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ONTARIO: Widow of Georgian Bay plane crash victim opens up about husband's suicide

'If he died of cancer or a heart attack, we’d be very open about those diseases and the need to fight them. The same approach needs to be taken here'

The Canadian Mental Health Association recommends you contact your doctor, go to a hospital, contact a local crisis line or call 9-1-1 or Telehealth Ontario at 1-866.797-0000.

More information and resources on suicide prevention are available from CAMH.


A 47-year-old Oro-Medonte Township man who died this past weekend intentionally crashed his small ultralight aircraft into the waters of Georgian Bay, says his heartbroken wife. 

As tough as it is right now, Vanessa Leslie told BarrieToday she wanted to talk about the mental-health issues that caused her husband, Richard Leslie, to "complete suicide" Saturday afternoon in the area of Pinery Point in Georgian Bay Township, across from Victoria Harbour.

Saturday started off with Richard sleeping in and Vanessa getting him a coffee before he began his day.

Vanessa said she didn’t feel anything was unusual until shortly before he left. 

Before he left, "he turned to our seven-year-old and said ‘I love you buddy. Goodbye.’"

When Vanessa went inside, she discovered his cellphone and some other items had been left at the house. She became worried.

"I started calling his firefighter friends and asked for them to go find him,” she said. 

Richard had attempted suicide twice before, many years ago, after an emotionally dark time in his life, Vanessa said. She was able to stop him both times.

On Saturday, Vanessa said she felt reassured when she received a call from a friend who said they found his vehicle at the airstrip in Midland. 

“I felt better because I thought he had found something he likes to do and is out doing it. Maybe he’ll feel better,” she said. “He is an avid snowmobiler and boater, and when the COVID situation hit, it really took a toll on him. He was a guy who had all the toys, but the stuff he liked to do was being stopped. He once said it felt like everything was being taken away.”

Richard flew his small ultralight aircraft over the family home twice Saturday and Vanessa said it was low enough that they all waved at him, again believing he was doing something he loved.

Shortly after 12:30 p.m., Vanessa started hearing about a plane crash in Georgian Bay. 

She called the OPP and local hospitals, but couldn't get any answers.

Not long after, firefighters dressed in uniform came to her home to deliver the tragic news that it was indeed Richard who had died in the plane crash.

Vanessa also learned that he had left a note.

“The four-page suicide note said he was going to stall the plane at 4,000 feet and jump out. That is what appears to have happened; he didn't want to put other lives at risk doing this,” she said. 

It is believed that Richard crashed out of the district of his station, so his firefighting friends wouldn't be the ones to find him.

Richard, who was part-owner of Scottland Tire & Auto on Morrow Road in Barrie, also served as a volunteer firefighter in Severn Township for seven years, stationed at the Coldwater firehall. 

In a world where press releases and news reports seldom mention the word 'suicide', Vanessa says it's an issue that needs to be talked about more. 

“It goes for men and women, I know that, but I’m thinking about all the men right now who feel they can’t talk because they’ll be thought of as weak or a pansy or any other false label," she said. "If he died of cancer or a heart attack, we’d be very open about those diseases and the need to fight them.

“The same approach needs to be taken here.”

It has been an extremely difficult few days for Vanessa and their children, but Thursday will be the toughest. That's when Richard's funeral takes place. 

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the service will be limited to only 10 people. That doesn’t leave much space for friends and extended family after Vanessa and the six kids take their seats. 

Richard’s fellow firefighters won’t be able to attend.

“Richard provided seven years of dedicated service to our community as a volunteer firefighter," Severn Fire Chief Tim Cranney told BarrieToday. "He was a valued member of Fire Station #3 in Severn. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to Richard’s wife Vanessa, their children, family, friends, and fellow firefighters."

Many of the people who have been contributing to a GoFundMe page to help the family with their financial needs also won't be on hand to say their goodbyes.

While Vanessa is speaking out for anyone who needs help, she says she's also thinking of her immediate family and the children she will now raise, five of whom are boys.

“My husband needed to feel like he could speak up and he couldn’t for fear of how he’d be looked at," she said. "We had a great life, lots of kids, great home, all the fun toys that a guy loves to have and we had love. And he spent days feeling like he still wasn’t good enough.

"He was a firefighter and mechanic, two professions where a guy is most likely to believe he's got to be tough."

The fact that May is mental health awareness month is also not lost on Vanessa. Even when she completed the obituary for her husband, in which she alluded to mental health, she had been asked if she wanted to change the wording.

“I wasn’t sure if I should talk right now, but I realized that talking is exactly what is needed,” Vanessa said. “I’m in a gamut of emotions. I’m sad, I’m angry and a bit confused. I have mental-health issues and I still don’t get it.

"If I don’t get it, so many others won't, either, so it is way past time to talk about this and get it out there so maybe it will help someone else.”

Vanessa will now prepare for life as the head of the family and the one everyone will need to lean on. Dealing with her own mental health, she is still good with it and knows she will be strong by leaning on others.

“I am overwhelmed at the support the whole community has been showing. It is very appreciated,” she said. “I’ve been staying strong thanks to many girlfriends who have been by my side the whole time, sleeping over and being the rock I need.

“There will be dark days and there will be tears, but we will get through it," Vanessa added. "We will talk about it openly and I really hope that everyone starts talking openly as well.”

To help the family, visit the GoFundMe page here.

Donations can also be made to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre's child and youth mental health unit or to Seasons Centre for Grieving Children.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada continues to investigate the crash.