A monument at Kuskanook Bay honouring the lives lost at Kootenay Lake. Photo courtesy of Cindy Penner

A monument at Kuskanook Bay honouring the lives lost at Kootenay Lake. Photo courtesy of Cindy Penner

Remembering my brother and the six others who drowned in Kootenay Lake, 57 years later

“For many years I was afraid of Kootenay Lake, afraid of all water, afraid that like my brother I would be swallowed up and never, ever found.”

By Cindy Penner (Hurl)

Jan. 17, 2021, will mark the 57th anniversary of the tragic drowning of my oldest brother, Allan Lloyd Hurl, along with six other men — his logging crew foreman, Leonard Goddard, Reg Bennett, Marvin Brown, Robert Rafnson, Sidney Garland and Lyle Overhold. The details of this horrible accident are forever etched in my mind. Our grief was doubled since my father had lost his battle with cancer just one month before on Dec. 16, 1963.

In the fall of 1963, we were living on our farm Pambrun, a village in southwest Saskatchewan. When dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, the difficult decision was made to uproot our family and move to Creston to be near his parents, George and Elsie Hurl and dad’s sisters.

I was the second youngest of seven children. Allan was the oldest. Even before leaving Saskatchewan, Allan had quit school and gone to work giving most of his earnings to our parents to help support us and keep the farm going. Allan was a somewhat quiet, hard-working and loyal son.

When we got to Creston, Grandad had rented a house for us. Furnishings were sparse, life was hard, but mom and dad clung to each other, and the knowledge that in his last days he would be surrounded by his family. Nothing else mattered. We were lonesome for our friends, familiar surroundings and we knew dad’s time on Earth would be short.

It was an incredibly difficult time for all of us, but we tried to make the best of it. Allan had found work on Leonard Goddard’s logging crew, working near Tye on the west side of Kootenay Lake. When dad passed away just a day before Christmas, we could never in our wildest dreams or nightmares envisioned that one short month later, Allan would be gone in extremely difficult and tragic circumstances.

On Jan. 17, Leonard and his crew made the decision to return home to Creston for the weekend. Each man had their own reasons for wanting to brave the icy waters of Kootenay Lake. They made a calculated risk in getting into the boat that night, but most of them had crossed the lake many times and had made it safely across.

Allan, a prairie boy grieving the loss of his beloved dad, just wanted to be home with his mom and siblings. We will never truly know exactly what happened that fateful night. One other boat filled with men had already made it across, landing at Twin Bays and the driver had returned to Tye for the second load of men.

In my mind, I can hear the men talking back and forth about the weather, the icy water, the time it would take to cross. When the first boat had arrived safely on the eastern shore a second time, and Leonard’s boat was not yet there, it raised concern and quickly a search started for Leonard, his boat and his men.

Mom often spoke of the accident, and how Creston and the community had rallied with volunteers searching the shoreline and lake waters. Many brought food and coffee for the searchers.

The boat was located, and elsewhere one body was found, but sadly the lake still holds the remaining six men. Through this horrific tragedy Leonard’s young wife, Joy Goddard, and my mom forged a lifelong friendship. Their tragic losses bound them together.

In the days that followed, mom told us how she and Joy had wandered the shoreline together hoping against all hope they would find their missing men. They envisioned that perhaps the men had made it to shore, maybe, just maybe. In fact, to the day of my mother’s passing, she held onto a sliver of hope that she would live to see that “someday” come to pass. How she longed to see her firstborn son.

Mom kept the memories of both my dad and Allan alive to all her kids by speaking of them so very often, talking about the kind of men they were, the sacrifices they made for her and us kids. She spoke of some of the remarkable kindnesses shown to us, often by strangers, to a prairie family over 500 miles from home, having suffered two deeply painful losses.

There are some whose names she never knew – people who brought us food and household goods we needed, the Royal Canadian Legion members who served as dad’s pallbearers and who helped mom navigate the process of funeral arrangements and such. There were some whose names she spoke often – Manning Powers, Mr. Oliver from the funeral home and Richard Vogel.

Mom kept many, if not all, of the newspaper clippings about the tragedy. An inquest was held regarding the six missing men. Mom sat there, still grieving the loss of her husband and not yet fully accepting Allan’s tragedy. Even so, she had the foresight to take notes so that someday the remaining children, especially us younger ones, would have her notes and clippings to read and try to absorb the loss. As difficult, as painful, and at times as surreal as her notes and clippings make it seem, they have also made it real.

In 1999, I made contact with Mr. Vogel who helped me obtain an official transcript of the inquest, and Dennis Kemle from Oliver Funeral Home was able to provide me a copy of Allan’s death certificate. Each has been like finding a missing piece to a puzzle.

In 2000, a monument was erected at Kuskanook Bay, listing rows of names of people who have lost their lives in the southernmost portion of the lake. I can only imagine the huge undertaking it was to gather the names and get the monument erected. Mom and almost all her children were in attendance at the unveiling ceremony including myself and my husband.

We are indebted to those whose tireless efforts made this monument a reality. Mom was so very grateful that Allan’s name is on that monument, and that those who look upon it will see his name and he will be remembered. Allan had turned 18 (the monument shows 19) just five days before, a boy who’d become a man, a prairie boy who will always be remembered as a devoted son and brother.

For many years I was afraid of Kootenay Lake, afraid of all water, afraid that like my brother I would be swallowed up and never, ever found. As the years passed, I believe it is nothing short of a miracle, that God worked in the heart of this girl to overcome that fear.

We visited Creston a few times with mom, then years later when I married, my husband and I returned. I am drawn to the mountain cemetery in Erickson where my Dad’s body lies in quiet peace and I am drawn to Kootenay Lake, the elusive, yet beautiful body of water that holds my brother’s body. It may hold Allan’s body, but it no longer holds me in fear.

In the visits we made to Creston, particularly in 1999, we literally knocked on doors of law offices, the courthouse and neighbours on Hurl Street where we last lived. Each conversation was another piece of the puzzle. We also met Jack Harringa’s granddaughter, who put us in touch with her grandfather who lived on the east shore of Kootenay Lake. We went to visit him and stood on his deck overlooking the Lake as he told us how he remembered that awful night.

All these years later it is still so very painful, but there has also been deep healing. I am grateful to God and to each one who has helped in bringing closure to this tragedy. Please know that if you played any part in showing kindness to me or my family at the time of Dad’s passing, Allan’s drowning or in the years that followed as I was seeking information, you have not been forgotten.

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