On Wednesday, Allison Potvin walked down the long aisle at St. Patrick’s Basilica in Ottawa while about 1,000 people looked on.
The last time she walked down this aisle it was 2008, and she was getting married to a young police officer.
Now, she’d returned to say good-bye.
Michael Potvin was the love of her life. And when he disappeared under the murky waters of the Stewart River in Mayo on July 13, Allison lost her best friend, her partner, her inspiration, and the father of a son she is expecting in September.
Wednesday would have been Michael’s 27th birthday. He was born at 4:16 a.m. on August 4, his mother, Patricia, told the Ottawa Citizen this week.
“I have all his gifts in the bedroom,” she said, breaking down.
Leading Michael’s young, pregnant widow toward the alter was Const. Scott Carrigan, who graduated from training with Michael.
Carrigan was carrying Michael’s RCMP hat.
A lone piper led the procession.
The church’s 800 seats were packed with family, friends, and a multitude of law-enforcement and emergency response workers, including nine RCMP from the Yukon’s M division.
Police in uniform lined the sidewalk outside the church.
“I wanted to cry, and I expected to cry, but for some reason I didn’t,” said one emergency worker who wished to remain anonymous.
“I couldn’t cry. I think it’s out of respect for Mike. He wouldn’t want us to be crying. It’s not how he would want to be remembered.”
Michael’s family filled the front of the packed cathedral, and his younger brother, Sean, delivered a eulogy and thanked the people of Mayo.
Two days after Michael went missing, the family travelled from Ottawa to Mayo, and Sean thanked the community for being so kind and comforting during their stay.
The family was overwhelmed with the kind words everyone seemed to have for his brother, he said.
He was also surprised at the number of children who came up to the family to express their feelings.
Michael loved children, and he loved to laugh, said Sean.
“He was the type of person who would enter a room full of strangers, and leave with a room full of best friends.”
Michael was Sean’s “best friend, his inspiration, and his guiding light.”
Before joining the RCMP, Michael had been a member of the Osgoode Volunteer Fire Department. It was his hometown and his father, Mark, had been fighting fires in Osgoode for 20 years. Sean is also a volunteer firefighter.
And while the red Mountie coats were visible throughout the basilica during the memorial, the strength and solidarity of the firefighter community was evident.
“It is a tragic loss, and I can’t imagine what the family is going through right now,” said Paul Hutt, sector chief for Ottawa Fire Services’ rural division in Manotick. “It’s devastating.”
Hutt was in contact with the family while they were in Mayo. And while they were gone, the local firefighters looked after the small, day-to-day details, like maintaining the property, so that the family could focus on the search and on healing.
Michael drowned in the Stewart River after the boat he was in capsized. Neither Michael, nor the officer trained to operate the boat, were wearing life jackets.
Michael’s father told the Ottawa Citizen his version of events during an interview earlier this week:
It was about 6 p.m. when Michael and the newest member of the detachment took the boat upriver to burn off old fuel and check the engine.
After coming back to the launch and refuelling, the men decided to run the engine again with new fuel. By this time, it was about 8 p.m.
They headed out again, and “somehow, the boat swamped and flipped,” said Mark, who told the Citizen he didn’t know if they had life jackets onboard.
Michael managed to get the new corporal onto the overturned boat and told him that, as soon as they got closer to shore, he’d swim for help, said Mark.
But the swift, murky Stewart River was far wilder than anything Michael ever experienced in southeastern Ontario.
As he swam closer to land, someone on the shore pushed off in a boat, using only their hands and sticks for paddles.
Soon, they met.
“(Michael) said, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m going to shore. Go get the corporal,’” said Mark.
Then, he swam straight into a powerful undertow.
“It must have felt to him like somebody grabbed him and pulled him under,” said Mark.
From shore, witnesses described seeing Michael come up once, but that after going down a second time, he never resurfaced, according to the Citizen.
The community, RCMP, conservation officers and pilots helped search for Potvin.
His body was finally recovered on July 30, more than 50 kilometres downstream from the landing where Michael was last seen.
His body was recovered by the same man – Sgt. David Wallace – who had promised the Potvins he’d find him, according to the Citizen.
Potvin had only been with the force a year, and was first posted in Watson Lake. But after six months he and Allison requested a move to a smaller community like Mayo, “where they felt they could contribute,” said Whitehorse Supt. Peter Clark during previous news briefing.
“And they were certainly active in the community and much appreciated.”
Michael chose the Mayo posting because he wanted to become part of a community and make a difference in the lives of people, said friends and family at the memorial.
And in lieu of flowers, Allison requested that any donations be made to the RCMP Foundation and the Michael Potvin Remembrance Fund to support the J.V. Clark School in Mayo.
The family was relieved when Michael’s body was found, and the site will provide a place where he can be remembered, said Sean.
After the service, Michael’s father told media he was “devastated – completely devastated” when he heard the news.
“How would any father react?” he said, adding that his relationship with Michael had evolved into a friendship.
“He was patient and he was fun,” he said.
“He would have been an outstanding father.”
Jeffrey Morris is the editor of the Manotick Messenger and
Contact Genesee Keevil at