Brian Swatuk’s Royal Ride Through Life

by | 07.02.2015 | 4:30pm
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, greets Brian Swatuk after his winning ride in the Queen's Plate (Photo courtesy of Woodbine)

Thirty-six years ago, the rains fell in torrents upon Woodbine on Queen's Plate day. Pity.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother was in attendance, resplendent in a blue floral suit and proper little white handbag. But she liked what she saw, indeed, when Brian Swatuk and Steady Growth splashed to a decisive victory, the first Plate win for Kinghaven Farms in 1979.

Swatuk held his finger aloft in the winner's circle and then, covered in muck, cringed at the thought of meeting the Queen Mum. But she leaned over, took his hand and told him: “Son, you rode a great race.”

“Yeah, he ran well,” said Swatuk, deferring to the horse.

“No, no,” said Her Majesty. “You rode a great race.”

For Swatuk, the meet and greet with royalty was unforgettable. “I'm walking towards her and I'm thinking: 'Man, look at this. One of the poorest little boys that came out of downtown Toronto, at Bathurst and Queen, and ready to meet the richest, most famous woman in the world, over all other women in the world,” he thought. “Everybody loves the Queen Mum.”

His life passed through his mind in a flash, at that moment. “After that, nothing matters,” he said.

And what a life. It all came to an end when Swatuk, a rider with immense talent, with an engaging grin, with a stubborn streak (and a charismatic one, too), with a mind of his own, with a wide array of friends he had made over the years, died of brain and lung cancer at age 65 in a hospice north of Toronto on Dec. 13, 2014. In the last months of his life, he carried himself with incredible courage and spirit. “Today is a good day,” he would say, even if it was not.

Swatuk did not want a church service, but at a memorial at Woodbine in June, two of his grandsons, Evan, 6, and Ben, 4, carefully sprinkled his ashes on the turf course by the winner's circle. His four grandchildren called him affectionately “Grumpy Grampy,” a name that stuck when one of them couldn't get his tongue around Grandpa.

As a rider, the wasp-waisted Swatuk was a giant among jockeys. He rode from the time he was 16 until he was 53, mostly at Woodbine, but also at Vancouver and major U.S. tracks such as Santa Anita, Arlington and Gulfstream. It takes work to figure out that he won 1,843 races in his career, because records from back in the 1960s were sketchy. But Swatuk didn't care about records.

A young Brian Swatuk with Conn Smythe's champion filly Not Too Shy

A young Brian Swatuk with Conn Smythe's champion filly Not Too Shy

He started up in the business at Woodbine when there was an incredibly talented jockey colony, with riders like Avelino Gomez, Robin Platts, and Richard Grubb. And he was their equal. One day, when Platts, Swatuk and Grubb wandered into the backstretch kitchen, a hotwalker who was learning to ride himself, was struck with awe. “Holy mackerel,” said the kid, whose name was Sandy Hawley. “Maybe I'll be able to ride with one of those guys someday.

“I'm still getting goosebumps, thinking about it back then.”

Hawley remembers Swatuk as a “fantastic” jockey and a nice guy. Sandy was galloping horses for trainer Duke Campbell, and hadn't ridden in a race yet when Swatuk – who rode most of Campbell's horses – asked Hawley if he wanted to go to the movies.

“I don't really have a lot of money right now,” Hawley told him. “I'm going to have to wait for the next paycheck.”

Swatuk said he'd loan him $20 on his next check. Off they went together. “We've been great friends ever since,” Hawley said.

“He had very good hands,” said Platts, who is tied with Gomez and Hawley for having ridden the most Queen's Plate winners: four. “And he was very patient. He was very good at getting horses to relax. It was amazing how he did that.”

He was dangerous on the lead, because he could lure the other riders into thinking that his mount was going full-out, when it was not – and then he'd charge on when they challenged in the stretch.  “He made horses do things that other riders couldn't,” said his brother, Barry, who served as his agent for 30 years.

Swatuk was invaluable to trainers because he could tell them if a horse he had just ridden had issues. He never forgot to cultivate the small outfits, knowing that if his success slid with the major stables, the small barns could keep him afloat. He'd never forget to pay bonuses to grooms when he won a stakes race – sometimes giving them as much as they'd make in a week. He never forgot to flood the barn with pizza or Egg McMuffins after a stakes win. He always had time for people.

