In Memory of Stephen
Stephen Quinn Burnham
December 9, 1965 to September 26, 2015
On Saturday, September 26, 2015, a light went out in our lives.
Our dear friend Vanessa answered a knock at her door that would change her life forever.
Two Vancouver police officers, on behalf of the Squamish RCMP, were bringing her unbearable news and the minute she saw them, she knew.
Something had happened to Stephen.
It was to have been his last dive to get his Master Diver certification, and it had been a lovely sunny fall morning at Britannia Beach.
He slipped into the water at 10:30 a.m on what was a relatively easy dive, given his experience.
He never surfaced.
What followed were intense hours, and days, as search and rescue crews from the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team, the Coast Guard, Squamish Search and Rescue and the Britannia Beach Volunteer Fire searched for him underwater and along the shoreline.
We enlisted the help of an amazing man and experienced diver from Sechelt, who spent hours of his own time searching with an ROV sonar.
Vanessa and friends, hopeful that he was alive — he had survived such things before — and perhaps stranded somewhere on the shore, rented a boat and searched the rocks and inlets.
On Wednesday, September 30, Stephen’s body was recovered by the Coast Guard, who were in the area doing a scheduled exercise.
It truly was the best we all could have hoped for under the circumstances. It meant Vanessa could say goodbye. It meant his beloved daughter would know that her dad had been found. It meant that Stephen’s mom could bring him home to Australia.
For those of us who know her, and who have come to love him, it is hard to believe this incredible man is gone.
Who was he?
He was that guy who would give you the shirt off his back. He was the guy who, when he arrived in B.C., volunteered at the Jericho Sailing Club teaching disabled people to sail. He was the guy who was so taken aback by the B.C. forest fires this year that he planned on returning next summer to volunteer his time to help battle the blazes.
He was also something of a renaissance man. He was a great storyteller, and a trained chef. He spent his life on the water and, when he wasn’t managing cruise ships, he was sailing his own. He was a guy who was always doing for others.
He was a father, a son, a brother, a nephew and a friend to all he met. He loved to learn. He loved to give back. He was an adventurer.
He was also the guy who spent weeks going back and forth to the hospital to sit with Vanessa’s mom as her dementia took hold. She didn’t even know him, but she lit up every time he walked into the room. He brought joy and laughter to so many.
And he was the love of our Vanessa’s life. A man she had waited a lifetime to find. And she was his. To him, Vanessa was “The One”, which is what he wrote instead of her name on his cell phone contact list.
He died just months shy of his 50th birthday, just as he and Vanessa were about to write their next chapter, about to embark of this new phase of their lives.
This much we know. Life if precious, and is meant for living.
This is an experience that has taught us that, and has also renewed our faith in humanity, for through this journey we have met the most amazing people.
From Constable Quin McConnell who has been our rock to other members of the Squamish RCMP who moved swiftly to help us in our search.
To the amazing volunteers who spent hours looking for Stephen and who showed Vanessa – and all of us in her circle – more empathy and support than we could ever have imagined.
These are just every day people like you and me, and yet they go above and beyond to help bring closure to families.
They work hard, often on their own time and with limited resources and outdated equipment.
We want to thank them, and to give back to the Squamish Search and Rescue and Britannia Volunteer Fire.
Whether it’s new sonar equipment for underwater searches or gear to assist on land, we want to make a difference in Stephen’s name.
We want to honour him and those that looked for him, and brought him back to us.
We know he would be honoured to know that this is his legacy, that this will help others.
We are forever grateful for your contribution.
A HUGE thanks to everyone who turned out in memory of Stephen to support the volunteer organizations who worked so hard to find him.
Special thanks to the staff at Match Eatery and Public House who went above and beyond to make the event a success.
Squamish is a very special community and we want to thank you for welcoming us with such open arms.