'We've all changed since then': Discovery of camera lost on 2013 grad night stirs memories, reflection

On a recent trip to Pinehouse, a CBC Saskatchewan crew serendipitously stumbled across an old digital camera, washed up on shore. The pictures inside held memories and reminders for 2013 grads about how much can change in six years.

Digital camera dropped in Pinehouse Lake, Sask., held precious memories for grads

Cammie Smith poses with her auntie on her 2013 grad night. (Garret Smith)

For six years, a tiny digital vessel packed with memories of teenage life was lost to the depths of Pinehouse Lake in northern Saskatchewan. 

When it was lost in 2013, no one was sure it'd ever be seen again. With a surface area of 404 square kilometres and depths of more than 15 metres, finding something so small in so much water seemed impossible.

The last photographs on the Canon's memory card are of young people smiling into its bright white flash from their seats on a boat on a June night.

Earlier on that day, young men and women in sharp suits and shiny ball gowns beamed through sunshine at the camera.

Cammie and Garret on their grad day in Pinehouse, Sask. (Garret Smith)

There are snapshots of the 2013 graduates from Minahik Waskahigan High School in Pinehouse — a village about 260 kilometres north of Prince Albert — cuddled next to proud family members, or goofing around at a banquet dinner. 

In one photo, Cammie Smith flashes a peace sign at the lens from a table behind her cousin, Garret Smith. It was his camera.

Grads file into the hall in June of 2013. (Garret Smith)

She remembers it was a hot day. Her $500 grad dress bought in Saskatoon was beautiful, but black, making it feel hotter.

"It was just the start. The beginning of something new," said Cammie, as she looked at photos of herself on the camera for the first time — six years after the camera disappeared.

CBC stumbles upon camera

Serendipitously, I spotted the object wedged in the sand on the lake's shore during an evening walk with CBC Saskatchewan colleagues.

We found the lost camera on the shore of Pinehouse Lake. (CBC)

We were visiting the community to cover the ninth annual Elders Gathering in mid-June. We remarked on how interesting the find was, especially given that the last time I visited the community was to make a documentary about the work of the Pinehouse Photography Club.

Now I'd found a lost camera. What are the chances?

Surprisingly, the rusty camera's memory card was intact. It revealed hundreds of photos and videos of teen life. The last photos on the card were of graduates celebrating.

Thanks to Facebook, we were able to track down some of the people in the photos.

Grads pose for a picture. (Garret Smith)

With 37 graduates receiving diplomas alongside her and her cousin, Cammie Smith said her graduating class was a big one for the village of about 1,000 permanent residents.

She says her favourite part of her graduation was going out with all of her classmates. She remembers that days after the celebration, Garret told her he'd lost his camera "somewhere up the lake."

"'We'll find it someday,' I told him," Cammie recalled, laughing.

She said looking back, they all had a lot to learn.

Cammie Smith looks at the long-lost photos with CBC's Madeline Kotzer. (CBC)

"More growing up and more experience."

For Cammie, seeing herself in the photos is like gazing upon a different person.

Cammie Smith and her daughter. (Cammie Smith)

"We've all changed since then," she said. "Some of us have different lifestyles. Some have moved out of town. Some are taking more schooling. Some have families."

Cammie is now pregnant with her second child, nine years after her first, and is excited to meet the new addition to her family. 

But as she prepares to welcome a new life, she and her family are also mourning a loss.

Precious memories

Roseann Smith remembers the night fondly, too. 

"It was a beautiful ceremony," she said, looking at the old photos.

Roseann Smith at her brother's 2013 graduation. (Garret Smith)

Roseann, a 2004 Minahik Waskahigan High School grad, had come with her mother, Norma Smith, to celebrate her brother Garret's graduation.

"It was a beautiful day. We spent time with my brother and my brother's friends, just having a good time," she said.

Garret Smith and his mother, Norma, on his high school graduation day. (Garret Smith/Facebook)

Last month, her mother passed away. Norma had been living with cancer.

"I was with her all through having cancer, never left her side," said Roseann.

For her, the photos bring back precious moments of a happier time.

"Memories of my mom with my brother," she said, noting Norma and Garret were close. "Just a very happy day."

For Roseann, the photos serve as a reminder of how much things can change in six years.


Madeline Kotzer


Madeline Kotzer is an award-winning Saskatchewan journalist and social media news editor/presenter for CBC Saskatchewan and CBC Saskatoon.