On July 13, 1954, twelve children from the Negro Community Centre Day Camp drowned in boating accident
On July 13, our community marks a sombre milestone: the 65th anniversary of a tragedy that continues to haunt a multitude of families across Montreal.
Twelve children – eight girls and four boys, members of the Negro Community Centre Day Camp, drowned in a boating accident at Pointe aux Carriers Beach in Lake of Two Mountains in Ile Bizard.
They are Denzil Alleyne, 9; Margo Fonseca, 7; Marilyn Fonseca, 8; Brenda Kelly, 8; Carol Leek, 6; Alan Leek, 7; Donna Lewis, 10; Paula Millington, 6; Leon Nealy, 8; Diane Springer, 10; Edith Springer, 7; Estelle Walton, 11; and Doreen Walton, 8.
Most of them lived within a four-block radius bordered by Atwater and Greene avenues and St. Antoine and St. James (now St. Jacques) streets and many were students at Queen’s Elementary School or Royal Arthur Elementary.
It was just after 1 PM on the afternoon of July 13, 1954, when the children, 17 of them, crammed onto a 12-foot motorboat owned by a Montreal businessman, for a much-anticipated joyride.
Within minutes, tragedy struck as the water became choppy; the engine stalled and the boat capsized. In the ensuing mayhem, 12 innocent lives were lost.
Among them were seven-year-old Margo and eight-year-old Marilyn Fonseca who lived at the corner of St. Antoine and Walker, inseparable during their short lives and united in death. They were on the outing with their older sister who did not go on the boat.
Today, their younger brother Edgar Fonseca is in his late 60s. At the time he was a bit too young to make the trip, but his mom told him that he spent much of that day nagging her about how long it was taking the girls to get home.
“I’ve spent much of my life in deep mourning for my sisters,” he told the CONTACT on the day he makes his annual visit to place a memoriam in the newspaper. “This is the least I can do for them.”
These days, Fonseca still harbors deep-seethed anger and frustration because of the tragedy and its impact on his family, his mother and father especially.
“It was a blow to them and they never fully recovered,” he said. “And it also impacted my childhood because after that tragedy my parents didn’t want me to leave the house. Just like many other children in the neighborhood, I wasn’t allowed to go past Atwater Avenue.”
As a result, the ire caused by the tragedy lingers with Fonseca.
“The worst thing about it is not only no one has been held accountable for what happened, but nowhere in the city is a memorial of those lives that were lost.”
Fonseca says the city and our community “have to come to terms with the fact that 12 kids died unnecessarily.”
“The counselors should have never allowed the children on that boat,” he says, noting that proper regulations for water safety were only put into place after the tragedy.
“And what is even more important for us is the fact that today there’re still so many children who are unable to swim. I think it’s long overdue for Montreal to have a program that teaches every child to swim.”
Fonseca is one of only three surviving siblings. The other two are Dahlia Walton who lost her sister Doreen and Gail Millington Grant who also lost her sister, six-year-old Paula.
On Sunday July 14 the surviving siblings and other Montrealers will gather at Union United Church for a commemorative service.
Remembering a day of screaming and horror
65 years ago Doreen Ryce was a 14-year-old excited to be on the day outing to Pointe aux Carrieres Beach in Ile Bizard
By Doreen Ryce
Memories not so beautiful.
Although many, many years ago, but one never to forget.
Living on Walker Street in St. Henri I can remember the morning of the Bus trip (Negro Community Centre Day Camp’s outing to Pte. aux Carrieres Beach). I was very excited.
My downstairs neighbour’s son was supposed to come, but the last minute he refused and didn’t want to go. We couldn’t force him.
Once out there, what a beautiful day. Everyone was so excited to be at Ile Bizard 1954 Day Camp.
We left the Negro Community Centre on Delisle St. It was a day of great excitement, until tragedy hit.
A man on the beach offered to give the children a boat ride. The first ride, when the children began jumping on the boat no one was listening to the owner and kept jumping on the boat, which became over-loaded and tipped over.
It happened so fast. All I remember was running to the lake. There were a lot of heads bobbing up and down. I was trying to pull children from the water. People were running up and down and screaming. The children were crying.
I could close my eyes and still see the face of the boat-owner and I will never forget his reaction, trying to pull children from the water.
It’s all stuck in my mind. I remember all the children, especially one little girl from New York here on vacation.
I remember it took police and ambulances forever to come. It was like I was in a dream.
When I got back to Montreal, I remember Sandra crying and saying “mommy I tried to stop them and they would not listen,” referring to her sister Marilyn and Margo Fonseca. All I kept thinking was about those little children Marilyn, Margo, Paula, Kelley, Denzel, Brenda, Carol, Alan, Donna, Paula, Leon, Diane, Edith , Estelle and Doreen.
So sorry I cannot remember all the names.
The next couple of weeks were very hard on me and a lot of people had bad mental injuries. The worst was when my mother was chasing me down Walker screaming after midnight. I was sound asleep.
My mom sent me to New York to my sister Eleanor and within the second week I had a stroke on one side of my face, which was called Bell’s Palsy.
I came back to Montreal and underwent treatment for over three months.
I have blocked out a lot and can’t remember everything.
These days, the only person I speak to constantly is (Edgar) Fonseca.
It has been years… but it is something one never forgets.