Family of drowning victim wants safety equipment, memorial at Peggys Cove

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Family of drowning victim wants safety equipment, memorial at Peggys Cove

Zarin Barot was visiting his brother, Harshil, at his new home in Halifax last week, when a group of their friends decided to visit the popular tourist site of Peggys Cove.

Barot said his brother loved sunsets and nature, so they decided to go onto the rocks while the tide was low to watch the sunset over the water.

Barot said his brother slipped on the rocks, and when he tried to save him, he fell as well. By this time the tide was rising and both were swept into the water.

“I tried to grab Harshil, who tried to grab me. We tried to hold on to each other, but the tide was too high and my foot got stuck on one of the rocks, you know. And Harshil just kept going further,” Barot said in an interview from his home in Toronto.

Barot said after some time in the water, he lost consciousness and woke up the next day in an intensive care unit.

He wants his brother to be remembered, and the family wants change at Peggys Cove. They said they never want such a tragedy to happen to anyone else.

Zarin Barot said his brother was always smiling and laughing, and could get along with anyone. (Submitted by Zarin Barot)

The Barot family is from Mehsana, in the Gujarat state of India. Both brothers came to Canada in 2020. Harshil moved to Halifax recently for a job.

Barot said his brother was energetic and always looked on the bright side of things.

“He’s always happy. He liked to travel, he liked to dress up, he liked to eat. And he’s always a people’s person,” he said.

“And it’s really hard to swallow the fact that he’s not between us.”

The family also said Harshil was a devout Hindu who was adventuresome and always looking for new opportunities to learn and grow. He loved sports, boating and animals.

“He had a lot of friends, like a lot of people,” Barot said. “Within 24 hours, whoever got the news, they just made it over here. A couple of them even flew in from India.”

Barot said the local Indian community offered support and guidance to his family. They met the family in hospital and helped plan the funeral and a ceremony.

Harshil Barot, right, and his brother, Zarin, are shown as children. (Submitted by Zarin Barot)

Once the brothers fell into the water, their friends called 911. Police, the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, the coast guard, fire crews and paramedics responded to the call around 8: 30 p.m. AT on April 11.

Barot said when he and his brother fell, their friends tried to search for anything they could throw to them.

“There was nothing to hold on to,” he said. “It was just grass, and as soon as you try to grab them, it breaks. There is no grip … There’s no way out.”

Barot said his friends couldn’t find a rope or life-preserver on the platform or near the lighthouse.

“The friends, they made things out of their shirts. They took off their clothes,” he said. “They tried to make a rope and tried to [throw] it on me so I can hold on to it, at least till rescue arrived. But it was too late.”

Calling for change

Barot and his family hope for a memorial at Peggys Cove that will include the names of everyone who has drowned there.

“I would appreciate if my brother’s sign is posted over there, that they remember him, that a young life was lost in the Atlantic Ocean,” he said.

Barot said his family is “forever grateful” that a local fisherman taking part in the rescue attempt found his brother’s body.

The family is also calling for more lighting at the site, as Barot said it was too dark to see the warning signs posted around the location.

“At least there should be immediate resources, such as tubes,” Barot said. “Maybe if he had grabbed a tube, you know, maybe he could have at least tried to hold up until someone came to rescue.”

‘We need to do more’

Paul D’Eon, special projects director with the Lifesaving Society of Nova Scotia, told CBC’s Maritime Connection that his team has been working on safety changes for Peggys Cove.

He said there are 42 warning signs at the site, but that can’t be “the only intervention.” 

They have been considering ways to try to eliminate drowning deaths at the site using things like “audio and website interventions” and creative signage.

Zarin Barot said his brother lived life to the fullest. (Submitted by Zarin Barot)

“We looked at things like fencing and nets on the side of the slippery rocks,” D’Eon said. “As I said, our work is not done there. People are still drowning off Peggys Cove and we need to do more.”

D’Eon said his team has spent an “extensive amount of time” considering the idea of life-preservers or safety equipment. But, he said tests showed they are not effective.

“We had those lifeguards take throwing assists and throw them out into a wind and the throwing assist [ended] up behind them,” he said. “We need to not have to do rescues. We need to stop people from getting in the water.”

D’Eon said if a friend or family member of someone who fell into the water tried to throw them a rope or life-preserver, they could put themselves in danger.

This image captures flares in the sky and some of the activity by first responders assisting with the rescue April 11. (Deirdre Green/Twitter)

The Lifesaving Society of Nova Scotia has been tracking drowning deaths in the province since the 1970s, and Peggys Cove is the location with the most.

As for a memorial for the drowning victims, D’Eon said he is in talks with the family of a person who died there in 2015, and planning for a memorial is underway.

Barot said his advice to people going to Peggys Cove is to educate themselves on the dangers, and the lives that were lost at Peggys Cove.

“What happened to my brother and me should never happen to anyone else,” he said.