Mourning continues for Canadian Dan Jorgensen, a former police chief and highly respected community advocate who dedicated his retirement years to fighting poverty and homelessness.
An avid outdoorsman also known for his skydiving pursuits, he was killed on May 12 in a kayaking accident. Jorgensen, who was 59, was fulfilling a lifelong dream to kayak from his hometown of Gimli and then skydive to celebrate his 60th birthday in Manitoba when he died of drowning. He was wearing a life jacket. Jorgensen was killed after setting off on a 12-day kayak trip from his home near Kenora. His goal was to reach Gimli then walk several miles to the local airport to skydive.
But while trying to run Surgeon Falls at the mouth of Nutimik Lake, his kayak overturned.
Hikers witnessed his struggles but were too far away to help. His death was posted on Facebook by his brother, David Jorgensen. “He was not able to right the watercraft,” he said. As a police chief, Jorgensen was widely praised for his integrity in overseeing the dissolution of the Kenora Police Service when it was contracted out to the Ontario Provincial Police. He also played key roles in murder trials. Kenora City Council member Sharon Smith said Jorgensen’s integrity carried over to his retirement years when he became active in volunteer areas. Nan Normand, who worked with Jorgensen on the board of “Making Kenora Home”, a group dedicated to combating homelessness, said:
“Dan was such a vital force in our community that we are having a hard time coming to grips with the loss.”
“And when Dan said active, he really meant active,” said Normand, adding that it wasn’t long before he was co-chair of the organization. She recalled a time when the group started research on a Housing First model being used by another community. “While the rest of us were researching the Housing First model, Dan hopped on his motorcycle, drove out to Red Deer, and he talked with the mayor’s office, police chief, the people who were engaged in the Housing First project out there,” she said. That hands-on approach was his style.
“He was one of the most honest and down-to-earth people I’ve known in my life,” said long-time friend David Canfield, Mayor of Kenora.
The former Kenora police chief also remained an active outdoors participant all of his life. He skydived more than 500 times, several hundred of those with friend Brian Forbes. Even then, his hobby was also geared towards social causes. One of these was a campaign to raise the awareness of suicide among veterans. Jorgensen spent 22 days doing 22 pushups to publicize the campaign. Forbes recalled he did one of those 22 pushup days in a drop zone, and in free fall. “Dan did 22 pushups…in the air,” recalled Forbes. “He actually paused partway through to make it seem like he was having trouble. For a skydiver, it was very funny.”
Jorgensen’s mishap brought a lot of public attention to his death, but in the wake of the incident, officials said fatality rates for both of his hobbies are rare. “Fortunately, fatalities are uncommon in these activities, with rafting and kayaking fatalities occurring at a rate of 0.55 and 2.9 per 100000 user days, respectively,” wrote David C. Fiore, MD, at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Reno, NV. Another study found that out of 3.2 million skydiving trips during a recent year in the US, there were only 24 fatalities. That was a likelihood of about 8 in a million jumps, which was one of the lowest rates in the sport’s history.
Flags flew at half mast in Kenora as news spread of his death.
There was also a tandem skydive jump in Kenora to honor Jorgensen.