Nicolas Thomas Voyer-Taylor was born Feb. 6, 1990, in Saskatoon, to Julie Voyer, a francophone school administrator, and Thomas Taylor, an anglophone stockbroker. He had a brother, Gaëtan, from Julie’s first marriage, and a sister, Rachelle. When Nicolas was 10 weeks old, the family moved to Winnipeg.
Nick, as he was known, loved basketball. As a child he “managed” his sister’s team, sitting on the bench beside his dad, the coach. He went on to play point guard for his dad at Winnipeg’s Shamrock School, and they spent endless hours shooting hoops on the back porch. “They were best friends,” says Rachelle. “They did everything together.” Tom also taught Nick to ski, and it was in the mountains where both were happiest, and found peace.
Nick grew up with four female cousins whom he treated like sisters. The families made an annual camping trip to Rushing River, Ont., where the kids would often fall asleep together, watching the stars. From a young age, he loved to cook—a creative outlet. “When he was in Grade 6,” says Julie, “one day I came home and found him sitting at the kitchen table, with three or four recipe books. ‘Mom,’ he said, ‘can I make supper tomorrow night?’ ” The next night, says Julie, he cooked chicken cordon bleu. “He didn’t start small, eh?”
Nick grew to be a lanky six foot two, a bit awkward, with an introspective bent. Among his large extended family of mostly “attention seekers,” says Gaëtan, Nick never sought the limelight. “He was a sit-back-in-his-chair kind of guy,” he says. Nick loved music, from the Rolling Stones to Skrillex, and was known for his big, toothy grin.
Tragedy struck when Nick was 15: Tom was diagnosed with cancer in his small intestine. Four months later, on Jan. 8, 2006, he died at home. In the days before his dad’s death, Nick kept running up and down the stairs, peppering his dad with questions. “Mom, I’ve just got to remember all the things I have to ask him, because I won’t get to ask him after this,” he told Julie.
Nick took Tom’s death the hardest. He “went into a shell,” says Gaëtan. Later, he entered a rebellious phase, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and in Grade 12 he was kicked off the basketball team for stealing a bottle of Sprite, a devastating moment. That year, the only bright spot was a culinary course he took at school.
After graduating from J.H. Bruns Collegiate, Nick worked at restaurants in Winnipeg. In 2010 he moved to Big White Ski Resort, near Kelowna, to work as a cook. Nick, by then a snowboarder, was a hard, fast rider who found freedom on his board.
In 2012 he returned briefly to Winnipeg before moving back to Big White with a friend, Colin Horan. He worked at the upscale Gunbarrel Grill, where his talent impressed his bosses. He was a master of soups, fashioning varieties with “funny French names,” says Colin, and was developing a taste for pricey spices.
On Tuesday, Jan. 8, Nick took the day off to do what he had done each year since Tom’s death: celebrate his dad’s life. That morning he was excited, and danced a little jig on the balcony as he drank his morning tea. He had a day of snowboarding planned. He intended to end the day with a shot of Jack Daniel’s, Tom’s signature drink.
Nick, never the first out the door, took a few extra minutes that morning to write a Facebook post. His dad, he wrote, had taught him “the importance of accepting the fact that everyone makes mistakes—the key to life was to learn from them.” He’d taught him to “treat others the way I want to be treated.” “I can’t thank you enough Dad for helping me become who I am today,” he wrote. “Je t’aime beaucoup Papa,” he ended. “I still think of you every day.”
Shortly after, Nick hit the slopes in his trademark green goggles. With a bright sun warming the morning, he left his heavy jacket behind. He and Colin entered the Sapphire Glades, a deep ravine bisected by a creek buried beneath the snow. Nick was chasing the powder, headphones blasting music. He became separated from Colin on the run, and then a snowstorm blew in.
Skiers later found Nick. He’d become trapped in a tree well, and was partially submerged in the creek. Nick was transported to Kelowna General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, seven years to the day after his father. He was 22.