‘It was just a sinking feeling’: Daughter reflects on mother’s death after another Cowichan River drowning

'It was just a sinking feeling': Daughter reflects on mother's death after another Cowichan River drowning
A 56-year-old man drowned after he was unable to get out of the Cowichan River before Marie Canyon.

Upon hearing the news that a man tubing on the Cowichan River had drowned, a Nanaimo woman couldn’t help but reflect on the similarities with her mother’s death five years ago.

The majesty of Marie Canyon’s giant rocks and rapids in the Cowichan River is known to take onlookers breath away, but it’s also become a notoriously deadly stretch of water that’s claimed several lives.

Most recently on Monday, when a 56-year-old man from Vancouver, drowned as he tubed down the Cowichan River.

“It’s just a shame that so many people have gotten into accidents or lost their lives and they never intended to go down that part of the falls,” said Stephanie Bonnar, whose mother Lesley Bonnar drowned in Marie Canyon on July 8, 2017.

The river is a popular tubing spot in the summer, but experts always advise caution to those floating on the waters.

“A lot of the river is really calm and fun, but the dangerous parts are really dangerous,” said Deanne Garside, a Cowichan resident and avid tuber.

According to RCMP, the man was in a group of friends tubing on the Cowichan River when at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, he tried to escape the water in time but couldn’t get out ahead of Marie Canyon’s dangerous stretch.

“It was just a sinking feeling because it’s the exact same spot again,” said Bonnar.

Bonnar urged BC Parks to install better safety signage ahead of Marie Canyon when her mother drowned while tubing there five years ago. Lesley Bonnar was a 50-year-old nurse, fit equestrian and swimmer who told her daughter she’d get out ahead of Marie Canyon, but was washed away in the water’s tow and drowned.

“You come round the corner and rapids are right there,” said Bonnar.

“So that’s when I went to the river myself and that’s when I saw this beautiful, calm, serene stretch of river and there was kind of a sign off to the side and it says pull out ahead but (it’s) easy to miss and easy to misinterpret so it almost kind of seems like you have a bit of time,” said Bonnar.

“But the minute you get around that corner you’re in the rapids and unfortunately I believe that may have happened with that gentleman that passed away as well.”

According to RCMP, the 56-year-old tuber who died on Monday night told friends he was going to get out of the river before Marie Canyon, but was ultimately unable to.

“It just made me feel really empty inside because I have been talking to BC Parks,” said Bonnar.”But I’m realizing now after five years it really needs to get done soon.”

So Bonnar wants to remind anyone headed out on the Cowichan River, just how deadly Marie Canyon can be. As she keeps pleading for signs and change that could save another family from tragedy.

In a statement sent to CHEK News more than 24 hours later, the Ministry of Environment said they are sorry for the loss and recommend people educate themselves on the risks prior to entering any body of water.

“Our thoughts go out to the family and friends who are grieving a terrible loss. BC Parks encourages all visitors wishing to swim, kayak, canoe or float in this area to familiarize themselves with potential risks prior to entering the river,” the statement reads.


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