Above and Beyond

Canada honours those who risked their lives for others

July 1 2000

Above and Beyond

Canada honours those who risked their lives for others

July 1 2000

Above eind Beyond


Canada honours those who risked their lives for others

The Canadians Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson honoured with Decorations for Bravery this week in Ottawa are a diverse lot. They come from all parts of Canada, from a variety of backgrounds, whether construction workers, police constables or stay-at-home mothers. They do, however, have one thing in common—they all risked their lives to save others, sometimes total strangers. Tragically, some died in the effort. Those who lived do not perceive themselves as heroes. That was a common refrain among those who spoke to Maclean’s reporters and editors: they simply did what they felt they had to do. Some of their stories:

Marc Rivest and David Johnson have a profound con-

nection. The longtime friends are next-door neighbours, they co-own a window retail outlet in Windsor, Ont.—and they saved a man’s life.

The two were driving to work on Aug. 13, 1998, when they noticed a lowflying helicopter crop-dusting. “The next thing I knew,” recalls Rivest, 38, “the propeller went flying through the air, the helicopter crashed, and I was yelling to David, ‘It’s gone down, it’s gone down!’ ” Johnson made a quick U-turn and headed towards the crash site. “The helicopter was on fire,” says Johnson, 41, “and the pilot was screaming and flailing in his harness trying to get out.” They freed Roland Robert and dragged him 13 m before the gas tank exploded. “Everything was a blur,” Rivest says. “The only thing going through my mind was to take care of the pilot.” After emergency crews arrived and took Robert to hospital, the two decided to pass on work. “We stopped off,” says Johnson, “had a coffee and went home.”

For weeks, the two made the local news, and were hailed as heroes. But both Johnson and Rivest say Robert is the real hero. The 37-year-old commercial pilot from the Chatham, Ont., area damaged his spinal cord in the accident and is paralyzed from the waist down. “Roland is amazing,” says Johnson, “tie is doing so much with his life, and he is already learning to walk with braces.” The three have formed a special bond and made a pact. “We decided we wouldn’t discuss the accident and what we did to help him,” explains Johnson. “We are friends, that’s it.”

The way Danny Montague

remembers it, he acted without really thinking about what he was doing on July 13,1997. One minute, the 31-yearold employee of the German airforce in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Nfld., was batting a badminton birdie around on a beach along the banks of the Churchill River. The next, he was running towards cries of help that grew louder with each step. One teenager had already pulled himself out of the powerful current that each year claims a number of swimmers. But no one was making a move to help another youth, just barely staying afloat in the middle of the river. “I don’t think of myself as particularly brave,” says Montague. “I was afraid to go in. I stood there waiting for someone else to go.” But when no one else did, he stepped

into the cold water. It took just 20 seconds to reach the teenager nearly 15 m from shore. Montague grabbed his hand, and with stops to tread water, took two exhausting minutes to reach shore. But there was no time to rest. A third teen swimmer had also been trying to escape the river’s current. Montague gathered some help and headed for some shallows in the hope of finding him still alive. Sadly, the local ground search and rescue team recovered the body three hours later. He turned out to be the son of one of Montague’s friends.

Montague feels good about having saved the one teen-but the one who died haunts him still. “Sometimes it crosses my mind that if I had got there earlier I could have helped the other fellow, too.”

Subrina Variend lœouta haw

sigh as she describes the horrifying events that she and her sister Nafisah awoke to on May 4, 1997, in their suburban Montreal apartment. “She told me, ‘Sue, wake up, I smell smoke,’ ” recalls Subrina, a 22-yearold accounting assistant. The sisters rushed to the bedroom where Nafisah’s two toddlers, Shawn and Jonathan, slept. When Nafisah, then 23, opened the door, smoke poured out and she began choking. Subrina, seeing fire near the boys’ beds, hurried inside and grabbed two-year-old Jonathan from his crib. She handed him to Nafisah, but when she returned for Shawn she could not find the three-year-old amid the thick smoke. Nafisah told her to leave with Jonathan and kept looking until she managed to find her son. Clutching him in her arms, Nafisah leapt from a window—a two-metre drop—to escape. Despite her efforts, both mother and son later died from their burns.

Jonathan now lives with his grandmother, Esther Desmarais, 47, in Montreal. While saddened by the tragedy, she is proud of her daughters. “I don’t know if I would have had the same courage as her,” she adds, referring to Nafisah’s persistence in looking for Shawn. For Subrina, the gesture was typical of her sister’s devotion to her sons. A former cadet with a passion for the military,

Nafisah stayed at home to look after her boys. “She was with the children day or night,” says Subrina. “They meant the world to her.”

