Gordon Lightfoot may have sung about how Lake Superior “never gives up her dead,” but Georgian Bay does—given enough time. After missing for five years, the body of cottager Bob Puffer was found earlier this month by a shaken pair of canoeists who were paddling west of Killarney on Georgian Bay’s north shore.
You may recall the story I wrote for Cottage Life’s Summer 2008 issue, which recounted the theories and events surrounding my friend’s disappearance. In late June of 2007, Puffer headed to the island cottage on Lake Kashagawigamog where his family had strong roots for the last century. Without telling anyone about his plans, he apparently collected a family kayak then continued on, hours north, to an area where he’d participated in a memorable Outward Bound paddling course between Killarney and the French River several years earlier.
Given the extremely affable Bay-Street-trained lawyer always seemed to be trying to find his correct path in life, some suggested Puffer took his own life or disappeared voluntarily. But there were others, including his sister Judy Higgins, who always believed otherwise. Indeed, she never gave up hope he was still alive.
“There were so many clues that summer between when Bob went missing and when his car was found in Killarney two months later,” said Higgins, referring to several mysterious sightings that couldn’t be confirmed. “As well, Bob had a female friend who he really clicked with and he knew she was at her family cottage in Beaverstone Bay at that time. It would have been classic Bob to miss the big picture of how serious an adventure it was to head out that far solo [a 45-minute motor boat ride or several-day-paddle east of Killarney] and think only about how much fun it would be to surprise her and her family.” On July 8, 2012, his body was found almost exactly half-way, on the shores of Philip Edward Island. Puffer was identified by dental records.
According to Higgins, the Sudbury coroner was shocked at the condition of her brother’s body after five years. Apparently, “Cold water mummification preserved his body so well that the coroner actually found a blocked artery and even said ‘It’s not inconceivable that he died of a heart attack.’” According to news reports, the police suspected no foul play.
In another odd coincidence, the Manitoulin-Island-based OPP detective on the case also discovered that the delivering physician at his own birth decades earlier had been Bob and Judy’s father. Sadly, Dr. Puffer passed away in January never knowing for certain of his son’s death.
From close friends to those at Camp Oochigeas where he volunteered for years, Bob is remembered as “funny, entertaining, kind, smart—without a mean bone in his body,” said Higgins, “but he was also very brave.”