Moose Factory mourns the drowning loss of eight people

The small, predominantly Anglican community of Moose Factory, Ont., continues to mourn the loss of eight members in a boating accident, the worst mass tragedy since the 1920s.

But the healing has begun now that all the bodies have been recovered from James Bay, say clergy from the community of about 2,500.

“The sense of the community was like a weight had been removed,” said Rev. Wayne McIntosh of St. Thomas’ Church. “There was a cloud of grief present until the last body was found. Then it lifted. People became very thankful that they could put closure to it and work on healing.”

The accident involving two boats happened on Sept. 30, recalled Fr. McIntosh. He was in Toronto recently with Deacon Ray Maybee and Catherine King, a student in the diocese.

The boaters, members of several families, were on their way to a camp for the annual goose-hunt, a traditional practice in which even the schools close.

The weather in the bay suddenly worsened and high winds came up, Fr. McIntosh said. Although bad weather can come on quickly, all the people were experienced boaters, he said. The occupants of one boat waved down the other and the two tried to even out their loads. It was while they were doing so that a wave hit. Three people survived the accident. The other eight ? four adults and four children ? drowned. It took 36 days before the last body was recovered.

Once the clergy heard of the accident, they immediately went to work, visiting house to house with the families who were affected. One family lost both husband and wife and three children.

The clergy also attended to the traumatized community as a whole and to the people involved in search and rescue, the OPP and the local Native police force, teachers and students.

They sent the rescuers out with a blessing and a prayer.

“Even though there’s such a tragedy, the faith is still very strong,” said Fr. McIntosh. “Some family members said, ‘If not for my faith, I couldn’t get through it.’ They really look to the church at that time for support ?

“The emotions were very high, particularly in the early stages. We had to truly be present for people in a way we never have been before.”

It was the worst accident in Moose Factory since the 1920s, elders told them. Then, six children from a residential school were lost in a boating accident.

It was also the first time anyone could remember seeing the coffins of a mother and daughter ? Anita and Keisha Echum ? in the church at the same time.

“For the people of Moose Factory, the water has become sort of an enemy,” Fr. McIntosh said. “But I spoke of the fact Anita and Keisha were lying beside the font. Both had been baptized there in the church and in that case water was a sign of life. I used it as a symbol to bring hope.”

A letter of condolence Archbishop Michael Peers sent to Moose Factory through Fr. McIntosh was a great comfort to the community, the clergy said. People photocopied the letter and posted it in their homes and all over town.

“It meant a lot to them to know the Anglican Church all over Canada was supporting them with prayer,” Fr. McIntosh said.

They also welcome the fact that people from across Canada have contributed to a trust fund to help the remaining children in the family that lost both parents.

Now they’re looking for help to pay off a $250,000 debt incurred during the search and rescue operations.

Anyone interested in donating can send a cheque to the Moose Factory search and rescue operation, Moose Factory, P0L 1W0.

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