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Grief-stricken friends and colleagues of Green party candidate Josh Underhay gathered on Saturday at the Haviland Club to commemorate the life of the teacher, musician and political candidate and to mourn the loss of his young son.
Many who attended the gathering, organized through social media just hours before, appeared visibly shaken. Some wrote messages about the 35-year-old man and his six-year-old son, Oliver, on a sheet of paper taped to the wall. Most wore buttons depicting a bicycle beneath a starry sky, a tribute to Underhay’s years of cycling advocacy on P.E.I.
Josh Underhay and his son Oliver died after their canoe capsized on the Hillsborough River on Friday afternoon.
The two were reported missing to Queens District RCMP after they had gone canoeing. They had not returned to their pick-up spot on time.
Authorities located the two in the water near the capsized canoe. Both had been wearing flotation devices. They were taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown where they were declared dead.
RCMP are continuing to investigate the incident.
Several people described Underhay as a man of many talents and interests. Underhay was known by many as an avid trumpet player, an all-weather cyclist, as a teacher who inspired students and as someone who walked the walk of his environmental convictions.
Former radio host Nils Ling was a family friend of Underhay. He described him as a community spoke, a figure who drew together people from many communities.
"It's a sign of a good person when so many different parts of the community — the political community, the education community, the music community, the environmental community —they all come together and they intersect at Josh," Ling said.
"He was so concerned about living the right way for his kids and doing the right thing."
Michelle Blanchard said she first met Underhay four years ago at the Haviland Club after watching him perform with his blues band. She got to know Underhay through his connections with the Island’s francophone community.
She described him as a “force of nature.”
"It's a loss for everybody. This is not a family loss, it's not a Green party loss, it's a P.E.I. loss. He’s just an incredible human being," Blanchard said.
Underhay was regarded as a leading figure in the Island’s Green party. The party is currently leading the Island’s political polls.
Kristin Griffin remembered Underhay as an individual with infectious energy, as a natural leader.
Days ago, Griffin, who is also involved with the party, overheard Underhay speaking with a few Green activists, who had travelled to the Island to help out with the campaign. They asked why he had decided to run.
"His answer was, ‘because I have children. I want them to have a planet that is safe and secure and a future that they can live in,’" Griffin said.
“He was so full of love and just so present,” said Monia Kayijuka, a teacher who had worked with Underhay years ago at Spring Park Elementary.
Kayijuka’s children attended daycare with Oliver.
The Public Schools Branch issued a statement Saturday describing Underhay as “a passionate educator who was loved and respected by his students and colleagues.”
Regular classes at Birchwood Intermediate, where Underhay taught, will be held on Tuesday. Counselling support will be available to students.
The sudden death of Underhay, a Green party candidate in Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park, has brought political campaigning by all parties to a halt, days before Tuesday’s election.
“Josh Underhay was committed to serving his community, his students, and all of P.E.I.,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a tweet.
“The tragic accident that took him and his son is absolutely heartbreaking, and I send my deepest condolences to their family and loved ones.”
But for Barbara McDowall, who met Underhay after moving from Toronto in 2015, it was his ability to wear his passion on his sleeve that has stuck in her mind.
"Josh stood out. There was just this vibration around him. He was just remarkable," she said.
"He really showed us how to live and love large. Really large, completely unconditionally with all sorts of bigger picture perspective."
Underhay is survived by his wife Karri and his three-year old son Linden. A GoFundMe campaign to support the two had raised more than $70,000 by Sunday afternoon.