Kimberly Chastellaine shared an image of her grandparents from a family album. Silvio Strussi (right) went to work on January 30, 1970 and died in an industrial accident that caused the machine he was operating to tumble into the Muchalat Lake, near Gold River. (Submitted photo)

Closing a 50-year-old wound on a remote Vancouver Island lake

50 years after logger’s death, grandchildren set out to find his final Muchalat Lake resting place

The remains of Silvio Strussi have been lying at the bottom of the Muchalat Lake since 1970 when he died in an industrial accident.

Today, after 50 years, Kimberly Chastellaine and Sean Smith, have set out to get closure by finding the spot where their maternal grandfather died.

On the evening of Jan. 30, 1970, their grandfather died in an industrial accident that took place on the north Vancouver Island lake near Gold River. Strussi, 40, was part of the road-building crew with the now defunct Tahsis Company and was operating a caterpillar tractor when it tumbled into the lake.

Despite search efforts by navy divers called in from Esquimalt there was no luck finding him. He was declared dead after seven days based on the “overwhelming evidence that he was not coming out of that lake.” Strussi’s body was never found.

Chastellaine and Smith’s mother was 16 when Strussi died.

“For mom, it was a spot in her life where it was so shocking because he wasn’t sick. He went to work and went into a lake, and there was no body; there was no closure or any of that,” said Chastellaine.

Her grandmother had a tough time too. She passed away eight years after Strussi died. Her body was cremated and the ashes were spread in Muchalat Lake because the family wanted to reunite her with her husband.

Although Strussi died seven years before Chastellaine’s birth, the 43-year-old former RCMP dispatcher said both she and her brother felt a “deep emotional pull” from within to go find Strussi’s final resting place.

“I truly think this is our last chance to find him,” said Chastellaine. “We want to find that spot for our children because if we don’t mark it they’re never going to be able to find it, if they try to find that spot for any reason in the future.”

Armed with a couple of newspaper clippings from the ‘70s and a death certificate that she obtained from her mother, Chastellaine began chasing the ghosts of the past.

“I just want to find the location on the lake and memorialize the spot and death certificates don’t exactly give GPS coordinates,” she said.

She contacted the forest museum, filed for information from official sources, and even reached out to the logging company that currently operates in the area. After months of research she decided to message the Gold River community group on Facebook for “local knowledge.”

To Chastellaine’s luck, the incident is still etched in many a Gold River resident’s memory. She ended up getting more information in two days than all her months research.

People shared relevant information, including leads on where the exact spot may be.

“Some people say that on calm days when the lake is flat you can still see oil bubbles coming to the surface from the machine that he was operating,” said Chastellaine.

After speaking with several community members, she now has a general idea of what part of the lake the incident occurred. Some Gold River residents even offered to mark the spot.

“I’ve had two people from the Facebook group who have offered to escort my brother and me to the spot when we go over to Gold River,” she said.

Chastellaine and Smith live on the Lower Mainland and plan to visit Gold River this month. They will also be reaching out to the Mowachaht Muchalaht First Nation for permission to memorialize the spot on their territory.

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