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including the students he taught, fellow musicians and members of the party."

Counselling support at Birchwood

In a statement, P.E.I.'s Public Schools Branch expressed condolences and said counselling support would be available at Birchwood when classes resume on Tuesday.

"Our entire education community is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Josh Underhay and his young son. A Birchwood Intermediate teacher, Josh was a passionate educator who was loved and respected by his students and colleagues," the statement said.

Bevan-Baker said all party activities will be suspended for the remainder of the election campaign, which is set to wrap up when Islanders go to the polls on Tuesday. 

Josh Underhay was the Green Party candidate for District 9: Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park. Some of the other candidates in the district took their signs down on Saturday. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The three other political parties on the Island expressed condolences and have suspended campaign activities. Some candidates in District 9 took their signs down on Saturday.

Voters in his riding will not be casting ballots for a candidate on Tuesday, but have the option of voting in the poll on electoral reform.

Information sessions on electoral reform were cancelled on Saturday.

"Josh brought humour, enthusiasm and boundless energy to every situation," said Bevan-Baker. "I simply cannot imagine how much he will be missed."

Many people wrote messages in honour of Underhay at the Haviland Club in Charlottetown on Saturday. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Along with police, fire departments from Charlottetown, Stratford and North River were called in for the search, as well as the Department of Fisheries and P.E.I. Ground Search and Rescue.

A GoFundMe campaign set up Saturday for Underhay's family has raised tens of thousands of dollars.

On Saturday afternoon, a large crowd gathered at the Haviland Club to honour Underhay.

With files from Brittany Spencer and Julien Lecacheur