He also had a way with the fillies, and knew how to get the most out of them. He won the Maple Leaf Stakes (a race for fillies that started back in 1892) five times, scoring first with champion filly Not Too Shy in 1969, with Lovely Sunrise in 1975, Eternal Search in 1982, and had back-to-back wins in 1983 and '84 with Sintrillium for trainer Conrad Cohen, who was also one of his mainstays.

He scored in one of Canada's top races for 2-year-old fillies, the Princess Elizabeth Stakes, three times. One of those wins came with Conn Smythe's Hello Lucky. That day, Platts figured he could defeat her with Windsor Maid. “No,” Platts said. “He just got her to relax.” Swatuk rode Amerigirl to win the Arlington Matron in Chicago. (One of his proudest moments, said Rob, came when he steered Steady Growth to win the Arlington Classic in Chicago. At the time, the Classic was a big deal on the racing calendar.)

Swatuk's crowning moment with fillies might have been his 13 1/2-length victory in the 1982 Woodbine Oaks with champion filly Avowal, this after he had been thrown from a filly earlier in the card. Two races before the Oaks, Swatuk rode Seven Stones, the only filly in the field, to win the Clarendon Stakes.

He was a charmer, too. “He got all the girls,” Platts said. “Every time I was going out with a girl, next thing I know, she's going out with him. He always did that.”

"He got all the girls," fellow rider Robin Platts said of Swatuk

“He got all the girls,” fellow rider Robin Platts said of Swatuk

And he was a joker, always playing pranks and ribbing his friends. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the atmosphere in the jock's room was most playful. “We had a lot of fun back then,” Platts said.

When the jockey colony headed to Fort Erie racetrack during the summers back in the 1970s, it was like a carnival. “We partied. Everybody partied together. We ate together,” Barry said.

Once Platts, Hawley, Grubb and Swatuk attended a Halloween party and showed up as women, complete with wigs, miniskirts, and makeup. They shaved their mugs but not their legs.

“Hawley had the ugliest legs,” Grubb said.

“Brian was the prettiest,” Hawley said. Nobody knew who they were.

Swatuck was blessed with being a natural lightweight and wasn't shy about needling his friends. Platts, who always had to reduce, was a target. “What are you doing in there, Rob?” Swatuk would say to Platts, up to his neck in steam in the hotbox.

“I was out with you last night. What do you think I'm doing in here?” Platts would retort.

“Dad was the most social person I've ever known,” said his oldest son, Rob. “He had more friends than I could ever know. It didn't matter what station of life you were. He was a loyal friend, a trait I much admire.

“If you went for a walk with him, he would say hello to everyone. When you called him on his cell, his answering message would say: 'Well, you missed me because I'm out enjoying life,' I know it was true.”

The trait stood him in good stead as a jockey. Swatuk was notorious for booking off riding for a week, a month, two months. His thinking was this: if he really didn't feel 100 percent, or wasn't sufficiently motivated, why should he take money from owners and bettors? It wasn't honest. Sometimes he'd ride a couple of his scheduled mounts, then book off all the rest. For anybody else, such practices would spell disaster in trying to get more mounts. But when Swatuk returned, his business never seemed to suffer. “He'd get five live mounts that first day back,” said Robert King, Jr., executive director of the Jockeys' Benefit Association of Canada. “The jocks who rode his horses never got a call back. It was like he never left. Nobody else, anywhere, could do that.”

 

Destined To Be A Jockey
Swatuk was born on Sept. 7, 1949, the youngest son of Mary and William Swatuk, a bartender and jack of all trades. They both doted on him. Sometimes William and his friends would go to Greenwood racetrack in Toronto and gamble a bit. When Swatuk was about seven years old, William announced that he knew some day the kid would become a jockey. “He was so small, he could walk under the table,” Barry said.

He was very talented in school as a youngster and loved to paint, a trait he has passed on to his youngest son, Jonathan.

“All his life, Brian was just one of them kind of characters,” Barry said. “Even when he was small, he would always fight with me.” He wanted to tag along with Barry to go fishing and Barry would tell him to get lost. “After a couple of little incidents,” Barry finally relented.  They would walk all the way from downtown Toronto to the Humber River and fish all night long. They were pre-teens.

Also when he was young, both Swatuk and his father suffered from tuberculosis and spent time in a sanatorium. (Eerily, his father eventually died of a brain tumor, like Swatuk.) When Swatuk got out of the sanatorium, “he was my little baby buddy,” Barry said. They seemed inseparable, even looked a bit alike, and people sometimes mixed them up, but Barry was three years older. Because he was so small, other kids picked on Swatuk at his school. He said nothing to his mother, but when he mentioned it to Barry, the big brother “took an afternoon off and they didn't pick on him anymore.” He became a protector.

