The stretch of the St. Lawrence River the place a Montreal firefighter died throughout a rescue final week has been identified for hundreds of years as one of many metropolis’s most treacherous.
At this time, the Lachine Rapids are largely an attraction for surfers, sport kayakers and riverside picnickers, however the demise of 58-year-old Pierre Lacroix is a reminder that Montreal owes its very existence to their harmful nature.
Lacroix was one in every of 4 firefighters who have been on a ship that capsized final Sunday night time whereas attempting to assist a pair in one other boat in misery. Whereas the others have been all rescued, Lacroix died after turning into trapped underneath the boat.
Louise Desrosiers, a spokeswoman for the Montreal fireplace division, mentioned rescue boats usually keep away from venturing into the fast-moving present of the rapids.
“It’s a sector that’s harmful, so boats will go upstream to avoid wasting folks or downstream to recuperate individuals who have handed by means of the rapids,” she mentioned in a cellphone interview.
Desrosiers says eight fireplace stations have nautical rescue items, all staffed by specifically skilled workers. Requires assist are initially categorized as both “engine hassle” or the extra severe “maritime emergency,” which often occurs when somebody is within the water or in rapid hazard.
Whereas the boaters within the incident involving Lacroix had first reported an engine stall, Desrosiers mentioned she couldn’t affirm how the decision had been categorized. An investigation into his demise stays ongoing.
Montreal firefighter dies after dramatic boat rescue
Michel Martin, a prevention officer with the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, describes the rapids as “unforgiving” and “a entice.”
Since he started with the service in 2014, he mentioned he’s seen increasingly boaters, paddle boarders and fishermen out on the water _ a few of them inexperienced or unaware after they first begin getting caught within the present.
He mentioned the auxiliary coast boats, like the fireplace rescue, don’t enterprise into the rapids as a result of the boats aren’t designed for the situations he describes as rocky and unpredictable, with fast-moving water that varies from a 3rd of a metre to a few metres deep.
“We’ll do every part to assist folks in misery, however not on the expense of the lifetime of our members,” he mentioned in a cellphone interview.
Lacroix is much from the primary particular person to lose his life within the harmful waters of the rapids. For higher or worse, the speeding waters have formed town’s existence from its earliest days, in accordance with historian Denis Gravel.
“Montreal wouldn’t be Montreal with out the rapids,” mentioned Gravel, who focuses on municipal historical past.
Whereas the island was lengthy used as a gathering and fishing place for Indigenous folks, it served as a roadblock for European explorers together with Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain, who stopped after studying their ships couldn’t proceed additional upriver.
Till the Lachine Canal opened in 1825 to bypass the rapids, items heading towards the Nice Lakes needed to be unloaded within the Montreal space or portaged _ resulting in town creating as an space of commerce and settlement.
“From the start of European settlement, there are ”many, many tales of shipwrecks and hazard, of people that drowned or went fishing and didn’t concentrate,“ Gravel mentioned.
One of many earliest reported incidents concerned an affiliate of Champlain’s who headed to a close-by island together with two Indigenous males. Their boat, laden with birds, capsized on the way in which again, and two of the three drowned.
Whereas the rapids have been practically impassable heading west, boats would nonetheless attempt to run the rapids the opposite manner. Some have been rafts laden with items and steered by specialist pilots who, regardless of their ability, typically misplaced their cargo to the present. Later, steamboats carried vacationers searching for a thrill.
In 1873 one such boat, the Louis Renaud, crashed within the rapids, reportedly avoiding tragedy due to the Mohawks from close by Kahnawake who got here to the passengers’ help.
There have been different incidents in more moderen years. A fisherman died after shedding his footing in 2010, and a surfer died after falling at a preferred browsing locale dubbed the standing wave in 2013. This summer season, a person disappeared after falling off a ship.
The variety of rescues in Montreal’s waters seems to be rising, though mishaps on the rapids have remained steady. The Montreal fireplace division has seen a 30 per cent improve within the total variety of nautical incidents since 2019 _ one thing Desrosiers says could possibly be attributable to the rising recognition of outside sports activities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Desrosiers says it’s necessary for boaters, particularly much less skilled ones, to recollect the St. Lawrence’s sturdy currents make it difficult to navigate. She mentioned it’s additionally essential for boaters to familiarize themselves with their vessels and the locations the place they’re boating, to keep away from medication and alcohol and to put on a properly-fitted life-jacket.
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