The loss, Mechalchuk said, altered the course of his life and the lives of his mother and three siblings forever — taking them from their dairy farm in Lumby to Prince Rupert and beyond.
But after spending most of his adult life away from the North Okanagan, Dan has returned home.
He intends to honour his dad by taking a trip to Mabel Lake on April 10, the 50th anniversary of George’s untimely death.
“It just seemed appropriate, you know, to go back to the lake, maybe grab a beer and toast to my dad. Hopefully I’ll catch some fish for him too,” Mechalchuk said.
He remembers that weekend in April 1968 as easily as if it had happened yesterday.
Mechalchuk was just about to turn eight. George, who worked as a logger and contractor, was roughly 30-years-old. He was married to Frances (Fran) Berryhill. They had four children, including Dan, who was the oldest.
“On April 9 I awoke to a nudge and the voice of my father asking me if I was going to go fishing with him that day,” he recalled.
Fishing, Mechalchuk said, was something his dad, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, did often. It was something they did together.
“We were pretty close,” Mechalchuk said. “We did a lot together. He loved the outdoors. He played baseball and would compete in logging sports that were popular in those days.”
George, Mechalchuk added, was even a member of the Lumby Flying Frenchmen hockey team.
Also accompanying Mechalchuk and his father on their fishing trip, was another avid outdoorsman, George’s close friend Robert (Butch) Derry.
According to the RCMP report recounted in the April 11, 1968 edition of the Vernon News, on the afternoon of April 10, 1968, George and Butch, who Mechalchuk described as more like a family member than just his dad’s friend, left Lumby around 1 p.m. and set out in a boat understood to be a 12-foot to 14-foot runabout.
They met up with other friends out on the lake and fished until approximately 6 p.m., when they decided to call it a day and head to shore. For reasons unknown, George stood up in the boat and it capsized, tossing the pair into the frigid water.
Numb in the rapidly flowing, freezing water, both men grasped the side of the boat in an attempt to flip it. When they lost their grip, they began to swim. George suddenly disappeared under water, then resurfaced 50 feet away from the boat.
Butch, frantic with fear began calling for George to swim to him as he began to paddle toward his friend. Before he could reach him. George disppeared beneath the surface of the water. Butch scoured the area, calling out for help, for as long as he could before reluctantly leaving to catch up with the boat and haul himself to safety.
George didn’t resurface and was never seen again.
That evening the tragic news was delivered to Mechalchuk and his family.
“My heart broken uncle Herb appeared in our kitchen and was talking to mom in a low voice. I have never forgotten the sound of my mother’s painful cries,” he said.
“I can’t imagine how Butch felt that day watching his dear friend slip away into the cold water. Mabel Lake is ice cold in April.”
Despite high winds and stormy condiditions, Lumby RCMP dragged the lake and a police boat from Vernon was deployed, but George’s body was never recovered.
Because his father was never found, Mechalchuk said the inccident is technically considered a cold case, but he does not expect there was any foul play.
“His body was never recovered from Mabel lake,” Mechalchuk said. “But he isn’t forgotten. His dynamic spirit lives on today in our growing family.”