During his early days as a jockey, Swatuk could do 106 to 107 pounds. And he used to eat heartily in front of his friends. As a child, sitting at his grandmother's house at a big, long table, he would balk at eating cabbage rolls. Ironically, his grandmother would give him a pop on the head and say: 'You eat that! It will make you grow up and be strong!” Later, he became a gourmet cook, never bashful to stride into the kitchen at Bigliardi's and ask the chef how he cooked the dish he had just eaten.

Gomez used to say that Swatuk loved tormenting people. Even so, Gomez used to give Swatuk valuable advice on how to ride and what not to do.

Through Alfie Bavington, a former jockey who eventually became the head outrider at Woodbine, young Swatuk met trainer Gord Huntley, a man known for developing young horses, and he began to work for him at his farm. The first week there, Swatuk broke his collarbone falling off a horse, an inauspicious start to a career. It didn't deter him. He was to face far worse injuries later. But Swatuk was fearless.

He spent a little time riding as a bug boy in Vancouver, but came back to Woodbine to finish it up, working for the powerful stable of Conn Smythe, the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL and trainer Donnie Walker. By 1968, Swatuk was the leading rider at Woodbine, beating out Platts and Grubb for the title.

 

'There Will Be Other Races'
While Barry worked as his agent, Swatuk rarely questioned why he put him on certain horses. But he did, on occasion. “One time, he cost me a Plate,” Barry said. Swatuk was named to ride Golden Choice in the 1986 Queen's Plate, but before the race, Swatuk hooked up with the powerful Sam-Son Farm outfit, trained by Jim Day at the time, and told his brother that he had to phone Golden Choice's trainer, Mike Tammaro, and tell him that he couldn't ride the horse.

Swatuk aboard Queen's Plate winner Steady Growth

Swatuk aboard Queen's Plate winner Steady Growth

“We have to,” Swatuk told Barry. “It's a political move. I know I'm costing you a Plate, but in the long run, it will be worthwhile.” Barry got very angry with his younger brother. “I really wanted to tell him to stick his head in the toilet, and wash his brain down there,” Barry said. “What are you doing? This is the Plate!” Barry told him he should have won four Plates by now.

Tammaro brought up U.S. rider Vince Bracciale Jr. to ride Golden Choice, who won the Plate. Swatuk finished eighth on Sam-Son's good colt, Grey Classic.

But through his association with Sam-Son, Swatuk rode Dance Smartly as a young, unraced filly, announcing to Day that she was the best horse he'd ever ridden and his comments are now legendary. Swatuk had three other Plate mounts for Sam-Son, finishing fourth with all of them. He also rode champion filly Wilderness Song.

Swatuk also missed out on another Plate winner, Son of Briartic, trained by Jerry Lavigne, in 1982. Swatuk had the mount on Son of Briartic but Lavigne procrastinated about running him in the Plate Trial – hoping that it would split into two divisions – and ended up missing the race, even though the race did split. The colt popped a splint and ended up on the vet's list the week of the Plate. This meant Lavigne couldn't enter him in a race for five days, and this created confusion about whether or not Son of Briartic could start in the Plate. At the last moment, Lavigne put Paul Souter on the horse, and he won the Plate. Swatuk was left to ride 103-1 shot Transcendent, part of a three-horse spill that did not finish the race. Transcendent did not survive.

Barry was livid, but Swatuk shrugged it off. “Don't worry, Barry. There will be other Plates. There will be other races. Never worry.”

The Swatuk brothers did get lucky another time. Swatuk had been the regular rider for champion mare Christie's Mount, and at a time when she was to run in the Nettie Stakes, which is now called the E.P. Taylor Stakes – a major event for fillies and mares – Swatuk lost the mount on her. At the same time, Barry also lost a jockey on his client list: George Hosang, who, says Barry, didn't call him to tell him that he had switched his book. Swatuk broke the news to his brother one morning. The unkindest cut: Hosang got the call on Christie's Mount.

However, one day that week, Barry bumped into trainer Emile Allain, who told him that he had heard a rumor that Swatuk had lost the mount on a mare that should be favorite.

“What do you want to do: rub it in?” Barry said to him.

