‘My hero:’ Two fathers and their young sons die in Manitoba canoeing accident

By on May 24, 2017


A young man says he's devastated after his father and his dad's best friend died in a canoeing accident in northern Manitoba along with two of their sons. (Photo: Basheer Tome/Flickr)
A young man says he’s devastated after his father and his dad’s best friend died in a canoeing accident in northern Manitoba along with two of their sons. (Photo: Basheer Tome/Flickr)

THOMPSON, Man. — A young man says he’s devastated after his father and his dad’s best friend died in a canoeing accident in northern Manitoba along with two of their sons.

James Cripps says it’s surreal that his father and younger brother are gone.

“It just feels like your entire world crashes down on you,” he said Tuesday.

RCMP said a search began on Monday after the four paddlers were reported overdue from a trip on the Burntwood River north of Thompson.

Police officers and firefighters launched two rescue boats and chartered a helicopter. Several boaters in the area also took part.

The overturned craft and the bodies of the four canoeists were found in the water.

Police said all the victims were wearing life jackets. They were all from Thompson, about 740 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Loved ones say Shane Cripps, 44, and Conor Sykes, 33, were best friends.

Cripps’s son Dylan, 14, and Sykes’s son Liam, who was six, were with them on the excursion.

James Cripps, 18, said he looked up to his father.

“My dad was my hero, obviously. He’s everything I aspired to be as a man when I grew up. He taught me so many lessons. He’s been there for everything,” he said.

“He was just an awesome, awesome guy. All families have their disagreements at times, but he never hesitated to tell me that he’d be there for me.”

He said his brother Dylan was his best friend and he remembers being there to catch his little brother when he was just learning to walk. Later, they loved to play hockey together.

If ever the brothers had a big fight, everything would be fine the next day, he said.

He remembered one time when his dad fell into the water when their canoe tipped on a lake. He was able to swim back to the boat and get back in and everyone had a good laugh about it.

“Any time someone falls in the water, everything’s OK, you’re going to laugh about it after,” Cripps said.

“This time they weren’t.”

The elder Cripps was a well-respected entrepreneur in northern Manitoba, who had an ecotourism lodge, restaurant and other ventures, said friend Jody Linklater.

“He was very influential in starting businesses and employing lots of people from the north,” he said.

Linklater, who knew Cripps for 15 years, said they were working together on organizing northern Manitoba’s first sanctioned mixed martial arts event in June.

He said Cripps’s wife, Li, has told him she wants to honour her husband’s legacy by going ahead with the “Throw Down in T-town” event, but it’s been postponed until the fall.

Linklater said Dylan was a great kid. Linklater had played Ping-Pong with him just four days ago.

He said the family was tight.

“They spent a lot of time together and canoeing was one of the activities that they liked doing.”

Linklater said he doesn’t understand how all four could have died, but he noted that ice has remained on the Burntwood River longer than usual this season and the area got some snow in the last week or so.

Lindsay Catherine Rose Sykes told CBC News it was the first canoe trip of the year for her husband Conor, their son Liam and the Cripps pair.

“I have a baby girl. Her name’s Annabelle. She’s four and she lost her best friend, Liam, her brother, and her daddy,” Sykes said through heavy sobs. “We were so happy. We were such a happy family.”

She posted a photo on Facebook of her husband smiling at the boy on his lap with the caption “loves of my life.”

The photo garnered several messages of condolence.

“This is absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t imagine what you are going through,” said one.

Another said: “Shocked and sad. If there’s anything we can do, please let us know. Love you.”