'Celebrate the 18 years'
They knew something was wrong immediately.
The game was about to start and Brendan Wilson’s family did not see him in the stands at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre in Burnaby.
It was not like him to miss one of his younger sister Chelsea’s hockey games, especially with his sister’s team playing at the Esso Cup, the midget female AAA national championships.
“It was through the game we put two and two together,” recalled mom, Connie Wilson.
“He scheduled his life around being there for her,” said dad, Barry Wilson. “When he wasn’t (there) we knew something was up.”
Chelsea scored a pair of beautiful goals that game in a 4-2 loss.
But while there was jubilation for Chelsea’s on-ice heroics, the family was in for some devastating news off of it.
The parents had realized that Brendan was missing but withheld it from their daughter.
“Even after the game, we didn’t tell her what was happening,” Connie explained.
But Chelsea knew all was not right.
“I knew something was going on. He would have been there,” Chelsea said.
Brendan Wilson had gone away with one of his close friends, Austin Kingsborough, to the Wilson family cabin at Nicola Lake, near Merritt.
The boys went missing last April 21 and the following morning — after they were reported missing — Brendan’s truck was still at the cabin and the family’s overturned canoe was found on the lake.
RCMP used divers and a sonar search team over the course of six days, to no avail. The bodies of the two 17-year-olds were not found until May 6.
Nearly one year has passed since their bodies were discovered, but the Wilson family prefers to remember the good times they shared, and not dwell on their loss.
“We said all along, it was celebrate the life of Brendan, never the loss,” Barry said. “Celebrate the 18 years.”
“We are very much the glass is half full, not half empty, so we had to look at the positives,” he explained.
“We still talk about Brendan daily, we still laugh (about) him.
“Is there a difference between crying and laughing? No, they are both emotions (and) our family chooses to laugh more than cry.”
Brendan was not your typical teenager.
He loved hockey, playing both on the ice with the Langley Minor Hockey Association and on the court with the Valley Ball Hockey Association.
“He was focused and had goals, he knew what he wanted to do and where he was going,” Barry said.
At age 12, Brendan had decided that when he was older, he would run the family business, Huyck Industrials Ltd., on the Langley/Surrey border.
He even had it figured out what his siblings would do: younger sister Chelsea (see related story, Page 21) would run the office, while older brother Kyle — three years his senior — would run the paint shop.
When one of the company’s painters quit, Brendan convinced his dad to let him try to take on the role.
He wasn’t even 15 yet but his rationale was that if one day he was to take over the business, he might as well start learning now. By that summer, Brendan was the head painter, ran the paint department and had people working under him.
Brendan was so driven that he had graduated six months early from Langley Secondary.
“I have had to deal with (Brendan’s passing) on three separate levels,” Barry said.
“To me, it was three losses in one: it was our son lost, it was a good friend I lost and it was a valuable employee that I lost.”
Lake a Special Place
Nicola Lake was always a special place for the Wilson family.
They purchased the cabin when Connie was pregnant with Chelsea, and it was a staple of their lives every summer.
“(The kids) would spend every day in the summer at the lake,” Connie said.
“They grew up there, last day of school to the first day of school, the three of them, hiking, on the boat, fishing.”
When the RCMP were unable to locate Brendan’s and Austin’s bodies, the Wilson family had a pretty good idea where exactly they were, figuring out from memory where Brendan had likely taken the boat.
And this was confirmed when Gene and Sandy Ralston were hired to complete the search.
The Idaho couple specializes in recovering drowning victims using side scan sonar systems in their search.
During the last 13 years, the couple has located the remains of 91 people, according to their website www.gralston1.home.mindspring.com.
Following their loss, the Wilsons knew they wanted to be involved in helping others in some way.
“Brendan has given us the strength that we need,” Connie explained.
And now the Wilson family is involved with the Legacy Water Search and Recovery Society.
“We knew it was something that needed to be done,” she said, adding the family drew inspiration from how motivated Scott Lebus and Jim Ward — the society’s president and vice-president — were.
Barry is the society’s treasurer.
The society is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing closure to families of drowning victims.
They have raised enough money to purchase equipment which allowed them to begin operations this spring.
Drowning accidents have been on the rise and Barry said the family just wants to help other families by supporting them, much like the Wilson family was supported in their time of need.
What really hit home for the family was that after they found the boys’ bodies, the Wilson family was in Salmon Arm the following week. Fisherman John Poole, had gone missing in Shuswap Lake.
The Wilsons had experienced tremendous support from back in Langley, in Merritt and from the Nicola Tribal Association. But the Pooles had just a handful of family members and were so grateful to see the Wilsons, to have someone there to support them.
“It was a community of thousands that just gave us a hug to get through this, and this is what we want to give back,” Barry said.
“(The support) makes you feel together,” added Connie. “What we experienced at the lake was incredible.”
“They don’t even have to say anything, just them being there is support,” said Kyle.
“This inspired us to do more, to make ourselves better.”
The Wilson family plans on being at Nicola Lake on May 6 to mark the one-year anniversary of the discovery of the bodies.
And on Sunday, both the Wilson and Kingsborough families were on hand at the Township of Langley’s Community Arbour Day celebration. Trees were planted in honour of both Brendan and Austin at Fort Langley Community Park.
Connie said that friends and family were already gathered at the tree that night.
The Legacy Water Search and Recovery Society is holding its first annual For The Boys Memorial Golf Tournament at Newlands Golf and Country Club on May 25.
For more information, visit www.legacywatersearch.com.
The family and friends of Austin Kingsborough have also created AK94 Memorial, an incorporated society.
AK94 holds fundraisers and accepts donations with the money raised being in the community for charities and sports organizations and to help kids who may need financial help.
"If it wasn't (for) the support of the community, I don't know how we would have made it through," wrote Kelly, Austin's mother, on the website.
"In my weakest moments, the community amazed me with all the fundraisers. Somebody somewhere was always doing something.
"The community kept me strong, kept me together, kept me standing and made me proud," she added.
"It was the community that came together and carried me through this loss. It wasn't just a loss for me as I realized it was a loss to the community as well."
To learn more, visit www.ak94.webs.com.
— with files from Monique Tamminga
Friends and family members of Austin Kingsborough planted a tree in his honour at the Township of Langley’s Community Arbour Day on Sunday (April 27) at the Fort Langley Community Garden. Trees were planted for both Kingsborough and his friend Brendan Wilson. The teens drowned last spring in Nicola Lake, near Merritt. Altogether, 13 trees were planted to commemorate members of the community who passed away in 2013.