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Young Jamaican farmworker dies in his sleep

He was spending his first season away from home to work in Niagara-on-the-Lake
This picture was taken when welcome bags and warm clothes were dropped off at the Read Road bunkhouse in April, when bunkhouse mates Joel Richards and Peter Smith, two of 12 men who shared the bunkhouse, had just arrived. The name of the man who died is not being released.

A farmworker from Jamaica spending his first season away from home to work in Niagara-on-the-Lake has died while sleeping in his bunkhouse on Read Road.

He leaves a family that includes a six-month-old baby at home in St.Catherine Parish.

Local friends who heard of the death and visited the men in the bunkhouse say a bunkmate woke up Friday morning, and on trying to waken him to get ready for work, discovered he had passed away during the night.

A friend of the farmworkers who had talked with some of the men over the weekend said they had spoken of appreciation for Dave Enns, owner of P. G. Enns Farms, who was the first to arrive at his farmworkers’ bunkhouse Friday morning. They were thankful for the way he had taken over and handled the situation, she said. “They said they were very grateful for the leadership and support he had provided.”

Along with Pastor Albert Dawkins, some friends took food to the men Friday, including their evening meal, and said they found his coworkers traumatized, grieving for the loss of a friend, a man who, like them, had made sacrifices to come to work here, wanting to make a better life for his family back home.

“They were in shock, speechless,” said one local who visited the Read Road bunkhouse Friday afternoon. Some were also scared, she said, fearing that it could happen to any one of them.

Pastor Dawkins said he wasn’t able to obtain any more information about what had happened, although he was still trying Monday morning. He said he’d like to be able to reach out to the man’s family. “It’s frustrating that I can’t offer support to them. I don’t even know if the family knows.”

The pastor of the Niagara Region Church of God and Prophecy in Niagara Falls says he visits the farmworkers when he can, and reaches out to them when they’re in need. Some come to his church, but they don’t have much time with their work schedule.

“In times of crisis, and when I’m called, I always make myself available,” he said. “The men I spoke to were really very shaken up, and asked me to pray with them. They were still in a state of shock when I spoke to them on Saturday, still not knowing or understanding what happened.”

Enns spoke to The Local Monday morning about how difficult this has been for all of them on the farm, and still is. “We’re pretty overwhelmed,” he said. They were all taking the time to talk to each other about what had happened, he added — that was really the only way to help each other. “That’s the best we can do, for our workers and ourselves.”

The Jamaican liaison has been out to the farm, he explained, and “has gone above and beyond” in trying to help.

The men were offered the opportunity to talk to grief counsellors, “but not too many are taking them up on it.”

Enns said he has had no details from the police, other than that they found no visible signs to determine what had caused the man’s sudden death, and that an autopsy would be done. “I have nothing else I can add to that.”

The Niagara Regional Police response that came from Const. Barry Ravenek was that Friday morning at 6:20 a.m. officers went to an address on Read Road near Scott Street, in St. Catharines, regarding a medical assistance call that became a sudden death investigation.

Detectives assigned to the criminal Investigative branch and the Ontario Coroner’s Office are still looking into the death, Ravenek said in an email, and the police will not be disclosing his identity out of respect for the next of kin.

Enns said the man was either 31 or 32 — he was sure of the year but not date of birth — and that he had spoken to him Thursday evening. He had ridden his bike into town, “and he was laughing. He was happy. He was good.”

Sometimes it takes some confidence-building for those who are away from home and working here for the first time, Enns said, but this young man was doing well. “He had that sense of achievement and value that comes from becoming part of a team.”

While Enns couldn’t say for sure his family back home had been notified, he thinks they must have been, that the Jamaican liaison would have looked after that.

When asked if that was the case, the Jamaican liaison told The Local she couldn’t comment.

Although the young Jamaican was staying in the bunkhouse on Read Road with 11 other men, he was working with a different team, said Enns. They’d been pruning vines and raking the brush last week.

“It’s the men who were working side by side with him who are hurting the most. Grief is a strange thing. Some of the men wanted to get back to work, others wanted time to sit and reflect.”

Saturday and Sunday were days to talk together if that was what they wanted, but by Monday morning they were all okay with going back to work, he said.

“This is really tough. There is a family at home who is not going to see him again. This is something that should never happen.”