But no, Allain had a horse for Swatuk to ride in the race: Senorita Paquita, a filly owned by Dick Bonnycastle, former publisher and owner of Harlequin Enterprises, which at one time, supplied 80 percent of the romantic fiction books in North America.

Her name, said Barry, meant “tiny, little one.”

“She was the smallest horse I've ever seen in my life,” Barry said.

“Where's the horse?” Swatuk said, upon first sight of her. “This is a Shetland pony.”

Out on the turf course, Senorita Paquita dropped Swatuk three times. The morning of the race, he tried one more time. He managed to draft her in behind some other horses flying by and she had a work.

“Brian, you don't have to ride her,” said the gentlemanly Allain. “I can understand.”

But Swatuk agreed to ride her, while, however, not promising to really ride her like a normal horse. He could only do his best. “She's crazy,” Swatuk said. “She's like a snake.”

Allain ran Senorita Paquita as an entry in the Nettie with another filly that day. They went off at 7-2.

Together, Allain and Barry watched the race from the stands, peering through binoculars. Allain's other filly sat fourth, then fifth, then just before she got to the final turn, began to fall back. “Anybody seen Brian yet?” Barry said. “ I can't see him.”

Suddenly, they saw a little head poking through between flying hooves.  Swatuk pointed her and she went through another hole, then another, while Christie's Mount opened up five lengths on the field. At the eighth pole, Senorita Paquita blew by Christie's Mount and won, explosively.

As Swatuk passed Christie's Mount, he leaned over and yelled: “Hey Georgie! This one is for BAR-REEEEE!.” Swatuk hadn't hit his filly once.

After the race, Swatuk told Allain then he had entered the filly in the wrong race, and that if she had been entered in the Canadian International Championship Stakes, she would have won by 10 lengths. On the phone to Bonnycastle, Swatuk blurted: “Please tell me that the filly is eligible for the Washington, D.C., International.”

She was eligible, but Bonnycastle had his mind made up: The tiny senorita was to be shipped to Kentucky to be bred. “She won the race she was supposed to win,” he said.

After Swatuk won most of the major stakes races at Woodbine, he began to ride for the fun of it. “He had a great time out there with the riders that he knew,” Barry said. In his latter days, he had great respect for Patrick Husbands, and in the last year or so that Swatuk rode, he defeated Husbands twice. That pleased him to no end. He also bowed to Jerry Baird, a little-known Newfoundland-born jockey who was a top apprentice but who had a drinking problem that hobbled his career. And he had admired Daniel David, a character who was a nephew to Ron Turcotte – but David battled diabetes.

Who did he fear the most in a race? Dave Penna – because he could never hear him coming. Penna died in 2004.

 

A Career Of Personal Ups And Downs
Swatuk was only 22 years old when he married Mary Smythe, daughter of Stafford Smythe and granddaughter of Conn Smythe. They tried to tell the two of them that they were too young and not ready for marriage.  “He was cuter than a button,” said Barry of his brother. “He had more ladies than God could ask. I couldn't believe it. But I think Mary was the love of his life. Mary was everything to him.”

And he was the love of Mary's life, too, she said. “I never really met anyone else that ever came close to the love that we felt for each other,” she said. “We were kids that fell hard in love.

“He was definitely full of fun. We had a great time, lots of adventures. He was kind of two-sided. He had that side and he had a very volatile, big-temper side, too. It was part of his intense job. When he wasn't involved in racing, on his time off, he was very fun-loving and he continued that throughout his life.”

“He was a stubborn cotton picker,” said jockey Hugo Dittfach, now 80, who had been president of the local Jockeys' Guild and had to get past Swatuk to get things done.

“I've heard him tell off billionaires,” Barry said. “He was his own man.”

Swatuk muddy

Swatuk experienced highs and lows – both in life and racing

They had children, Rob and Elizabeth early on in their marriage. Swatuk moved to Los Angeles to ride for a winter and Mary enjoyed it, spending many afternoons at Disneyland with their young son Rob.

Eventually, they bought a house up in Bracebridge, Ont., and Swatuk spent time fixing it up. After they finished renovating it, a second son, Will, was born, with some health issues. They had sensors put in every room in the house, so they could keep tabs on Will.  Swatuk took every opportunity to spend time up north with them, and enjoyed it when he got a riding suspension. Sometimes he'd tell Barry that he was going to stay there for a week and he'd be gone a month.

