Top News

P.E.I. fishing tragedies named 2018 Guardian News Story of the Year

Fr. Albin Arsenault says the impressive Fishermen’s Tree constructed out of lobster traps poignantly reflects the tremendous outpouring of community support in the wake of the boating tragedy in September off North Cape that claimed the lives of two beloved fishermen.
Fr. Albin Arsenault says the impressive Fishermen’s Tree constructed out of lobster traps poignantly reflects the tremendous outpouring of community support in the wake of the boating tragedy in September off North Cape that claimed the lives of two beloved fishermen. - Eric McCarthy

Fr. Albin Arsenault says the Fishermen Tree speaks volumes to the reverence and compassion shown in the wake of a boating tragedy that took the lives of two beloved fishermen.

“It reflects the community,’’ says Arsenault.

“It is a very caring community. That is tremendous support to the families and to close friends.’’

The majestic display of 147 stacked lobster traps, laden with Christmas lights and towering roughly eight metres into the sky, was built in the St. Simon and St. Jude Parish churchyard in Tignish in memory of all fishermen who have died.

But, for this community, memories of two beloved fishermen, captain Glen DesRoches and Moe Getson, have been most strongly illuminated by the heart-warming creation that is fittingly filled with red buoys.

The pair perished when the fishing boat Kyla Anne capsized Sept. 18 off North Cape. The accident was only discovered after the third member of the crew, 22-year-old Tanner Gaudet, swam to shore and then walked an estimated two kilometres to the Wind ‘n Reef Restaurant at North Cape to summon help.

Two Tignish firefighters stand near the water's edge at North Cape looking for any sign of the two fishermen who went missing after their boat sank on Sept. 18, 2018. The bodies of captain Glen DesRoches and Moe Getson were recovered in the following days. -Eric McCarthy
Two Tignish firefighters stand near the water's edge at North Cape looking for any sign of the two fishermen who went missing after their boat sank on Sept. 18, 2018. The bodies of captain Glen DesRoches and Moe Getson were recovered in the following days. -Eric McCarthy

 

READ: Lobster-trap tree lit in Tignish in memory of fishermen who have died

The stunning losses of two cherished souls brought painful illustration to the long-known reality that fishermen regularly – and willingly – cast out on the water for a time-honoured livelihood that can be wrought with danger.

Glen DesRoches
Glen DesRoches
Moe Getson
Moe Getson

The number of people – an estimated 600 or so – who came to watch as the Fishermen Tree was lit for the first time in late November was indicative of how heavily the loss was being felt.

Earlier this year, the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans found that the commercial fishing industry has the highest death rate out of any other employment sector in the country. It sees an average of one death every month.

Sadly, four lives were claimed in 2018 off the shores of P.E.I. in two separate fishing tragedies.

Before DesRoches and Getson lost their lives in September, Justin MacKay, a 20-year-old Montague resident, and Chris Melanson, 59, of Nova Scotia were killed on June 9.

The men were aboard the vessel Joel ’98 when it was accidentally rammed by a fishing boat named Forever Chasin’ Tail.

The Transportation Safety Board determined Forever Chasin’ Tail was on autopilot, heading toward the entrance to Beach Point harbour, when it slammed into the other boat, landing on top of the deck, killing MacKay and Melanson.

First responders and officials with Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Victim Services were at Beach Point wharf following a boat collision in June 2018 that resulted in the deaths of two men, Justin MacKay and Chris Melanson. -Katie Smith
First responders and officials with Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Victim Services were at Beach Point wharf following a boat collision in June 2018 that resulted in the deaths of two men, Justin MacKay and Chris Melanson. -Katie Smith

 

Tammy Crossman of Montague says her son, Justin MacKay, had been lobster fishing with his uncle for four years and was set on spending decades on the water earning a living from the sea.

“He loved the water,’’ she says.

Crossman spoke to The Guardian Monday, Dec. 24, anticipating Christmas to be the worst ever with all her family members gathered together nursing aching hearts.

Justin MacKay
Justin MacKay
Chris Melanson
Chris Melanson

She says her two surviving sons are keeping their emotions tucked inside while a confused five-year-old girl named Madison talks about her late brother, Justin, all the time since the tragedy.

