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Posted on Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.

Police identify 8-year-old Ann Arbor boy who died in canoe accident

By John Counts


Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jacklyn Drum

Police Wednesday identified the 8-year-old Ann Arbor boy who died in a Lake Michigan canoe accident Monday.

Stephen William Osler Easter and his father, William Osler, 48, were in a canoe that was "capsized by a rogue wave" at around 8:15 p.m. Monday about 1 mile from shore in Sleeping Bear Bay, according to the Leelanau County Sheriff's Office.

The two were thrown into the 55 degree water by the wave and remained with the overturned canoe until located by the United States Coast Guard at approximately 10:30 p.m.

Officials performed CPR on the boy as he was airlifted to the Traverse City Coast Guard station and then to Munson Medical Center.

He was pronounced dead at 1 a.m., according to the sheriff's office.

Osler and his son left from D.H. Day Campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes about 8 a.m.Tuesday in a rented canoe and arrived at North Manitou Island around 1 p.m.

“They were staying at the campground and they had what is called a float plan,” said Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich.

The float plan was known to officials at the campground, the sheriff added. The Traverse City Record-Eagle reported Wednesday morning that park officials warned Osler about making the trip. A message was left Wednesday with Sleeping Bear Dunes Chief Ranger Phil Akers by

Once on North Manitou Island, Osler and his son rested for approximately one and a half to two hours before heading back to the mainland. They were about a mile from shore when a wave tipped over the canoe, sending father and son into the cold water.

After the canoe was capsized, Osler used a cell phone to call a National Park Service ranger.

“He called the park campground instead of dialing 911,” the sheriff said.

A release from the sheriff's office detailed how the call for help was routed: The ranger immediately called an on-duty ranger and park service dispatch, which in turn called Leelanau dispatch, and Leelanau County marine deputies and patrol deputies were sent to respond. The U.S. Coast Guard searched by water and air.

Trying to locate the green canoe in the dark wasn't easy for rescuers, Borkovich said.

“It was a tough deal,” he added about the search.

Both victims were wearing life preservers when located.

John Counts covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Sun, Jul 7, 2013 : 10:03 p.m.

First lesson with canoes and rafts was to know how to overturn a capsized boat. My first rafting experience put me in 52 degree water in a stream between mountain ranges. I could get to land easily enough but the shock of the water is amazing. Sorry for the loss.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

Why would a green Canoe even be rentable? How about a yellow or orange with a emergency spot light attached for emergenciesThe Parents are friends of mine and I feel terrible for some of the hurtful comments people have made. They are very loving responsible parents, the father Will is the primary parent, he's Grief-stricken at best. Its a miracle he is alive. Some of these comments are very hurtful to read and could push a grieving father over the edge. Imagine how you would feel if you were him. Please be kind!!!!


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 12:22 a.m.

Apparently, opining that taking a canoe for a trip on one of the Great Lakes miles from shore isn't very intelligent violates the terms of service.

Usual Suspect

Sun, Jul 7, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

I think you have "no one anticipates this kind of situation" confused with "no one intends to be in this kind of situation." Plenty of people anticipate it, and that's why they don't attempt it. Anybody who knows anything about the Great Lakes, or even any of our larger inland lakes, has no problem anticipating it, and then deciding not to do it.


Sun, Jul 7, 2013 : 3:41 a.m.

Nobody anticipates this kind of situation? Many experienced canoeists anticipate exactly this kind of situation all the time, and as a result, don't take a canoe on the Great Lakes.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

For your information the Man is very experienced and happens to be very intelligent, It is not the first time the have canoed on a Great lake, 911 was not called right away! He loved his son they were on an adventure, no one anticipates this kind of situation. His son passed away in his arms, have some compassion. In my opinion from the time he called the campground as instructed in an emergency. The Ranger did not call 911 right away either. 911 for EMERGENCY No BRAINER ! Lossing your Child is absolutely the most Painful experience one can ever go though! The father and his son were so close, and at least he has that and many great memories, to ease the painful healing process.


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 8:37 p.m.

I consider Will a friend and he loves his family so much. A dad who loves the outdoors is out with his son enjoying life and this happens. This is an unbelievable tragedy. I am praying for you and your family.


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

The many comments on the color of the canoe led me to dig out an old copy of The Complete Wilderness Paddler, by J.W. Davidson, and J. Rugge. In it, they write: "... our experience leads us to prefer yellow. Try climbing out of a rapids some late afternoon and look downstream for an overturned green canoe immersed in green river water somewhere between overhanging green forests, and you will understand why." And then there is the "Leave No Trace" crowd, which says, "Bright colors like yellow, red, white, purple and blue do not blend in with the environment, can often be seen from miles away and contribute to a crowded feeling. Remember that your presence can negatively affect the enjoyment of others who seek solitude." I haven't heard those LNT folks talk about the safety aspect, but carrying something very brightly-colored, specifically for safety purposes, is pretty universally approved of.

