Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cold lake takes his best friend

Canoeist relives a day of tragedy, horror in Yukon

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Matt MacIntyre had such a passion for photography he was known for taking his camera everywhere he went.

His best friend, Ben Shedden, said that's why he wasn't surprised when, just seconds after the pair were dumped into frigid Fish Lake, Yukon, when their canoe capsized last Thursday, he saw his friend go for his camera and pop off a few shots.

"He was having the time of his life and enjoying every moment of our trip," Shedden, 27, said Tuesday. "That was his version of heaven -- out in the outdoors with his camera and his best friend.

"Not everyone can go like that."

Both men were wearing life-jackets, but while Shedden survived by swimming to a nearby island, MacIntyre, 27, did not. His body, along with his two cameras, were located by RCMP near the shore a day later.

"It was almost snowing on Friday when we went up and pulled him out of the water," Whitehorse RCMP Sgt. Don Rogers said.

"They were well-prepared for most eventualities, but not for going in the water. It's a lake that's on a mountain and it's a snow-fed lake.

"It is colder than the other lakes around here," Rogers said.

No cause of death has been reported yet, but it was likely hypothermia and drowning, he said.

MacIntyre grew up and went to school in Stonewall. After graduation, he moved to Winnipeg and spent some time in Edmonton. Last year, he got a job at Don's Photo in Winnipeg.

Shedden, who ran unsuccessfully in last year's Winnipeg School Division byelection, said he met MacIntyre when they were in Grade 8, and they were almost inseparable since.

Shedden is married, and MacIntyre lived with the couple in their home.

The friends were looking forward to their trip to the Yukon for months, even growing "shaggy beards" before heading into the wild.

Shedden said they rented a canoe in Whitehorse last Thursday morning, intending to return it the next day after camping at Fish Lake.

Both were experienced paddlers, going on canoe trips at least half a dozen times together and several times on their own with their fathers.

But Shedden said the canoe they rented this time wasn't nearly as stable or solid as ones they used in the past.

He said when a storm suddenly blew in and the wind whipped up the waves, they tried in vain to keep the canoe bow pointed into the swell, but it flipped and they were tossed into the water.

"I wasn't dressed to go into the water. I had a winter parka on, two hoodies and long johns," Shedden said. "After a few attempts to try flipping the canoe over, he left, I think because of the cold, and decided to swim to shore.

"I called to Matt, and he gave me not very coherent responses. I thought the best strategy was to get to shore with the canoe, dump it and then go back for him. But with my body cramping up because of the cold, I couldn't get the canoe to shore."

Shedden said at first he couldn't even stand up when he got to the small island.

"I was crawling... and I had to use the paddles as crutches."

Shedden said he looked out but couldn't see MacIntyre or their supplies.

"I was in a state of shock. I forced myself to get a fire going. I had a flint from a trip last year -- I didn't even pack it this time, but I had it," he said. "I was able to get a fire going with it and dry my clothes."

Shedden said he spent a long night on the island.

The next day, with no searchers or rescuers in sight, he decided to brave the frigid water and swim about 200 metres from the island to the main shore. There, he got his car and drove to Whitehorse to contact the RCMP.

"It was very cold -- that's probably what happened to Matt. I can only imagine my extra bit of body fat compared to Matt was the difference," he said. "I know I wouldn't have fared well without me getting a fire going."

Shedden said he held out hope his friend would survive.

"For whatever reason, I thought he'd be waiting by the car when I got there. I thought he would have been in a cabin on shore. He was so strong."

Chris Godfrey, the regional sales manager at Don's Photo, said MacIntyre started working at the downtown store just over a year ago and had been recently promoted.

"It didn't take a genius to realize Matt was very gifted... He was a very accomplished photographer as well as being a very accomplished individual," Godfrey said. "He will be missed here."

MacIntyre is survived by his parents, Robert and Ingrid, and his sister, Tracey.

A celebration of his life is planned at Mackenzie Funeral Chapel, 433 Main St., in Stonewall on Friday at 2 p.m.

Shedden said the family is asking for donations to Manitoba Mutts Dog Rescue because when MacIntyre was younger, it's where he received some of his earliest photography experience.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2012 A3

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