“It’s rough…you miss him walking through the door,’’ says Crossman.

“Nobody should have to go through that. I think he’d be proud of us – how we are. We stayed strong.’’

Crossman says Justin was a caring soul who would do anything for his circle of friends and for family. He was always there to lend a hand.

Like Arsenault, Crossman draws strength from the Fishermen’s Tree, which she has visited.

“I love it,’’ she says.

“It’s showing so much respect. I didn’t realize how dangerous it was out in the water. It’s been a rough year for P.E.I.’’

Her family members have decked out their own tree outside the Montague home in memory of Justin. The most poignant decoration is a buoy placed on top of the tree – the same one that was being taken up out of the water just before the fateful collision.

READ: Kings County community devastated by two deaths in boat collision

Many are mourning the loss of the four men who died in the two fishing mishaps.

Individually, the painful outcomes of the two separate fated outings left so many reeling.

The Guardian, though, views the major tragedies collectively as the News Story of the Year in Prince Edward Island.


Your pick
We asked our readers to offer their selection for News Story of the Year in P.E.I.
The province’s housing crisis was the clear top choice garnering almost 40 per cent of the votes with cannabis legalization in the province a distant second at 24.7 per cent.
We agree the housing crisis has been a major story over the past year. Lack of affordable housing and a low vacancy rate is making life extremely challenging for many Islanders.


There were plenty of strong contenders for story of the year, including what was a saga stretching over several months about the owners of a Charlottetown motel facing multiple joint and individual counts of counselling, aiding and abetting misrepresentation under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act until the Crown stayed all charges earlier this month.

The tragic death of Brody McCarthy in May, a student at Montague Regional High who collapsed during a match at Three Oaks Senior High School in Summerside, was a heart-wrenching story making the headlines in 2018.

Lack of affordable housing was raised throughout the year as reaching a crisis point, garnering a good deal of media coverage.

Struggles in agriculture due to poor weather conditions for growing and harvesting crops also earned a fair bit of ink this year.

However, the fishermen’s tragic end seemed to stand above the others.

“Growing up in a fishing community not far from Tignish, I know how close knit the fishing community is in Prince Edward Island. However, the horrific tragedies both east and west transcended industry or geographic location. The entire province grieved with these families."
-Guardian managing editor Wayne Thibodeau

“The fishery is woven into the fabric of this Island, but these tragedies brought home just how dangerous that way of life can be.”

Wayne Thibodeau, managing editor of The Guardian, said the fishing tragedies in both eastern and western Prince Edward Island had such an impact on Prince Edward Island residents, even those who are not in any way connected to the industry or the communities.

“Growing up in a fishing community not far from Tignish, I know how close knit the fishing community is in Prince Edward Island,” said Thibodeau. “However, the horrific tragedies both east and west transcended industry or geographic location. The entire province grieved with these families.

“The fishery is woven into the fabric of this Island, but these tragedies brought home just how dangerous that way of life can be.”

Arsenault is moved by how strongly the Tignish community continues to respond to the fishing expedition that went so terribly wrong in mid-September.

“When there is a tragedy in the community, people respond,’’ he says.

Still, he is quick to add, a long time is needed to heal from tragedies like the one that has cast a sombre cloud over the holiday season in Tignish.

Arsenault has been responding on both a personal and professional level to the fatal event that still has the community deeply hurting.

He presided over the funeral of DesRoches, who was a close friend.

He says the long-time fishing captain was a very giving person who was family-oriented.

DesRoches, adds Arsenault, always went the extra mile to help people.

He notes just days before DesRoches was killed, doing what he loved to do, the fishermen came across a couple walking bicycles in a heavy downpour of rain.

DesRoches put the bikes in the back of his truck and drove the tourists to Cavendish, where he treated them to dinner in a restaurant.

“I was witness to all kinds of his kind deeds,’’ he says.

“I was very honoured and pleased that I was able to put closure (to the loss of a good friend)…it brought a lot of peace for me to be the presider (of the captain’s funeral).’’

He refers to the impact the sudden passing of DesRoches is having on him as Glen’s Legacy, which has left him determined to make great efforts to keep in touch with family and friends. 

“Life can be so fragile,’’ he says.

Twitter.com/PEIGuardian

Recent Stories