Daughter calls for better signage on Cowichan River after mother’s drowning death

Daughter calls for better signage on Cowichan River after mother's drowning death

Daughter says her mother knew about the dangers of Marie Canyon on the Cowichan River but still missed the tube pullout. Kendall Hanson reports.

Stephanie Bonnar has strong emotions about the spot on the Cowichan River that claimed her mother’s life three weeks ago.

Bonnar says her death was accidental and preventable.

“It’s kind of weird empty feeling,” said Bonnar. “It’s kind of weird to see a spot where you lost someone.”

On July 8, Bonnar dropped off her 50-year-old mom Lesley, and one of her friends, to go tubing down Cowichan River. On the way, they talked about safety.

“We also talked about how dangerous Marie Canyon was so she made it clear to me ‘I’m not going to go down Marie Canyon. I know there’s a pull-out zone and that’s where we’ll be exiting.”

So it was a complete shock when Bonnar got the call later in the day saying her mother had lost consciousness after going over the falls, and BC Ambulance had taken her to hospital where she died.

“They missed the pull-out zone and that’s when my mom became frightened when she saw the rapids,” said Bonnar. “She jumped out of her tube and then she got pulled under right away because the currents so strong and then her friend tried to jump out and swim to her but again with the river being so strong he had a hard time with that.”

On returning to the area, Bonnar says what strikes her is how little signage there is warning about the approaching falls and the one sign could easily be missed.

She’s calling for clearer signs and more obvious signs.

“It’s not clear enough for people,” said Bonnar. “It seems silly for something so easily fixed to be taking people’s lives.”

Swift water specialists say it’s always wise to wear a personal flotation device and to know the dangers before tubing any section of the river.

The top part of Cowichan River closer to Lake Cowichan is definitely safer,” said Trevor Paterson with Cowichan Search & Rescue. “I don’t advise people to tube from Skutz Falls to Marie Canyon. There are a lot of dangerous sections even with the lower water.”

Bonnar says she’s called B.C. Parks to ask for signage improvements and was told they’re reviewing it. But she also wants to warn others because she’d hate to see another death on the river.


Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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