“He really loved his family,” Barry said. “He (Will) was a little character, that boy. Brian loved him. He never cried. He was always smiling and laughing at you. Somehow or other, Willy just took over his whole heart.”

But Willy died when he was about a year old.  Barry knew something was wrong that day, just after his brother had won a stakes race. He saw two policemen and their father standing at the top of the tunnel leading to the track. William Sr., put Swatuk against the wall and when he told him his son had passed away, Swatuk crumpled to the ground. A helicopter was waiting to fly him north.

Swatuk told Barry: “Don't book me for nothin'.”

Barry needed to know how long he wanted to be off. “Just don't book me on nothin' until I call you,” Swatuk replied.

He didn't call for three months, and finally told his brother he was coming to the track. But Barry could see that his mind wasn't on business. He told Swatuk to go back north and call him the next spring. Swatuk took the rest of the year off.

Mary said they never got over the death of their child. “We just couldn't carry on as a couple after that,” she said. “And we were very young. We were still only in our twenties. It was just too much. We got blown up.” They were married for about 10 years.

During their marriage, Swatuk also lost his way and developed a substance abuse problem. “He grew up in the '60s,” Mary said. “It was very prevalent and very common. When I first met him, he absolutely had no tendencies toward that at all.”

But he just fell in with the wrong people, people wanting something from him, people who applied a kind of pressure to him, giving him the substances. He fell into a trap. And he wasn't the only one. However, counseling was not so common, for a troubled marriage, for substance abuse, and for – in the middle of all this – a lost son. “We had everything stacked against us,” Mary said.

Swatuk wasn't the type to talk about the death of his son. But it left a mark, clearly. He had the names of his four children tattooed in henna over his heart. And above it was the tattoo of a rising star, signifying the loss of Will.

Swatuk did make a glorious comeback in 1990 when he was 41 years old, had left the substances behind and “felt like a kid again.” He won 13 stakes races, three of them with champion 2-year-old Rainbows for Life. Only one other rider won more stakes races at Woodbine that year. Financially, it was his best year, too, and with only 388 starts, he won 57 races. The wins dwindled year by year after that.

By the time he finished his career in 2003, he had his share of aches and pains. Once he was catapulted into the infield during a race and struck his head on some water spikes. He was trundled into the track infirmary, unconscious, and Barry watched while he eventually spoke with doctors. Finally Swatuk told all of the doctors to leave for a moment so that he could speak with his brother. Then, he revealed something that he wouldn't tell the physicians: that he had gone blind, couldn't see. “It must have rattled my brain a bit,” he said.  Later that afternoon, his sight returned and over Barry's strenuous objections, he rode the next day, winning two or three races. “Don't you ever take me off anything unless I tell you,” Swatuk told his brother. “Or you're fired.”

“That scares me more than anything else in the world, Brian,” Barry told him. “He would never tell you the truth anyway. He'd hide everything. He'd never tell you when he was hurt.”

There was only one time that he told Barry he was hurt. One morning, he broke an ankle jumping over a ditch while hastening to trainer Art Warner's barn, another of his stalwarts. He was supposed to ride Eternal Search in a stakes race, and she was one of his favorites.

“It's broke,” Swatuk told Barry.

He urged Barry to get him to the hospital and he insisted that if doctors put a very tiny cast on his ankle so that he could get it into his boot and ride. “You're not riding her, pal,” Barry said. “You can't put no weight on that foot.”

His worst accident happened in the latter part of his career, and according to Barry, it marked the beginning of the end for him. Swatuk had just finished galloping a horse one morning, when the horse tossed its head backwards while Swatuk was leaning forward. The impact snapped Swatuk's head back. He heard a crack, and drove himself to the hospital and was told: “You fall off a horse again, or you get in a fight and somebody hits you solid and throws your head back, you'll be dead or paralyzed before you hit the ground.”

“The neck was basically destroyed,” Smythe said. “Doctors wouldn't even go in and touch it.”

Eventually, Swatuk returned to riding, against the fierce objections of Barry. “I would never do another gig in my life,” Barry told him.

“I like what I do,” Swatuk said. “You've got to have a passion for them, Barry.”

Barry quit being his agent.

“He lived on the edge,” Smythe said. But he was never one to hold onto the past.

Swatuk's mother saw him ride only three times. The first time, at Greenwood, she saw her son fall off a horse on the first turn and “bounce all over,” Barry said.