Deborah Gibson

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 7:59 a.m.

What temperature is the water when the US Navy Seals train? Imagine the body of an 8-year-old boy holding on to the capsized canoe with all of his energy consumed. It's a heart-breaking end to a family adventure. The familial absence of a growing child leaves scars. Much prayer and community support is needed to mend this rift . Surely, the future now looks as vast and cold as the overwhelming Lake Michigan.

Ann English

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 2:15 a.m.

"The Traverse City Record-Eagle reported Wednesday morning that park officials warned Osler about making the trip." John, you don't give us any details of that warning, but other comment posters are filling me in on some possibilities. A fresh water lake even the size of Lake St. Clair can spawn waves that are bigger than many ocean waves, which are weighed down with salt. We don't float as well in fresh water as we can on salt water. Maybe more fish get caught in Lake St. Clair because of its much smaller size, hence greater safety, than in the Great Lakes. The father and son stayed in 55-degree water; even in 75-degree water, you'll feel cold; if pool water gets to be 75 degrees, you may have the whole pool to yourself.


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

There seems to be a lot of different information that might be useful, especially with vacation season in full swing, but many comments are being deleted. They need to do a separate story that is not just for offering condolences.

Usual Suspect

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 4:10 p.m.

"I've told these kids a hundred times Don't take the Lakes for granted They go from calm to a hundred knots So fast they seem enchanted" - Stan Rogers, White Squall


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 2 p.m.

Just so, so sad. My heart goes out to this family. I see theTraverse City paper updated their story yesterday.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

Will you update the article or this discussion when there is information about a memorial or funeral, John? Stephen was an alumni of Stone School Co-op Nursery and many of us fellow alumni families (and the Stone School teachers) would like to express our condolences to the Osler-Easter family. Thanks!


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

My son, Jett, went to Stone School with Stephen and we were so saddened to hear this news. Please keep us updated on funeral/service plans, if the family permits.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 5:09 a.m.

What a sad thing to happen. I've had plenty of time in canoes on rivers but I'd hesitate to take one on any of the Great Lakes. The danger is that wave conditions can change in a minute. Waves above freeboard on a canoe don't have to be large, just a foot or so high. Even on Lake St. Clair, the huge surface area can easily be stirred by wind to create waves of considerable heights. And those waves can travel ahead of visible clouds, arriving well before a storm strikes.

Silly Sally

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

I would go out on Lake Michigan, But only 1/4 mile or so. Perhaps less, so if the weather changed, I could hurry back to shore.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 4:41 a.m.

I'm very sad for the family and friends. I'm a frequent visitor to the area - that canoe rental place rents out canoes primarily for use on the Crystal River, which runs through the town of Glen Arbor.

Marcy Davy

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 3:33 a.m.

My partner and I were fairly experienced paddlers when we took on Lake Huron a couple years ago. We were in a bay on the south shore of the UP sheltered from the open water by a series of islands that was supposed to be "ideal" for canoeing and kayaking. We were met with a very fast head wind on the 3 mile trip coming back and its a miracle we didn't go over. Haven't canoed much since to be honest. The Great Lakes are NO JOKE. I am very surprised people are taking on the nine miles of open water to Manitou Island. I guess I had no idea anyone was even attempting that kind of stretch but I guess it must be a regular thing if they're renting out the boats for it.

Ann English

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 1:53 a.m.

I once heard a radio interview where a man who was well-experienced with storms at sea found the storms in our fresh water Great Lakes scarier than salt water storms


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 10:11 a.m.

It is NOT a regular thing to try to canoe to the Manitou Islands. There are many lakes and rivers in the area that are great for canoes.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 2:17 a.m.

Strange business model, the canoe livery industry. Ann Arbor has just come up against it in its own very minor way: the City refuses to allow its rental canoes to be paddled through the "Argo Cascades," which were supposedly specifically designed for "novice" paddlers –– the City doesn't like the way its boats are getting beat up. But the canoe livery industry is BASED on the model of renting canoes to inexperienced/occasional paddlers. No real problem on something as mild as the grandiosely-named "Argo Cascades," but there is a very real problem when people are allowed out on waters that can appear benign, but can also be quite dangerous. My experience is more with whitewater, but I have spent lot of time paddling rivers that run out into the North shore of Lake Superior, sometimes with a week of paddling The Lake to get back to "civilization." The Great Lakes can turn on you in a heartbeat. Advanced paddling skills, and experience in reading weather conditions, are vital prerequisites, and liveries should not allow boats to go out on the water without ascertaining that these skills are present.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 2:36 a.m.

