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Quebec town devastated by fishing accident that killed local man, four children

Residents of a small northeastern Quebec village are devastated by the news that a local man and two of his children were among five people killed in a weekend fishing mishap, one of the man's relatives said Sunday.
A Surete du Quebec police car is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Residents of a small northeastern Quebec village are devastated by the news that a local man and two of his children were among five people killed in a weekend fishing mishap, one of the man's relatives said Sunday.

Keven Girard, 37, and four children died early on Saturday when they were caught in the shifting tides of the St. Lawrence River while fishing for capelin. 

Police identified Girard on Sunday but declined to name the children. But Girard's aunt by marriage, Vivian Lavoie, said his sons Patrick and Jérôme Girard were among the victims. 

"Everyone is gutted," Lavoie said in French on Sunday from the village of Les Bergeronnes, which was also Girard's hometown.

"Everyone knows each other here. It's tight here. Everyone is affected.

"And on top of it, they were good parents and all," Lavoie said. "No one deserves something like that."

Divers found Girard's body in the St. Lawrence river on Saturday night, provincial police spokeswoman Sgt. Béatrice Dorsainville said in a phone interview.

His death was first announced after the bodies of four children were found unresponsive on the river bank on Saturday.

The minors — all over 10 — were found a few hours after a 2 a.m. emergency call that day about a group swept up by the tide near Portneuf-sur-Mer, a North Coast village located about 550 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

Police said the five were among a group of 11 people fishing on foot near the shore when they were caught off guard by the rising waters.

Following police announcements, a wave of social media posts expressed grief, sympathy and heartfelt affection for the victims and their loved ones.

Samuel Brassard, Girard's cousin, left a post on his relative's Facebook page late Saturday night with the image of a burning candle underneath.

"You were like a brother to me," he wrote in French, and recalled their last get-together the week before, shortly after the burial of their grandmother.

"We had started saying our goodbyes to our loved ones and wondering who will be next. Had I known that a few days after it was you and your little men that I had to say goodbye, I would have made sure the party never ended. You left too soon, I'll never forget you, I love you!"

Officials from Portneuf-sur-Mer, a community of about 600 people that sits 60 kilometres northeast of Girard's hometown, also shared condolences on the town's Facebook page after the "terrible tragedy" on the sandbank.

“The municipality of Portneuf-sur-Mer and all the citizens unite in the same spirit to wish the bereaved families and their friends good luck! Our deepest condolences and thoughts are with you," the post read.

Quebec provincial police divers and Canadian Forces members took part in the search for Girard throughout Saturday afternoon.

"Everyone is affected by what happened, because this kind of event, it's the first time it's happened," Mayor Jean-Maurice Tremblay said in French. "When it involves five people, and four children drowning during a recreational activity, it's certain people are quite sad about it."

Capelin — a silvery smelt fish — are a forage species consumed by many marine animals, and Tremblay said fishing for them is a popular activity in his part of Quebec's North Shore. Capelin fishing takes place on the banks of the river using scoops rather than fishing lines.

The fish most often roll at night, so people light a fire on the shore and wait, Tremblay added.

He said the sandbank on which the victims were fishing is accessed by all-terrain vehicles. They were caught on a section of the peninsula where parts can be submerged by up to four metres of water when the tide rises.

Tremblay said it's important to watch for fluctuating tides, something that's difficult to identify at night.

Kateri Champagne Jourdain, the minister responsible for the North Shore region, said in a Twitter post she would "ensure that psychosocial support is provided to citizens."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2023.

— With files from Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press