ChriS Boyce was starting his midnight shift on June 19,1996, when he heard a call for assistance on the police scanner in the street-sweeper he was driving. The location of the caller, who said a woman was on the edge of a bridge ready to jump, was close by, so the 39-year-old equipment supervisor went to help. By the time he arrived, the

Thirty-eight with courage

This week, the Governor General presented 38 Decorations for Bravery. These included four Stars of Courage, awarded “for acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril,” and 34 Medals of Bravery, awarded “ for acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances.” The recipients:

Star of Courage

David Johnson, Belle River, Ont.

Gojko Milisavljevic, Hamilton Marc Rivest, Belle River, Ont.

Nafisah Variend (posthumous), Greenfield Park, Que.

Medal of Bravery

Const. James Adamson, Toronto Kenton Bird (posthumous),

Armstrong, B.C.

Leslie Blanchette, Winnipeg Ronald Blatz, Winnipeg Chris Boyce, Langley, B.C.

Thomas Brach, South Slocan, B.C. Amelia Cameron, Dartmouth, N.S. Clinton Carter, Onion Lake, Sask.

Barry Craggy, Burlington, Ont.

Const. Chad Culbert, Lindsay, Ont.

Roy Deveau, Saulnierville, N.S.

Const. Scott Duffy, Lindsay, Ont. Jonathan Dupont, Saint-Léonard, Que. Joey Fehr, Aylmer, Ont.

John Fehr (posthumous), Seaforth, Ont. Murray Hanlon, Truro, N.S.

John Harris, Peterborough, Ont.

Gordon Holloway, Winnipeg Harry Johnson, Hazelton, B.C.

Michael Laffin, Kingston, N.S.

Const. Patricia Latone, Toronto Roy Littlewolfe, Onion Lake, Sask. Christopher Merriam, St. Thomas, Ont. Daniel Montague, Goose Bay,

Labrador, Nfld.

Howard Morash (posthumous), Dartmouth, N.S.

Donald Murray (posthumous),

Saanich, B.C.

Sgt. Paul Richards, Lindsay, Ont. Nicholas Seltzer (posthumous), Toronto Correctional officer Daniel Stricko, Peterborough, Ont.

Const. Mary Sutherland, Winnipeg Donald Therens, Regina Subrina Variend, Brassard, Que.

Rick Wesley, Hazelton, B.C.

Cecil Wolfe, Onion Lake, Sask.

woman had indeed jumped off the No. 2 Road Bridge in Richmond, B.C., into the Fraser River. The passerby who had called 911 pointed to where she had hit the dangerous water. “We could hear her screaming as she was carried by the current under

the bridge,” Boyce says. “So I ran across the four-lane highway, went down the side of the embankment, saw her in the water and jumped in.” A co-worker, who had overheard Boyce radio their dispatcher, soon arrived

with a spodight, which he shone on the pitch-black river. “I was really thankful for that light,” says Boyce, who had jumped in so fast he had forgotten to take off his steel-toed work boots. Slipping the heavy footgear off as he swam, he reached the woman where she was floating face down and started to pull her to shore. “I could hear the Coast Guard hovercraft coming and the ambulance sirens, so I knew help was on its way.” Once they were ashore, the paramedics took over. “It was a real team effort,” says I Boyce, who lives in the i nearby town of Langley, I B.C. “I did something, I my friend brought the I spotlight, those firefighters and paramedics were right there. We all helped her and, thank God, she lived.” Asked why he would risk his life for a total stranger, Boyce just smiles and shrugs: “I never thought of her that way. To me, she was just a person who needed help.”

RlCk Wesley was in his Kispiox,

B.C., home when he heard shouting that a house four doors down was on fire. Checking it out for himself, Wesley, 41, who knows the family, soon discovered on that cold Feb. 9, 1997, the parents were not home-but their three children were. “I saw two of the kids running around outside,” he said. “I asked the oldest boy where Katrina, the four-yearold, was. He screamed that she was still inside. I knew then that I had to go into that house.” Wesley had often visited his neighbours so he knew the layout, but the house was so smoke-filled he could see nothing.

“I went in calling Katrina's name. I wanted to be loud, but not too loud because I didn’t want to scare her. I thought she must be so scared already. Finally, she answered me, so I went towards her through the smoke.” Wesley found the little girl huddled under a coffee table in the living room. He wrapped her inside his parka, and began to feel his way along the wall. Wesley somehow missed the doorway and ended up in a room with no exit. “I knew I was in big trouble then,” he recalls. “I couldn’t breathe anymore, so I went down on the floor. I could feel myself coming in and out of consciousness. But I could feel Katrina breathing and I knew I had to get out of that house for that little girl.” Seeing a light shine in the front door, he shouted for attention. A neighbour kept yelling back and Wesley headed towards the sound. “All I can remember is saying, Take the girl, take the girl,’ ” says Wesley, who collapsed when he got outside. “I am just so thankful that we both got out of there safely.”