Shannon St. Onge found herself in the thick of a blizzard on Monday evening, lost on a Saskatchewan road and peering out her rolled-down window for a glimpse of the road.
With a little luck — and the help of a stranger in Vancouver who saw a Facebook post — she and six others were saved by an 80-year-old retiree who walked through the whirling snow to help them.
“Once we arrived to [his] house, and I parked the car, I got out and jumped into his arms and gave him a great big bear hug,” she said. “I was sobbing with gratitude, I was so grateful.”
Monday started as an ordinary day for St. Onge, who lives in Pense, Sask. She drove the approximately 25 kilometres east into Regina for work.
“I needed to go into the office to sign a cheque. I thought it wouldn’t take very long,” said St. Onge, who is the director of finance with First Nations University of Canada.
She kept an eye on highway conditions throughout the day, so she knew about the forecasted blizzard, but thought she could make it. Without giving it much thought, she filled up her car, picked up a new phone charger and bought some pizza for her kids’ dinner. Those actions would help her get through a 14-hour ordeal in the whiteout storm.
She took a dirt road because she thought it would be better for the winter driving conditions, but whiteout conditions left her confused and lost.
She drove at a snail’s pace with her window rolled down, using the edge of the road as her guide. After a while she realized she was lost.
“There was no visibility, and there was no way I was going any further, because it would have been far too dangerous.”
She pulled over and called 911. The operator suggested she wait the storm out, because she was warm and parked with a full tank of gas.
“Would the gas tank last until morning? What if I was hit by another vehicle? What if I fell asleep and the tailpipe was blocked? What if I didn’t make it home at all?” she wondered, according to a later Facebook post.
St. Onge recomposed herself and went into problem-solving mode. She could make out a sign that said “Bouvier Lane,” giving her some sense of where she was. She got the idea to pin her location on Google maps.
She posted her location on the Pense community Facebook page. Community members started guessing at where she was located. One man — who happened to be originally from Pense, but now lives in Vancouver — figured out her location.
“He private messaged me and said, ‘I know that family. Send me your phone number and I’ll contact their son,'” St. Onge said.
Andre Bouvier Sr. was doing some genealogy research when he got the call about St. Onge’s plea for help. He decided to help her out, despite his wife’s concern for his well-being heading out in the storm.
The 80-year-old retiree tried to start his tractor, but it was dead.
He bundled up, grabbed an LED flashlight and walked about half a kilometre into the raging storm to search for St. Onge’s car. He knew he could walk to where she was as long as he stayed on the road.
“The worst part was the wind. Halfway there, I had to put my mitts in front of my eyes,” he said.
To Bouvier’s surprise, he found two other vehicles with people who also needed help stranded alongside St. Onge.
He led the seven stranded people back to his home and welcomed them in for the evening.
“They fed us, laughed with us, bonded with us, and gave us blankets, pillows and a warm place to rest our eyes for a few hours,” said St. Onge.
At 5:00 a.m. CST, Bouvier plowed his driveway for his guests. By 5:30 a.m., the motorists were back on the road, despite sub-par conditions.
St. Onge has made new friends through this ordeal. Bouvier became a hero overnight. His son and daughter shared a video St. Onge’s made about the ordeal and it went viral.
Bouvier didn’t want much credit for his efforts for a stranger in need.
“Everybody would have done the same thing,” he said. “You don’t think about it, you just do it.”