From what I've read, it sounds like he is in fact an experienced paddler.

Dirty Mouth

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 1:19 a.m.

In response to a few questions, I will go ahead explain the distances and the geography of the area in question. Most folks traveling to the islands (South and North Manitou) head to Leland, a beautiful coastal village about half an hour northwest of Traverse City by car, and catch the ferry which travels to the islands twice a-day in the summer months. However, as was indicated in the story, father and son set out from the Sleeping Bear Dunes (National Park) which puts the distance to North Manitou island at about 8-9 miles one way; that is about 16-18 miles round trip. Now, on a river with a current that distance is no big deal and actually quite relaxing, but in the open sea it is a different story. My deepest and heart felt condolences to the easter-Osler families.


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 12:16 a.m.


Linda Peck

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:18 p.m.

I am praying for the family of Stephen Osler Easter. I cannot imagine their grief. I am so sorry for their loss.

greg s

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 9:56 p.m.

So Sad, sorry to the family for there loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 9:49 p.m.

My son went to preschool with Stephen. He was a tiny little sweet thing with the deepest/raspiest voice of any little boy I have ever met. My heart aches for his family, especially his mom, who is such a warm and kind person. No parent should ever have to go through losing a child. Unimaginable sadness that they must be feeling.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 9:13 p.m.

As a father of an 8-year-old, this is a painful story to read. I hope the friends and family of the victim find peace.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 9:04 p.m.

I am utterly saddened and in shock to read of this tragedy. It touches a personal nerve. I have memories from the early 1960's, of my father taking my brothers and me out in our Oldtown canoe, outfitted with a keel, a rudder, leeboards and a sail, onto Lake Erie north of Cleveland. I remember fast changing wind directions and choppy, high waves. We wore life jackets; never had a tip but came pretty close several times when we had to lean way over to keep the sail upright. I now appreciate all the more how lucky we were just to make it back to shore. As a kid I didn't think at all of the danger. (Worry was the realm of my mother, who now I can appreciate was the realist of my two parents.) This father wanted a challenging, memorable outing with his son. I feel so very sad, and send my prayers to the Osler family.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

The conditions on Lake Michigan can change in a heartbeat. The water is also quite cold. I swam in a long distance open water race last summer in August up near Harbor Springs. It was a windy day, and the currents and waves on the lake made for a very difficult swim. Canoes are not very stable craft, unless they are being used by very experienced operators. If I were that canoe rental guy, I would not have allowed the canoe to be taken out at all that day. It is beyond tragedy to lose a child. The family must be devastated. I continue to send Blessings to the family and friends of this lost child.

Silly Sally

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

Before this article, I did not give much thought to the summer time dangers of hypothermia in Lake Michigan while in a small boat. Now I will. I've swum at tis location and it was much warmer, but that was at the shore. @ "justcurious - Please change your moniker to "Me-just-wanna comment" The article clearly states that it was "a rented canoe..." in the sixth paragraph. If you were curious, you would read the article.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:02 p.m.

Thanks, I see it now.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 8:45 p.m.

justcurious: sixth paragraph down.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 8:41 p.m.

"If I were that canoe rental guy, I would not have allowed the canoe to be taken out at all that day." I still don't see where it says it was a rented canoe.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 8:15 p.m.

Well said. I row a single shell and lake swim, but I would not have tried that trip in a canoe. Waves on small inland lakes can ruin your day in a canoe, let along Lake Michigan. Prayers go out to the father and family - very sad.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

Reminder: If you have a comment removed and would like some reasoning why please shoot me an email and I'll look into it for you as soon as possible. Thanks.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 6:30 p.m.

"Trying to locate the green canoe in the dark wasn't easy for rescuers, Borkovich said. "It was a tough deal," he added about the search. " Not trying to point out blame as this was a tragedy that never should have been. But here is an idea. Why not paint these canoes a bright color like hunter orange or bright yellow? Especially a place that rents out canoes to go onto Lake Michigan. Understandably, life jackets are usually bright colored. When a vessel capsizes, peoples instincts tell them to cling onto the vessel. Would stand out a lot more than trying to locate a couple life vests. Could've made a difference here...

Usual Suspect

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 4:08 p.m.

I think it's safe to assume that businesses hat rent canoes in the area intend that they only be used on an inland lake and wouldn't see the need for a bright orange color.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:50 p.m.

