The story behind a missing man

Like others before him, Daniel Trask fell in love with Northern Ontario's Temagami wilderness. And last fall, he vanished into it, leaving behind little more than a mystery


Like others before him, Daniel Trask fell in love with Northern Ontario’s Temagami wilderness. And last fall, he vanished into it, leaving behind little more than a mystery.

By Conor Mihell

At first, Jeff Geiler didn’t think much about finding a gold Chevy Impala in the parking lot at Camp Wanapitei, the Northern Ontario youth summer camp on Lake Temagami where he works as a year-round caretaker. 

It was early November—a little late in the year for visitors—but Geiler immediately recognized the car as belonging to Daniel Trask. Over the previous seven months, Trask, a 28-year-old from Waterloo, Ontario, had become a regular presence in the area, often setting up his tent nearby and dropping in at Geiler’s log cabin to shoot the breeze and poach some time on the Internet. Geiler walked to one of Trask’s usual campsites, expecting to find his friend. There was no sign of him. “I just assumed that he was out and about,” says Geiler.

When Trask still had not appeared after several days, Geiler decided to mention the parked vehicle to the Ontario Provincial Police. It was November 13. Several days earlier, Don and Maureen, Trask’s parents, had called to report their son as missing. Sometime before sunrise on the morning of November 3, they told police, Trask had left the family home unannounced, packing his baggy, lime-green snowpants, a blue Columbia Sportswear jacket and, as far as they could tell, not much else. An investigation in Waterloo turned up no leads on the young man’s whereabouts.

Don and Maureen were relieved to hear that their son’s sedan had turned up at Camp Wanapitei, and assumed that he had ventured back to his favourite place one last time before winter. A grocery clerk in the town of Temagami confirmed that Trask had purchased some fresh produce and said he’d be out in the bush for a month. That didn’t worry Don and Maureen; they knew their son was resourceful and competent in the backcountry, had local connections and was aware of the many unlocked trapper cabins and fishing camps peppering the region.

Their sense of reassurance evaporated when Don ventured north the day after Geiler reported the car. Already, the grounds of the boarded-up summer camp were swarming with police officers and their German shepherd dogs in full-blown search mode. “I saw the police and I thought, ‘I don’t like this, this doesn’t feel good,’” Don says. It was the beginning of a weeks-long ground and aerial effort by search-and-rescue professionals that revealed not a trace of the vanished young man. Trask remained missing through the winter, and in the spring of this year, Don and Maureen launched their own desperate search mission. It was only then that they understood the sheer scale of the 15,000 square kilometres of unforgiving wilderness that their son had wandered into nearly empty-handed and utterly alone.

Almost a year earlier, on the first day of summer in 2011, Dmitri Poukhlov awoke to the sound of footsteps on his deck in the Temagami wilderness. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, glanced out the window and saw the silhouette of a stocky, broad-shouldered man skulking into the forest. At his door, Poukhlov found a watermelon and a freshly filleted fish.

It wasn’t until evening that Poukhlov found the strange gift-giver camped on a beach adjacent to Camp Wanapitei, taking advantage of the excellent bass fishing at the mouth of the Red Squirrel River. Poukhlov and Daniel Trask became fast friends as they shared stories over a bottomless pot of tea through the shortest night of the year. In many ways, they had parallel histories. After immigrating to Toronto from Belarus to work as a computer programmer, Poukhlov had escaped the city a decade ago and carved out a simple, reclusive life in a 180-square-foot geodesic dome that’s painted to blend into the deep forest. “Dan said he wanted to get away from all the noise of the city and to be alone, to have the freedom to do whatever he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it,” says Poukhlov. “I know that feeling.”

Trask had begun his first major trip into Temagami on May 27, 2011, offering little explanation to his parents and friends for his sudden change of lifestyle. At 5’9″ and 150 pounds, Trask was built like a sparkplug, and had been a girl-magnet and partier since his teenage years. He pinballed between bartending and construction jobs, rebelled against authority and ignored his parents’ suggestion that he develop his natural artistic talents through post-secondary education. The only written clue he left for his newfound fascination with the wilderness was a loose-leaf sheet of paper with the words, “So I go to Temagami not knowing where I’m going.”