Allister Harvey says he and Michael Finn had quite a few adventures as young boys growing up in Grand Falls in the 1960s.
There’s one, however, he feels people should know about – the day he says Finn saved his life.
Harvey lived in Newfoundland during his youth while his father, a doctor, practiced here. While he was still young, his family moved to Winnipeg, Man., where Harvey still lives.
Finn pursued a teaching career, which brought him to Fortune Bay Academy in St. Bernard’s-Jacques Fontaine. Now retired, he has remained in the community.
Losing track of one another after Harvey left, when they were boys, they were good buddies who lived close to one another and would go out exploring together in the central Newfoundland town.
According to Harvey, one day they came across a construction pit that wasn’t previously there before.
“It was new to us, so we were lured over to it, and it was completely full of water, and we started throwing rocks, which we always did,” Harvey recently told The Southern Gazette in a phone interview.
The pair then decided to hop aboard what Harvey described as an old wooden pallet with some poles and use it as a raft.
“I kind of went one way with the pole and the raft and Michael went the other way, and I went in.” Harvey said.
Harvey, 60, says he started to drown.
“I can still see the bubbles floating past my face when I was drowning, and I was at a point where I had given up,” Harvey said, recalling he was wearing a brand-new pair of black rubber boots.
The boots were sucking him down until one of them came off.
“Michael kind of just reached in, grabbed me and pulled me out, just yanked me right out,” Harvey said. “I don’t know how Michael managed to save me, but he did.”
Harvey said he recalls little that happened afterwards.
“The next thing I remember was being at home in my bathtub … and I was still worried about the boot missing,” he says.
Finn told The Southern Gazette he remembers Harvey quite clearly, and with a reminder about what happened on the day in question, recalled it, as well. He described the pit as a hole that had been excavated for a house. The foundation hadn’t yet been poured. It was in the Sutherland Drive area, he said.
“It was pretty dangerous looking back on it. You’d probably never get away with it now. Someone would probably call social services, but we had a lot of freedom back then,” Finn said.
He also recalled Harvey falling in the water that day but didn’t remember it being a dramatic event.
“I’m sure I was just reacting. He was my friend,” Finn said.
Harvey says Finn is an unsung hero who he feels should be recognized, however.
He says what Finn did that day has never left him, and though he says he’s thought about trying to reconnect at times, for whatever reason, he just never did.
Awhile back, he came across an article on The Southern Gazette’s website from 2016 when Finn had won a provincial Arts and Letters award for a short story he had written. It led him to contact the newspaper and recount the story.
At this point in his life, Harvey said he felt he couldn’t wait any longer to acknowledge Finn’s act.
“It’s not about me, it’s about what one human did for another human,” Harvey said.
Not everyone would have the same resolve as Finn, he suggests.
“He was a very collected person and I think that’s what allowed him to stay calm in this situation. I know some guys would just bail.”