Sometimes it’s not the “biggest” story that has the greatest impact.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/6/2017 (1789 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Sometimes it’s not the "biggest" story that has the greatest impact.

Many things happened to me in 1995 — as a budding journalist, and, more importantly, as a human being.

In the spring of that year, I covered the story of an election scandal in Interlake riding. It was a strange and misguided affair that almost — almost — made its way to the premier’s office. It was a story rich in politics and intrigue. But it was not, for me, professionally and personally, the biggest story of the year.

Rather, the tragic drowning deaths of two 15-year-old boys at Winnipeg Beach galvanized me and the province as we witnessed the start of the worst year of drowning deaths on Lake Winnipeg. Those first two deaths are seared in my memory. Those young men died the day after my 40th birthday, so, in that sense, will they remain etched. But more, it was the gravity of what was an entirely preventable tragedy.

Tragedies are like that. They happen. We think about what we might have done. We feel guilt at not having done more.

As a relatively new reporter, having only been hired two years earlier, I became the reporter of record for each, save one, of the ensuing five drownings that occurred at swimming beaches on Lake Winnipeg over the next few months. It was a personal and professional catharsis for which I was unprepared.

Among those who died: a Holocaust survivor who floated out on an air mattress, once again at Winnipeg Beach. A teenaged girl who swam with her friends from Ralph Beach to an island, only to be caught in an undertow. A lifeguard who played a game of hold-your-breath, also at a Matlock beach. A man who had an epileptic seizure at Gimli Beach. And then there was a man who succumbed at Grand Beach, whose body was recovered south of Dunnottar.

As a newbie reporter, I spoke with witnesses, people familiar with treacherous Lake Winnipeg, the police and experts in matters of swimming and drowning. I wrote editorials and analyses. I devoted weeks and months to the task. In all, seven people drowned in Lake Winnipeg in 1995. There was a boy who drowned at Fairford Dam in west Interlake that year, as well.

I think about 1995 often. What stands out is that every drowning death was preventable. No one intentionally drowns. But each of the people who did drown, dare I say it, did not have "water smarts." Last year I dove into a friend’s pool — and actually made it to the shallow end although I cannot swim It was exhilarating, and it was the scariest few seconds of my life.

Some of us are simply not good in or around water. Not by ourselves, anyway. We need help and guidance — supervision by family and friends who better understand water and its strange danger.

The Manitoba branch of the Lifesaving Society of Canada offers training to recent immigrants, students and others who, like me, cannot even tread water.

Last year, the society reached 2,000 new immigrants, and many more other folks whose familiarity with the "culture" and dangers of water may be lost or minimized.

We must all do our part to learn about the majesty of water and its challenges, particularly mindful of the safety of our children and the elderly.

You don’t want my memories. Be safe in and near the water. Teach your family, particularly the young ones, about being water safe. Please.