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Sunlit days of hiking and canoeing for a group of Toronto students exploring Algonquin Park ended in tragedy Wednesday afternoon when the body of their 15-year-old classmate was pulled from the water.
He was among 33 students from C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute and Westview Centennial Secondary School who arrived at the park on Sunday for a week-long outdoor-education excursion as part of the summer-school curriculum.
While the search was ongoing, a Ministry of Natural Resources seaplane began to airlift the remaining students from the interior of the park.
He was greeted by his parents who were waiting at a command post near Smoke Lake with police and the principal of C.W. Jefferys. The prinicipal and other officers were the ones who told the family about the discovery of Jeremiah’s body, board spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz said.
A second Ministry of Natural Resources plane was sent to pick up the remainder of the children after the first plane broke down Wednesday. The students on the leadership trip had been separated into two groups and Schwartz-Maltz said that the second group had been trekking back.
Eighteen kids were airlifted from the park. They met with police for interviews, and then began the more than two-hour trip back to Toronto shortly before 10 p.m., according to to Schwartz-Maltz. A counsellor from C.W. Jefferys was with them to help them process the events of the last two days, and grief counsellors were to be waiting at the school.
Students gathered outside Jeremiah’s school Wednesday described him as a nice boy and a strong player on the basketball court.
Neither boy could say whether Jeremiah knew how to swim.
More than 35,000 students are involved in summer-school programs across the TDSB, and the Algonquin trip is “one of many outdoor-education programs,” according to Schwartz-Maltz. She noted that all students are required to pass a swim test before they can go on such trips, but she could not provide details about what such a test would entail.
A superintendent with the Toronto District School Board echoed Schwartz-Maltz in saying that all students were tested on their swimming ability.
“We know every single process and procedure was in place to ensure the safety of our students and our staff,” Karen Falconer said. “So the sadness of this is even more profound in light of how seriously we take that safety.”
The students would have learned about the outdoors and leadership skills on this particular trip, she said. The students can earn either a Grade 10, 11 or 12 credit, she said.
“We’ve been running them for years and years and years and they are very popular.”