Zach & Kaya’s Story

Zach and Kaya’s lives have been intertwined for so long, we believe that their two souls were destined to be together.

Their first “introduction” came at the tender age of 3 weeks old. Jeff, Zach’s Dad, was the Firth’s family doctor and when her parents, Jennifer and Duncan, brought her in for her first baby check, Jeff said to Kaya, “I have a little guy your age” and proceeded to show the picture of Zach that sat on his desk.

Several years would pass until they were once again reunited in kindergarden at Harrison Public School.

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Zach’s family moved to Glen Williams for the remainder of elementary school, however he and Kaya were reunited once again at Centennial Middle School. Zach, being a naive 12-year-old, thought a good way to express how he liked Kaya would be to tease her.  She took the bait and often came home quite riled over whatever jokes Zach was making at her expense that day. They eventually figured out that they liked each other and their middle school romance began.  They enjoyed fun and simple things together and had a great time on their school trip to Ottawa and at their grade 8 Grad celebration.

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During their first year at high school, they opted to take a break in their relationship but remained friends.  Zach’s close friend David Parkhill, who was also a kind and loyal friend to Kaya, was instrumental in bringing Zach and Kaya back to each other in grade 12.  They began a more mature relationship after this time apart, and they shared their intellect, humour and deep love for each other. They both integrated easily and naturally into each other’s families, sharing many laughs and conversations with their brothers and parents. In particular, they both loved the time spent in PEI with the Sutherlands and at the Firth’s cottage up north.

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They were both so excited to experience University, Kaya starting at Laurier and Zach at Guelph. Kaya decided after first year that she wanted to make a program change and felt that Guelph was a better fit for her, which it truly was. They both thrived at university and their personalities blossomed. Kaya was the dedicated and studious student whereas Zach was the fly by the seat of your pants and last-minute kind of guy. Despite being polar opposites in their approach to school, they were both successful students. Zach did, however, have Kaya to thank for editing all of his last-minute papers.  She was studious, organized and conscientious and Zach was charming, social and lots of fun and they created a good balance for each other.


Zach being more stress-free, extroverted and spontaneous, enjoyed partying and socializing into the night with friends.
 Kaya was more introverted, preferring quieter evenings, one-on-one deep discussions and girls’ nights with her lifelong best friend Kara, and smaller groups.  He was always late for everything and she was always organized and on time.  When trying to plan a trip into Toronto for a documentary film festival, Zach’s wise words to Kaya were “How about we plan the general framework for the day and let spontaneity fill in the details.”  A great life lesson.

Hot Docs Film FestivalZach and Kaya’s differences brought out the best in each other and both were caring, generous and genuine. They were both deep thinkers and free spirits and they expressed these qualities in different ways that were compatible. They were making plans for the direction their shared future would take, and optimistic about their life together, confident that they would figure things out together.


Kaya and Zach deeply understood each other, and were supportive of one another.  He understood her anxious moments and the high standards she set for herself, and he instilled in her the confidence to trust in her abilities and to push herself beyond her comfort zone to reach her potential. He loved her natural beauty and enjoyed shopping with her and buying her nice things that she wouldn’t buy for herself. Kaya got that Zach loved to spend time with his friends, play sports with his brothers or just hang out with his parents. They gave each other space to do their own thing and appreciated the time they spent together. They both knew the value of nurturing all of their close connections and didn’t allow their relationship to eclipse others in their lives.  She helped keep Zach grounded, teaching him how to organize his workload, express his thoughts and feelings and balance play with work.

Niagara FallsThe morning of their fateful kayak trip, they spent hours talking with Jeff and Darlene in their kitchen over breakfast about their vision for their shared future. They were so excited and full of life and energy. Zach was planning an entrepreneurial venture and Kaya wanted to work for a year before returning to school for her masters degree. Zach talked about building projects with his brothers at the new family home, a trip out west in the summer (Kaya would finally get to see the mountains!) as well as the values that helped direct their plans for the next stage of their lives: simplicity, authenticity, relationships and meaningful work. Kaya had recently been invited to speak on the CBC for the Sunday morning show to give student input to the debate around the quality of university education. Hesitant at first, after hearing encouragement from Zach, Jeff and Darlene, she firmly decided that morning to participate and make her voice heard.  She steadfastly believed that “you get back what you put in”, and their unwavering confidence in her gave her the confidence in herself to accept the invitation.  She never got the chance to be on that panel, but we can all embrace her message for life – you get back what you put in.

kz cottageBeing the first-born in each of their families, Zach and Kaya shared a protectiveness towards their younger brothers Ben, Nathaniel, Jackson and Isaac.  This concern for their brothers’ well-being and futures was also a topic of discussion that morning.  They appreciated the uniqueness of character that each of the boys have, they celebrated their differences (and were endlessly entertained by their various antics and adventures) and openly expressed their love for them – uncharacteristically so in our society for people their age.

Opposites in many ways, Zach and Kaya shared the same important values. They dearly loved their families and knew the importance of close family bonds. A coworker of Kaya’s said, “I don’t know her favourite colour, but I know about her mother and father; I don’t know her favourite band, but I know about her brothers.”  They both cherished their friendships, and considered many of their close friends like family. They loved the outdoors and preferred being close to nature and especially out on the water wakeboarding, slalom skiing, swimming, canoeing or kayaking.  They shared a love of children, each choosing to work with kids in their summer jobs.  Most of all, they shared a passion for living life to its fullest; in Zach’s own words, “Go all in…don’t worry.”

Although devastated at their physical loss, their families and friends take comfort in knowing two things: Zach and Kaya deeply felt in their young lives what it is to be truly loved unconditionally and knew how to give and express their love for others.  For this, we are truly grateful.  They knew what it was to live and to love, and despite not having been given enough time themselves, they have taught us all the value of both.  Zach and Kaya were so fortunate to have found their soulmate so early in life and we have no doubts that they are eternally together and at peace.

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