One summer morning in 1978, Andrew Clarke felt compelled to come to Deep Cove.
He thought he’d check in on a friend he recently sold a boat to, and made the drive to North Vancouver from South Surrey.
The events that unfolded when he got there haven’t been easy to forget, even decades later.
“This time of year, once in a while, it just pops into my head,” he said.
From the top of the ramp, leading down to the pier, Clarke could see a mom with four young kids, the older three making an epic ruckus. Her hands were more than full, he said, so she didn’t have a sharp eye on the youngest, perhaps about one year old, toddling about.
Clarke, then 27, had an uneasy feeling.
“I could see that this little person was becoming fixated on the water. There was a fascination there and he started to stumble over towards the edge,” he said. “I didn’t want to run down there and look like an idiot, if the situation didn’t turn out to be as I thought it might. But I lengthened my stride out as much as I could and I started walking as fast as I could and kept an eye on him the whole way.”
Clarke’s instincts were absolutely correct. The little boy was getting closer and closer until it was too late.
“He caught the rail with his foot, just like I figured he would, and over he went, headfirst into the drink,” he said.
Clarke dove like an outfielder trying to catch a ball, clinging to the rail as he reached down.
“I was shoulders under, head down in the water, and I could see him going down below me. And I reached down as far as I could with my right arm, and I just got some very fine hair on his head.”
It was enough to stop the boy from sinking to the floor of Deep Cove. Clarke gently pulled the boy up.
“The mother was just starting to figure out what was going on as the little guy was spitting up a big mouthful of saltwater and starting to cry,” he said.
In the years after, Clarke regretted not staying to talk or even introduce himself. But he recalls feeling overwhelmed in the moments after. Even today, he becomes emotional when he tells the story.
Now, at 71, he’s feeling a need to reconnect.
“After 44 years of wondering … it just really upset me this time,” he said. “It would be interesting to get to be able to say hi.”
Clarke once lost a young friend to a mining accident, one that he’s often blamed himself for not foreseeing and stopping before it was too late.
And he never had any kids of his own, but he’s always felt a link to the boy in Deep Cove.
“That little guy and me have a connection because it was game over for him,” he said. “In a sense, I kind of feel like, you know, he’s my kid.”
But first he has to find that little boy, now about 45 years old, or his family members.
Because it was early in the morning and the boy was wearing just a diaper, Clarke reasons they lived within walking distance of the dock. There was no one else around who would have seen the rescue, but he believes the boy’s mother would have shared the story with close friends.
It’s entirely possible they’re all still around.
“So the chances are good that somebody knows something,” he said.
Clarke is now retired after a career running his own commercial fishing boats, towing company and mining operations. That day in the summer of 1978 brings him to a far more ethereal way of thought though.
“It was a miracle. It’s hard to say why I went to Deep Cove that morning. I thought it was to see my friend Bruce. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. Sometimes you wonder if there’s something else going on, you know? A higher power,” he said. “Did you send me there? Because I’m happy that you did.”
If you think you may have been part of the family on the dock, or you know people who were, email firstname.lastname@example.org