(COURTESY JUDITH BESNER)
The crosses were made by Étienne Rémillard, Antoine’s cousin, to pay tribute to the lost men.
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It was supposed to be the start of their lives.
In a horrific twist of events, what was meant to be a simple day of fishing, became a calamity for the families of two budding young men.
Antoine Paquin and Dylan Auger, both 22 from Mascouche, were talking about moving out of their parent’s homes. Dylan had just finished his nursing courses, while Antoine continued to help his father with the family construction business.
Outside of school and work, the two friends were inseparable. While they could usually be found at the gym, or playing sports outdoors, on Saturday, November 14, they decided to go fishing on the Lake of Two Mountains. They never came back.
“This is not a story about drugs, or speeding, or alcohol,” said Dylan’s mother, Judith Besner. “There were two good boys who shared their pandemic’s bubble. Always together. If the gyms had been opened, they wouldn’t have gone fishing that day.”
Their boat was found the next morning, submerged – without the men in sight. To date, the bodies of Antoine and Dylan have not been found.
As the winter season took hold of the lake, it became impossible for the search to continue.
“Spring seems so far,” said Antoine’s father, Christian Paquin. “We haven’t finished going through this, not until we find them.”
The heartbroken tragedy not only affected the families and friends, but also the community of Kanesatake. The Kanien’kehá:ka community borders the Lake of Two Mountains, only a few kilometres from St. Placide.
The Emergency Response Unit (ERU) spokesperson and director of the First Nations Paramedics (FNP) Robert Bonspiel knows too well how unpredictable the lake’s currents can be.“We lost too many of our community members to this river,” said Bonspiel.
During the fall, the ERU and FNP took part in the search, sending weekly statements to the community, to keep an eye open for any signs of the men. But while many volunteers from Antoine and Dylan’s surroundings came to help, it was Kanehsata’kehró:non’s generosity and support that was the most unexpected.
“It didn’t happen directly in Kanesatake, so we were all surprised,” said Christian. “We are so used to hearing negative stories, whether it’s about Indigenous or non-Indigenous people, but we received so much help.”
During the first days after the accident, recalled Judith, the community came and fed the search team, the Surete du Quebec (SQ) and the families. Christian explained that Kanehsata’kehró:non Ida Nelson organized it all: food, coffee and kind words.
“With the pandemic, we don’t have any physical contacts,” said Judith, “and I won’t hide that the holidays have been particularly difficult.”
At least, added Judith, they had the warmth of the community’s presence, along with the volunteers from St. Placide. Slightly before Christmas, both families offered a thank you letter to Ida, with a picture of their sons.
“You showed us kindness and love, regardless of the fact that we were complete strangers,” read the letter that was addressed to the community and signed by all four parents.
Two months after the tragedy, the families still make the one-hour drive from Mascouche, every week, to visit the two crosses that were created and installed at the municipal marina of St. Placide. Judith looks at the frozen water and she knows that the hope of finding them is close to nill at this time of the year.”
“I came here every day for a month,” she said, “and I’ve seen all the sudden changes in weather on the lake, sometimes in the blink of an eye. It’s like a microclimate, where it’s sunny but then five minutes after, you have incredible winds, but only for two minutes. We experienced it. And it allows us to understand a little bit what happened that day to our boys.”
Antoine and Dylan had fished all summer before that fatal last trip. The two men, described as joyful and empathetic, were used to checking the forecast beforehand.
Christan said that he had taught his son how to fish from a young age and that Antoine never hesitated to come back home if the weather wasn’t appropriate. But on that day, the microclimate snared the best out of them.
The search will resume once the ice breaks in the spring. Christian, who returned to work for the first time this week, asked that anyone in the sector lookout and explore the riversides.
In the meantime, the families started a GoFundMe, looking to collect $15,000. Judith explained that the families would need to embark on a costly legal procedure to obtain death certificates.
“I don’t have my son, I don’t have his body, I can’t say goodbye,” she said. “I can’t tell my heart that this is truly happening.
“But for now, Mother Nature decided to keep our sons.”