The other two times, she went to the washroom until the race was over. Then she'd watch the replay. “She was always scared that he would get hurt,” Barry said. “He was never. Mom was scared all the time. The only time he had a cast on, you know he's getting out of bed and he's leaving. He ain't staying. They won't (be able to) keep him.”

Yes, he was fearless. But his racetrack career doesn't tell the whole story of the man.

As a pre-schooler, his son Rob spent a lot of time at the track, playing with the children of other jockeys. His first memory of the track was going into the jock's room with his dad, where everyone knew his name. By the time he was 12 or13, Rob knew he wouldn't follow in his father's footsteps and become a jockey. He was too big.

But his best memories of his father were when Swatuk became a grandfather. After his father retired from riding, Rob could call him up any time and Swatuk would put all of his plans on hold, and spend time with the grandchildren. He'd play hockey and baseball with them for hours. “I believe my dad had a lot of pain doing all of that,” Rob said. “He never showed it.”  As a Grumpy Grampy, he was never really grumpy.

He lived in a cabin in a trailer park at Wasaga Beach. About three years ago, when he was 62, he and five members of his family went to the Scenic Caves in Collingwood and rode Canada's largest zip line, over a 2,500-foot stretch and a 300-foot drop. He zipped along it at a 70 mile-per-hour clip, along with son Jonathan. Swatuk always had nerves of steel as a rider. And he had the same kind of nerve, riding a zip line. “He was very young at heart,” Rob said.

There is a photo of him, wearing a helmet, pretending to be frightened for the cameras. “It was easy to see that he loved it,” Rob said.

Up in Wasaga, he made a new circle of friends that had nothing to do with racetracks. He left behind that life, returning only on major race days, such as opening day at Woodbine, or Breeders' Cups days. Dressed to the nines in a suit, he would bring 30 to 40 friends, book tables in the restaurant, and make sure waiters and waitresses were well-tipped.

One of his new friends was Mike Pequenza, who met the former jockey on a flat roof. Swatuk had been helping out a friend of Pequenza, who had known him as a jockey for 30 years, but he'd never met him. As a 12-year-old Pequenza had worked as a porter at the track. Pequenza knew Swatuk as a friend for a dozen years.

“I didn't know him as some of these other people talk about, I guess you call it 'party animal.” said Pequenza. For the last two and a half to three years, Swatuk would visit Paquenza in his trailer on Rice Lake and they would fish. “And he really started enjoying himself,” Paquenza said.

“I look at it as we've lost a good soul,” Paquenza said after Swatuk's death. “He had his moments and he was famous and all that, but I never looked at him that way as anything special. He was an even-keeled guy. He wasn't worried about how much you had. He was more interested in how you were. He generally cared when he asked about you.”

Swatuk had tired of living in the city. Hence his move to Wasaga Beach. The area had been a haven, and Paquenza said the ex-jockey thought about starting up a little T-shirt business and selling them at a flea market. He liked the outdoors, but as Wasaga Beach got crowded, he began to think about moving to Rice Lake. “I miss my buddy,” Paquenza said.

Just after his 65th birthday, Swatuk fell out of his bed in his cabin, paralyzed on one side. He couldn't get up. Thinking he had suffered a stroke, Swatuk got a much worse diagnosis in hospital: He was told he had six weeks to live, three months if he did radiation therapy.

For the first week, Swatuk was highly emotional, but then he accepted his fate, and fought gallantly, riding a more important race. “He was amazingly brave,” Rob said.

His long-time companion, Geraldine, quit her job and spent every day at his side. “I can't say enough about what she did,” Rob said.

After the fall, Geraldine called Barry, who usually talked to Swatuk every day. Barry had just seen Swatuk two weeks earlier and he had seemed fine.  But then Barry remembered that Swatuk had begun to forget things and he urged his brother to go to his doctor. Once, Swatuk had turned on a stove, and then walked out of the room, forgetting what he had done.

Rob had noticed his forgetfulness, too.

Swatuk married Geraldine two months before he died. Smythe made her peace with her ex-husband during a visit to a hospital in Collingwood, before he went to the hospice. They talked about the son they had lost. “It was very nice for both of us,” she said.

“There wasn't one moment he ever regretted what he had done,” Barry said.

“He was my hero,” Rob said.

Swatuk gave Paquenza one last job: to sprinkle some of his ashes in their fishing hole at Rice Lake. On a weekend in June, Paquenza carried out his friend's bidding, emptying a container that said: “Gone fishing.”

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