For Michelle D’Entremont, there’s a clear defining moment in her life: the day her father died.
“It’s weird. I feel like there’s a life before the accident and there’s a life after,” she said.
“I feel like a completely different person.”
D’Entremont’s father, Lewis, was killed nearly 15 years ago when he fell off a boat while fishing for herring off Pubnico, N.S., where the family lived.
At the time, D’Entremont was a university student in Halifax. While she knew a fisherman’s life was difficult, she never imagined her “strong and powerful” father was ever at risk.
“It never even occurred to me that something would happen to him,” she said. “He’s the strong man of the family.”
Lewis had been a fisherman for as long as his two daughters and son could remember — entering a profession that’s just a part of daily life in Pubnico.
“Growing up, we didn’t get to see him very much. I think it’s only after he was gone that we realized how much he put on the line for us, because as kids we thought that he just wasn’t around,” she said. “You don’t really understand what your parents are doing for you.”
“I think that’s what really gets me is he died trying to provide for us, you know.”
On the evening of Sept. 23, 2004, Lewis and his fellow crew set off in darkness to fish for herring. The type of fishing is called purse seining — where a large net that can weigh more than 200 tons is set in the water.
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That night, something was malfunctioning in the back of the boat, and someone needed to manually throw the cable overboard.
“Dad, to keep the peace, had agreed to manually do that part of the job. And basically, that’s what threw him overboard,” D’Entremont said.
“They actually found him quite quickly, and they brought him aboard with their sister boat, and they performed CPR, tirelessly, but he never woke up. He died with what they call a dry drowning. So he had no water in his lungs, they think it’s the shock of everything that killed him.”
WATCH: Creating a culture of safety for fishing vessels (Feb. 19, 2016)
The days, weeks, months and years that follow have been difficult for D’Entremont’s family. Up until recently, she says she didn’t want to talk about her father’s death — in part because he was such a private person.
But the thought of sparing other families from pain and improving safety in the workplace has spurred her and her mother, Marilyn, to share their story.
Their goal is to get more people, especially in the fishing community, to speak out about safety.
“There are so many people that just don’t speak up. They’re afraid to cause some sort of argument, I’m not really sure. I guess we all do it. We don’t want to be the one to make anything difficult for their employer,” she said.
“But I mean, like all the ads say, if you’re not safe at work, then what are you coming home to? If you’re not even able to come home.”
And as D’Entremont can attest, the price is high.
“I just got married, and I had to have my brother walk me down the aisle, which was awesome but, you know it’s just those big things. My sister had a baby and he wasn’t around, he loved kids,” she said tearfully.
“I often say, he was the best one. He deserves to still be here. So life has definitely been different.”
On April 28 the country will mark the Day of Mourning — a day to pay tribute to those who have died or been injured at work.
D’Entremont and her family have shared their story with a provincial campaign and are featured in a video, along with other families touched by workplace tragedies.