La Pêche plans to prohibit swimming at the Wakefield covered bridge.
Following a recommendation from a Quebec coroner in a report about a summer 2021 drowning om the Gatineau River near the bridge, La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux announced on April 20 that the municipality plans to forbid swimming at the popular river spot.
He announced the plan on his Facebook page on April 20 along with a citizen meeting with a question and answer period at 8 p.m. on April 27 about the coroner’s report.
“The details regarding the bylaw itself are not yet final so I don't know the timeline yet,” Lamoureux wrote in an email to the Low Down when asked how and when the ban would be enforced.
“I recommend that the municipality of La Pêche review its laws to prohibit all swimming at Gendron Bridge due to the dangers of the river and to avoid drownings,” Coroner Francine Danais states in her report, which the Low Down received from the Quebec coroner’s office.
Danais reported that 22-year-old Najib Chowdhury died of accidental drowning on July 25, 2021 without any alcohol or drugs in his system. He was a University of
Ottawa student spending the day on the river banks with his three friends. The coroner’s report states that he swam at a “basic” level. Chowdhury went for a swim with one of his friends around 1 p.m. that day but he didn’t resurface. MRC des Collines Police tried to find the body from the surface but called in Sûreté du Québec divers around 2 p.m. Visibility in the water went from two metres to zero deeper down. Sûreté du Québec divers traveled from Montreal and after about an hour of searching, discovered his body five metres underwater about 13 metres away from where he was last seen, according to the coroner’s report.
“The river current here often fluctuates due to rainfall. Although at the surface the current seems slow, the SQ divers say that the current is strong to very weak at depth and that the riverbed is uneven and littered with obstacles such as rocks, tree trunks and even a metal structure. They add that the current can easily carry people to these obstacles and ‘trap’ them underwater. These obstacles are also found under the bridge from which the ‘illegal’ divers jump,” the report states.
Jumping into the Gatineau River from the bridge is prohibited but people do it all summer. The village pastime has become an unofficial rite of passage for many villagers growing up in the Hills. But that tradition is on the rocks.
The 2021 drowning death re-sparked a debate about the safety of the swim spot that’s been frequented by tourists and locals for decades but has seen its popularity jump in recent years. It’s not rare to see the large, flat rock that juts out into the river just downstream from the bridge almost covered in beach towels and people sun tanning during sunny summer days.
A sign about the dangerous current was posted at the bridge following the drowning.
Chowdhury isn’t the first person to drown near the covered bridge. In September 2015, a 23-year-old Algonquin College student from Zimbabwe, Tinashe Osborne Majuru, also drowned there. The recent coroner’s report notes that the 2015 coroner’s report on Majuru’s death also identified the dangerous underwater currents in the river in that area.
Lamoureux’s citizen meeting will take place on Zoom. Find the link on his Facebook page or visit bit.ly/3LiQ8wG to participate.