Another good idea, djacks. Even if different rental companies have different colors for their canoes, there is really no reason that the bottom cannot be painted a bright color.

average joe

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 9:56 p.m.

I tried to rent a canoe to 'float' near the shore of Lake Huron once, but couldn't find anyone who would rent it for that purpose in that body of water. Rivers were fine of course, but not a great lake. Liability concerns I suppose.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 7:49 p.m.

"Osler and his son left from D.H. Day Campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes about 8 a.m.Tuesday in a rented canoe and arrived at North Manitou Island around 1 p.m." Those who've read the article would know.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

We don't know that this was a rented canoe do we? It could have belonged to the family.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 6:13 p.m.

I can't get this story out of my head. It just breaks my heart. Sending my thoughts and prayers to the family


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 6:09 p.m.

John, Have you asked the sheriff If 911 had been called versus the camp ground, would the enhanced-911 (e911) system have helped triangulate the location of the victims?


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

The Father was told NOT to call 911 by the camp Ranger because it would not call Michigan 911 it would contact Wisconsin, he was told to call the camp ground lot of good that did! It took 3 hours to find them they were a mile from shore.It was daylight when the first call was made. As I recall 911 has a way to find your exact location "GPS". When your struggling in the water with a phone your limited. It definitely would have made a difference, in my opinion, the man was doing as he was instructed.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:22 p.m.

We continue to mirror the sentiments that others have noted here as well as in previous stories that this was a tragic event all-around. As with any similar incident officials are working on piecing together all the details so online finger-pointing does little service to anyone. What this does serve is a reminder to the dangers of water. Be it a bathtub, small lake, or the ocean there is always an inherent risk even with taking recommended precautions. Many of us will be heading to Michigan's lakes and rivers this holiday week(end) so please take pause to give the water the respect it deserves. We do continue to welcome comments on this story and well as the previous ones at this time but let's just approach the situation with the understand that we do have tight-knit community here in Ann Arbor and that many family and friends who are close to the Osler-Easter are readers as well. Thanks.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 8:29 p.m.

justcurious I agree that sensitivity and compassion are due in this very sad story. It is actually newsworthy and informative, however, to know that the canoe rental person tried to give appropriate advice. I don't like the general scolding that these comments bring out, but I am glad to know that there are warnings being given. The warnings will, no doubt, be stronger and more well received in the future.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 7:29 p.m.

Thanks for your feedback jc. John was simply reporting the information he has been able to confirm at this time.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 7:19 p.m.

"but let's just approach the situation with the understand that we do have tight-knit community here in Ann Arbor and that many family and friends who are close to the Osler-Easter are readers as well. Thanks." In my opinion there was no need for to repeat in two seperate articles on this story that the father had been warned. If you feel this is a "tight knit" community then you should have omitted that detail.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:26 p.m.

Well said, Kyle. Thank you.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 4:36 p.m.

Several comments: 1) the article quotes a sheriff as saying it was a "rogue" wave; that's a highly subjective description which the reporter should not have adopted, since it is commonly used defensively by authorities, in situations like this, when trying to avoid responsibility; 2) having read no other accounts, I was stunned by the last sentence, which referred to "both victims" -- because the article nowhere states, prior to that statement, that the father also drownedd. Did the father drown? Shouldn't that be made more clear?

average joe

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:04 p.m.

Neither person 'drowned'. They were both wearing life jackets, & they were treated for hypothermia. Sadly, .........


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

@WW What are you trying to say regarding the authorities speaking defensively and trying to avoid responsibility? How do you imagine that any authorities are to blame for this?


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:09 p.m.

Why would the authorities need to "avoid responsibility" ? Have you ever seen a rogue wave? They DO HAPPEN.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 4:45 p.m.

Hi WmW- Per yesterday's story: "The boy's father was also suffering from hypothermia. He was taken to the hospital via ambulance, according to the log. Borkovich said Tuesday the man was treated and released."


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 4:33 p.m.

My heart aches for this thoughts and prayers are with them at this very sorry.

Jim Osborn

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 3:51 p.m.

Wow, how sad. My first thought was no life perservers, but they had them on. I've done exactly what they have done, without a concern. My heart goes out to his family. I've been in 51 degree water, swimming when I was 14, in a pool in Southern Calif on a dare in January; and I'll never do it again. It robs one of your strength. I can't imagine 2 hours. I never would have though of taking a waterproof flashlight with me. Now I will. Maglight?


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 4:41 a.m.

Yes, sad and shocking how easily these personal disasters can happen. Flashlight: check with local dive shop and/or check hardware stores or even Amazon.