The Town of Goderich is in mourning. The town’s mayor, John C. Grace was found dead in Lake St. Joseph— north of Thunder Bay, Ont.—after his boat capsized.
Grace and his family have spent their summers operating Old Post Lodge, a fishing lodge on Lake St. Joseph, since 1986. On the morning of Aug. 9, Grace headed out onto the lake in his barge to pick up fuel for the lodge. When Grace didn’t return, the police were contacted.
Around 11 a.m., officers from the Pickle Lake detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) responded to the call. Officers found the capsized barge, but there was no sign of Grace. Members of the Northwest Emergency Response Team, Underwater Search and Recovery Unit, and the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service were brought in to assist.
Lake St. Joseph spans 148 kilometres and is primarily remote wilderness, making for a difficult search. After several hours, officers located Grace’s body in the water where he was declared dead.
The Pickle Lake OPP, along with the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of the Environment, are investigating the incident. There were reports of high winds that day making for dangerous conditions on the water, but it’s currently unclear whether that played a role in capsizing the barge, said Const. Andrea Degagne of the Sioux Lookout detachment.
On Wednesday morning, the Town of Goderich, which sits on the shore of Lake Huron, an hour-and-a-half drive northwest of Kitchener, and has a population of just over 7,500, released a statement about Grace’s death.
“The town acknowledges John’s devotion and contributions to the town of Goderich. John enhanced the fabric of the town and enriched the lives of many, far beyond our community. John was committed to his family and the community. He was a man of the people through and through,” the statement read.
Born in Goderich, Grace served as a town councillor for 17 years before being elected mayor in 2018, gaining approximately 50 per cent of the vote. He played a pivotal role in helping Goderich rebuild its downtown after a tornado ripped through the area in 2011, and provided strong leadership through the last several years of COVID-19, the town’s statement said.
Allan Thompson, the head of Carleton University’s journalism program, remembers Grace as the type to run across Goderich’s town square when he saw you, just to say hello. The two men became friends when Thompson ran for the Liberal nomination in Huron-Bruce County back in 2014.
“[He] went out of his way to show up at my housewarming party—with a gift of wild rice from his beloved Pickle Lake,” Thompson said in an email. “He became a strong supporter of my campaign as a federal Liberal candidate—attending events, campaigning for me, even hosting an event at his home. When most municipal politicians are squeamish about partisan politics, John wore his progressive colours on his sleeve, even if it might have cost him votes at the municipal level.”
Duncan Jewell, the campaign manager for Grace’s mayoral election, says Grace was well-liked in the community; raising money for various fundraising initiatives and always putting the people of Goderich first.
“He was the type to grab an issue by the horns and run with it,” Jewell says.
During his time as mayor, Grace focused on keeping youth in the community, bringing new business to Goderich, and developing housing in the area.
On June 30, Grace declared his intention to run for mayor again in the town’s October election.
Without Grace, Deputy Mayor Myles Murdock will take on the responsibilities of mayor until Goderich’s next council meeting on August 22. During that meeting, the town’s councillors will decide how to move forward until the October election.
Grace is survived by his wife, Wendy, and their three sons.
“John was a bright light, and he will be dearly missed,” the town said.