A family is grieving the loss of a beloved Duncan man and his best friend is still coming to terms with the outcome of what was supposed to be an ordinary fishing trip on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 25.
Brayden Gale and his best friend Liem Pham, both 22, had just that week returned to the Cowichan Valley from living in Alberta where Pham had been working for Gale at his Edmonton-based landscaping company.
They’d both grown up in Duncan and were eager to return home to be closer to friends and family.
The duo, who rarely spent a day apart, did everything together, so it was not out of the ordinary when they set out together to go fishing on Chemainus Lake.
Only one man was able to return home, however.
Authorities were called to the lake about 10:30 a.m. after witnesses Susan Harrison and Todd Lefebure, out for a daily walk around the lake, noticed the canoeists in trouble and called 9-1-1.
Pham said their canoe became submerged after a shift in seating position caused the boat to tip.
“We flipped it upside down so we would have some sort of float to rest on but it started sinking so quickly we decided to ditch the canoe,” Pham recalled.
“I quickly flipped onto my back because I was starting to sink and my chest started to tighten up.”
Gale started swimming towards the dock while Pham removed his jacket weighing him down and headed towards the weeds on the side of the lake.
“Eventually I made it within 20 feet of the weeds and decided to make a mad dash because my limbs were so numb they weren’t responding to me,” Pham said. “As I reached the weeds I was still waist deep in water but I could hear people yelling at Brayden to ‘keep swimming’ and telling him ‘you’re almost there, you can do it’.
“I thought they could see him so I would be able to rest for a minute before trying to wade through the weeds,” Pham added.
Despite the calls and encouragement from Harrison and Lefebure, Gale never made it to the shore.
Lefebure had tried to help the young man by jumping in himself but soon found the chill of the water was overwhelming his own body.
Unable to breathe, Lefebure had to get out.
“He handed me his glasses and wallet and took off his shirt,” Harrison said of her husband’s rescue efforts. “
He got about 15 feet before he couldn’t breathe. He had a hard time getting out. I don’t know how [Pham] swam as far as he did.”
Crews from Chemainus, Crofton and North Cowichan’s South End fire departments were called out as well as the Cowichan Valley and Ladysmith search and rescue groups and the RCMP Dive Team.
The British Columbia Ambulance Service and Cowichan Valley Victim Services were also on scene to assist.
Gale’s body was recovered just before 4 p.m.
Witnesses Harrison and Lefebure hope to meet with the Municipality of North Cowichan, which operates the park at Chemainus Lake, about the possibility of putting some lifesaving equipment at the site. They were about a quarter of the way around the lake when they heard the canoeists in distress, and ran back to the dock to see what they could do.
“We’re thinking if there was a ring with a rope attached, maybe we could have thrown it across,” Harrison said. “I don’t know if we could have thrown it that far, but there was nothing there, so we never would know.”
Pham is still digesting the ordeal, while coming to terms with the idea his best friend is gone.
“Brayden and I spent every day together. Every waking minute we could, we would be together,”’ Pham said. “Anything from playing video games at home to heading into work after hours to get set up for the next day. Brayden was the hardest-working person I’ve ever met and together we were unstoppable.”
Pham said their friendship was like no other.
“I don’t know how to explain it but Brayden and I had a connection that I’ve never had with anyone. We could speak without saying a single word and just simple gestures between us were as good as hour long conversations,” Pham said.
“He always knew what I was thinking and I knew his thoughts.”
The pair had mutual goals they wanted to accomplish together.
“We were going to leave the construction business and join the police because we knew that together we could truly make a difference in the world,” Pham said.“He was to the end, selfless, devoted and always a positive aspect in anyone’s life he touched.”
A public Facebook page “The Legacy of Brayden Gale” has been set up in remembrance.
There, friends remember Gale as smart, full of energy, always smiling, a hard worker and incredibly loving. In lieu of flowers Gale’s family suggests donations be made in his honour to a few of his favourite charities: the Salvation Army and the SPCA.