NORTHPORT, P.E.I. —The loss of two teenagers, and the near loss of a third, has brought the communities of West Prince together, says a local mayor.
Wendy McNeill, mayor of the Rural Municipality of Northport, says the support has been overwhelming for the families of Ethan Reilly and Alex Hutchinson, whose small boat capsized off the northwestern shore of P.E.I. last week.
“It’s very heartwarming, it’s very humbling,” said McNeill. “And even those words don’t seem like the right words. It’s actually unbelievable. It’s undescribable.
“I don’t think they’ve made the word in the dictionary to describe the feeling of being part of this kind of an operation. The outpouring in the community, the outpouring in the province has been unbelievable.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 16, the three teens were out in a dinghy that capsized. Max MacIsaac managed to swim to shore that night. Ethan’s body was found Sunday evening.
Despite the tragedy in his own family, Ethan’s father, Kyle Reilly, was out on a boat searching for Alex on Monday.
RCMP divers continued to comb the bottom of Cascumpec Bay with side scanning sonar while a drone looked from above.
In Tignish, the lobster trap tree, built in memory of two fishermen from the area who drowned two years ago, was illuminated once more – this time decorated with hockey sticks.
In a Facebook post on Sept. 19, Tina Richard, recreation director for Tignish, shared photos of the newly re-lit monument.
“We lit our tree to guide the boys home. If any hockey players would like to leave a hockey stick at the bottom of the tree, they are more than welcome. Please while you’re there say a prayer,” wrote Richard.
By Tuesday, around 30 hockey sticks, as well as other memorabilia, had been left at the tree, said Richard.
“The sticks are actually a story on their own, I think, all of them,” she said. “On the hockey tape, there’s little writings. It’s pretty powerful over there.”
Richard has seen kids gathering at the tree, located outside the St. Simon & St. Jude Church in Tignish.
“It’s given a few kids a place
of peace. It’s all we can ask for in this horrible time is to have a little bit of peace in our hearts,” said Richard.
At the Northport Community Centre, volunteers are ready to help.
Tables laden with snacks, fruit, hot coffee and bottled water lined the edges of the room.
“The food is still coming in and the food is still going out,” said McNeill.
The community centre is open from around 7:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. and will continue to open up for as long as it’s needed, said McNeill.
“Everybody’s still out looking, everybody’s still out searching and everybody’s hoping today’s the day,” she said.
One volunteer, a diver from eastern P.E.I., left home at 5 a.m. to join the search and was on the water all day with the other volunteers, said McNeill.
The diver told her there were 27 boats out alongside them.
“Anyone who has a child can relate to it, everybody who’s connected to the sea can relate to it, and I think Prince Edward Islanders are just that way. Pandemic or no pandemic, they just want to help out.”
Across from the community centre, two green and white hockey jerseys fluttered in the wind.
Someone had pinned them to the clothesline in tribute. All three boys played for the Western Regals.
Coach Joe Floyd wrote on Facebook that 40 former Regals gathered Friday night to talk about the impact the boys have had on them.
“We decided that no one will ever wear #7 or #19 ever again in Western Regals history. I loved your boys like they were my own and will continue to do so until my end of days,” wrote Floyd.
Ethan Reilly’s grandfather, Wayne Ballum, said the family even got a call from some hockey players in Torbay, N.L, who had played against Ethan.
Help is coming from all over, said McNeill. She’s not one to feel comfortable in the spotlight, but wanted to relay a message from one of the families.
“They wanted to make sure that we knew – and we spread the word that everybody knows – how appreciative they are for everything that everyone has done,” she said. “Everybody is here, ‘What can we do? What can we bring you? What do you need?’ And to me that says a lot about the boys themselves, and their families.”
Alison Jenkins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Journal-Pioneer