Student dies in climbing accident

Friends remember Nicholas Beaulieu as easygoing, passionate

Nicholas Beaulieu.
Nicholas Beaulieu.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of Caitlin den Boer and thewhig.com

One of Nicholas Beaulieu’s favourite places on campus was a waist-high boulder south of Ontario Hall, a gift to Queen’s from RMC.

The rock was an ideal place for the second-year life science student to practice the technique for his passion, rock climbing. Beaulieu had been climbing since he was five years old and set aside time almost every day to improve his balance and strength.

On April 27, however, Beaulieu set out to climb the northeast corner of Dupuis Hall. He made it almost to the top of the building before losing his footing and falling three stories, landing first on the hood of a University van and then on the pavement. He died at Kingston General Hospital two days later at the age of 19.

Police said Beaulieu was climbing alone and was not using safety equipment. Although he was a member of the Queen’s Climbing Club, his climb was not associated with the club or its designated on-campus climbs, which are strictly regulated. Several passers-by and residents of nearby houses witnessed the accident.

Beaulieu’s parents, Stephen and Donita, rushed to Kingston from their home in Okotoks, Alta. They made the decision the next day to remove their son from life support and arrange for his organs to be donated.

In the meantime they welcomed visits from Beaulieu’s many friends, said Dean of Student Affairs Bob Crawford, who visited the family at KGH with Principal Karen Hitchcock.

“[Every time new friends arrived] there was a fresh round of tears,” Crawford said. “I think his mother, in particular, took great comfort in seeing how much her son Nicholas was loved by other students.”

Beaulieu’s housemate Meghan Malloy, PhysEd ’07, remembered him as an easygoing person with a sense of humour.

“We just vibed off each other,” she said. “It was such a fun, carefree, stress-free [friendship].”

Beaulieu had been hired to work at The AMS Pub Services (TAPS) for the upcoming school year and was looking forward to working with pub patrons and staff, Malloy said, adding that his outgoing personality would have served him well in the job.

“He was an all-around great guy ... really easy to talk to,” she said. “He was a big jokester, too.”

Beaulieu’s taste in music and clothing was “hilarious” and made him stand out, Malloy said. He loved to go out dancing with his housemates and would play anything from mainstream rock music to Fred Penner on his computer.

She recalled how he would return from shopping sprees at Value Village with garbage bags full of fun T-shirts, jackets and neon climbing pants.

“He wasn’t concerned with what other people thought of him, in a very positive way,” she said. “He was happy to be his own person.”

Toby Stier, ArtSci ’06 and outgoing president of the Queen’s Climbing Club, said Beaulieu joined the club for the first time last fall and the two quickly became close friends. He said Beaulieu was not just interested in, but genuinely excited about everything in his life, including music, art, climbing and the people around him.

Stier said climbing rewarded and reflected many of Beaulieu’s best qualities, including “perseverance, boldness, trust and the joy that comes with doing something difficult.

“People climb for a lot of reasons: some, because it’s exciting, and others, to show off,” he said from Okotoks, where he is staying with Beaulieu’s family. “But Nick climbed because it was so pure. It’s an honest challenge you don’t get very often. It’s just you, the rock, good friends and beautiful places.”

The climbing club is a close-knit community and will keenly feel Beaulieu’s absence, Stier said.

“It was an incredible loss,” he said. “He was the heart of the club, in a lot of ways, because he did so much to bring out the best in people.”

Stier recalled a potluck he hosted for the club executive elections in March.

“I invited each person who was running for a position to get up and make a short speech,” he said, his voice trembling. “Nick, who was not on the ballot whatsoever, immediately got up and made an impromptu speech about everything under the sun. Everyone was in tears laughing.”

Right away, Stier said, the club created the position of mascot especially for Beaulieu.

“Although it was a new portfolio, he said he planned to make it the most important one,” Stier remembered, chuckling. “He demanded we find him a first-year intern.”

Beaulieu had big plans for the future, Stier said. He wanted to become a doctor and work abroad, helping those less fortunate than himself.

“But it’s something that he didn’t talk about. Being a doctor wasn’t about prestige for him, it was about helping people. He was a brilliant guy ... but he was just so modest.”

In the short term, however, Beaulieu had planned to spend the summer with Stier in Okotoks, taking advantage of Alberta’s mountains to climb as much as possible.

“We definitely felt like we were just warming up for greater things,” Stier said. “That was a big part of our life plans.”

Instead of travelling to Alberta to climb, though, Stier and Beaulieu’s housemate Mike Taylor, Comm ’07, went to Calgary to attend their friend’s funeral. They read a eulogy written by Beaulieu’s housemate and first-year roommate, Greg Stewart. “It was something that spoke on behalf of Nick’s friends at Queen’s and it meant a lot to the people there,” Stier said, explaining that many of Beaulieu’s friends from his small town saw him as a bright young man who had taken on a tremendous opportunity in Ontario, but were worried he’d disappeared into a large, impersonal province.

“It meant a lot to his friends to see that it wasn’t as anonymous a place as it might seem,” Stier said.

He added that he expected no less than the 1,000 people who attended Beaulieu’s funeral.

“There are so many people out there who are as outgoing and as interesting and as sociable as Nick, but only want to share their time with a certain type of person,” Stier said. “But he wanted to share his time with everyone. If someone was quiet or shy, he was able to bring them out of their shell.”

Malloy agreed, recalling her housemate’s enthusiasm for life.

“He was so passionate—anything he was interested in, he’d go full out,” Malloy said. “He was also such a genuine, caring guy. He would always say, ‘If someone’s not smiling, give them a hug.’ He was all about making the people he was close with feel good.”

Stier said the climbing club is hoping to dedicate a memorial to Beaulieu on campus.

“We have a project on the way to find a boulder for Nick,” he said, adding that the idea was inspired by the jokes Beaulieu made about the RMC-donated boulder he climbed so often.

“He used to say, ‘What kind of a person gives a rock as a gift? That’s the laziest gift ever!’” Stier said. “But we think he would have loved this.”

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