PORT SYDNEY, Ont. — Industry Minister Tony Clement is urging summer swimmers to be careful after he dove into a churning river to help rescue a drowning woman.
“It’s great that people enjoy our lakes and our rivers, we’re so blessed to have them, but people have to be careful,” he told the Canadian Press in an interview Sunday.
The Parry Sound-Muskoka MP was having dinner at his Port Sydney home, about 200 kilometres north of Toronto, on Saturday when he heard a frantic knocking at his door.
“We heard this banging,” he said.
“This young woman was hysterical, screaming that her friend was in the water and drowning.”
Clement said he rushed outdoors to the Muskoka river that runs by his house while his wife and father-in-law grabbed life-jackets.
Once he arrived at the shore, Clement knew he had to act fast. “I could see her head, and she wasn’t moving, so that really frightened me, and so I dove right into the water,” said Clement, who jumped in fully clothed in shorts and a T-shirt.
As he swam towards her, Clement said the river current made it hard for him to reach the woman, whose name was Jennifer.
“As I’m getting closer to her, I can feel myself tiring and I can feel undertows starting to push me under the water,” he said.
“The last thing you need is another person you’re trying to save.”
Clement then scrambled to get to the riverbank as Jennifer began to float on her back, allowing her to drift downstream where Clement’s wife and father-in-law were able jump in and pull her from the water.
Once on the shore, efforts were made to comfort the shaken woman who had started to sob.
“Me and a couple of other people just kept talking to her, putting her clothes around her,” Clement said. “We just wanted to keep her conscious and calm.”
Meanwhile, the MP said he noticed one of the woman’s friends was flat on his back on a nearby rock.
“He’d been in the water too. We were worried that he was going into shock, so I kind of rushed over to him,” said Clement, who got some warm clothes on the man and stayed with him until paramedics arrived.
“It was pretty intense.”
The MP, who now has a sore neck and back, said the experience saw his community come together in a time of need.
“It was a whole bunch of people doing the right thing.”
Clement is now urging people to be very careful in unfamiliar waters.
“We have many drownings every year throughout Canada,” he said. “Know the water you’re in. If you’re not a strong swimmer, swim close to the shore line, have life jackets available.”
There has been a nationwide spike in drownings this year. Just over 200 people have drowned across the country since January.