The David Elton Outdoor Fund ("DEOF") is an on-going legacy created in 2000 in memory of David Elton, who lost his life in March 2000 attempting to rescue a fellow hiker from the sea. In spite of the tragedy of losing our son while on a school field trip, we have felt very strongly that experiencing nature is such an important part of living. As a tribute to David, we have wanted to encourage others to enjoy the world around them – in safe and responsible ways.
For David, who lost his life on the Lost Coast Trail in California, nature and the outdoors were a very important part of his life. Initially this love of nature was fostered by his parents, grandparents and family friends and then Scouting and outdoor activities through school. He started camping at 9 months old and for the rest of his 17 years, he spent time every year skiing, hiking and camping. His sense of humour endeared him to everyone. As he grew, his confidence, self-reliance, skills and sense of responsibility were honed through his outdoor activities. He brought these strengths into his personal and school life and increasingly took a leadership role in many ways.
Fascination with the world around him characterized his outlook on life. To our family, David was a boy always interested in ideas. From a very early age, he loved to read and we all knew what it meant he dutifully agreed to go and tidy his room – yet another opportunity to read. Inventive games, his curiosity about other places, the news and ideas certainly stimulated discussion at the dinner table and enriched our lives. His interest and success in debate at school was an extension of what he shared with us at home. Wise and self-confident, he marched to his own drummer. He was always keen to try new things. A year or so before he died, he’d learned about circular breathing and it wasn’t long before he’d made a didgeridoo out of PVC piping and was quite proficient at blowing it.
He had a wonderful joie de vivre seeing the world and its absurdities from a unique angle. He didn’t take himself too seriously. Many remember him scratching his head in thought and then producing a pen hidden in his thick mass of curly ginger-coloured hair to jot down his ideas.
Comments from his friends shared with us after he died help to show his unique perspective on life. Dave (as his friends called him) was fascinated with the world around him. This interest showed itself in his passion for film. He loved making movies and loved watching them. One of his favourites was “American Beauty” in which one of the characters notes “there is so much beauty in the world.” That view of life described a huge part of David. He once said, “I love to watch things”; and when asked what type of things, he said “anything – old ladies on the C-train, people talking, - I love just watching life.” One time he took a video camera out on a foggy night and on his walk described what he saw as “mystifying, amazing”.
And yet the humour and fun were always present. On the last hike he took, on the Lost Coast Trail, his friend Steve, reported, “I was eating my lunch, pita with cheese and salami and Dave held up the camera and said, '“OK Steve, pretend to take a bite.” I said, “Why don’t I just take a bite?” “No, he replied, “don’t eat the props, I’m going for hyper-realism here.” David loved playing silly games. On the same hike, another friend reported that, “while walking on the sand he had said, “Alright, here’s the game; it’s called who had the biggest footprint?” If you knew Dave, who was 6” 8”, you’d know there was no contest!”
One thing David loved to share was his music. Every couple of days, over social media, David would send his friends songs that appealed to him. In fact most of the money he earned went into a massive CD collection that our family still enjoys. He was good friends with his younger brother, Stewart. A month or so before he died, the two boys were asked how well they got along and they looked at each other and nodded, “pretty well – and we both like the same kinds of music.”
Planning and participating in outdoor activities was important to David. He had done significant backpacking trips in the Rockies with his friend John and their dads and in organizing these trips, David had taken a major role. He was also a Venturer in the Scouting movement and through his involvement with the Alberta Youth Council had helped to organize sessions for new Venturers. A year before he died, he had come home from one of the meetings in Red Deer and excitedly described how he had helped these kids consider the implications of undertaking outdoor activities- together they had imagined and planned a “kayaking trip down the Amazon.”
In so many ways, David influenced those around him. One of his friends summed it like this: “Ever since I met Dave, I started to see people and things with a new sense of intrigue I hadn’t felt before.” Another noted: “not only have you been a great friend, but by spending time with me, you have helped me realize my potential. You have helped me do things I wasn’t capable of alone… You could have done anything but now I feel that I can do anything.”
After the tragedy on the Lost Coast, David was awarded the Scouts Canada Gold Cross for Gallantry, the Royal Canadian Humane Society Medal for Bravery, the Governor General’s Silver Medal for Bravery and the Carnegie Hero Medal of Bravery.
The David Elton Outdoor Fund is an on-going legacy for David. In spite of the tragedy of losing our son while on a school field trip, we have felt very strongly that experiencing nature is such an important part of living. As a tribute to David, we have wanted to continue to encourage others to enjoy the world around them – in a safe and responsible way. To meet this objective, the David Elton Outdoor Fund has been set up to help young people and youth leaders to develop safety awareness as a primary leadership skill so that they can promote safe enjoyment of the outdoors.