It was an emotional night in Labrador, as communities across the region held vigils to remember Burton Winters. The memorials marked one year since Winters' tragic death, on Feb. 1, 2012, after he got lost on the ice outside of Makkovik, on his snowmobile. Winters, who was only 14 at the time, bravely walked 19 km before succumbing to the elements.
The vigil held in Happy-Valley Goose Bay included speeches, songs, and drum dancing to remember Winters. Some of Winters' family was in attendance as well, including his mother and stepfather.
The memorials were meant to remember Burton Winters' life, but they also served for people to reflect on the past year. The death of Winters galvanized Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, as people banded together to demand answers, and better search and rescue services in the region.
During the Goose Bay memorial service, representatives from Labrador's three aboriginal groups spoke about Winters' life and death, symbolizing the unity that took place following the tragedy.
"It inspired us to unite and break down all those barriers about what group we belonged to, whether we're aboriginal or non-aboriginal, whether we're Labradorian or non-Labradorian," said NunatuKavut President Todd Russell, in his speech. "I believe this system let this young boy down. And when they made excuses, they let down us, they let down Burton."
Anastasia Quepee, former Chief of Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, spoke as an Innu representative. She explained that Burtons life and death touched all Labradorians, no matter what group or culture people belonged to.
"Even if we never knew Burton ourselves, we learn of the promise of his young life," says Quepee. "We are here because there was something special about Burton."
Gary Mitchell was the one who spoke as a representative of Labrador Inuit. He was the one speaker who had personal memories of Burton Winters growing up in Makkovik.
"I remember Burton Winters growing up in Makkovik as young boy," said an emotional Mitchell. "I remember little Burton Winters running down the road...on a warm sunny day, not a care in the world."
Mitchell, like many others across Labrador that night, took a moment to reflect on the support and unity shown across Labrador following the tragedy.
"Tonight we remember the love and support of the many people who came together as one...never before has so many people come and shared one common ground as we did last winter, in Labrador."
Most of the people who attended the services didn't know Winters personally. But they were touched by the young teenager's death, and felt the need to show their support to Winters' friends and family.
"I hope (the memorials) will go on for the next 50 years," said one of the Goose Bay memorial attendees. "It'll always be important. We need to remember him."
Torngat Mountains MHA Randy Edmunds attended the vigil in Burton Winters' hometown of Makkovik. He said the vigil, which was attended by about 60 people, was emotional but low key. They lit some candles in Winters' memory and had a moment of silence.
"It was important for the community to get together, reflect back on the last year...people were held together in silent unity," said Edmunds.
Edmunds has lived in Makkovik himself, and has lasting images of the young teenager while he was alive.
"Burton was one of the quieter ones," recalls Edmunds. He always had a smile on his face; he just started getting active in the Junior Rangers program. A very likeable young man."
It is difficult to talk about Burton Winters, without bringing up the topic of search and rescue. Edmunds says that almost every time Burton Winters is mentioned in conversation, the issue of search and rescue is brought up.
"There was certainly a lot of criticism with the way the search was conducted outside of the community," says Edmunds. "What happened afterwards was a blame game between the federal and provincial governments, while not really addressing the issue."
Although Edmunds says the search and rescue system could be better, he believes some positive steps have been taken following Winters' death.
"There have been steps...the province has come out with infrared equipment to help search in extreme temperatures. The federal government has returned the third helicopter to 5 Wing Goose Bay."
Edmunds believes it's been tough for the Makkovik community to start the healing process, since the tragedy has been in the public eye for much of the past year. The vigils may help start that process.