Mayor Larry Jangula said the death of the 26-year-old mother is a terrible loss for the Vancouver Island city, where police are still trying to piece together what happened.
"Our hearts, and the whole community's heart goes out to the family involved," he said by phone on Sunday. "This will be a terrible blow, and we're all feeling their pain in our own way."
The woman was pronounced dead just before 7 p.m. on Friday evening, hours after being pulled from the frigid Puntledge River. Her infant son remains in critical condition in B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver.
Jangula said RCMP and search and rescue crews appeared to mobilize as quickly as they could to save the pair, after witnesses spotted them floating in the fast-flowing waters near the Condensory Bridge.
He said there have not been problems before in that spot involving pedestrians falling into the river, and most accidents that occur there involve people swimming or tubing in the summer.
RCMP have not yet determined how the pair wound up in the water, although they believe a vehicle parked near the bridge belonged to the mother. The B.C. Coroners Service has assumed a lead role in the investigation and the woman's name has not been released.
The mayor said the tragedy hit close to home for him, as he was a Courtenay RCMP officer for 27 years before retiring in 1994. Incidents involving children are always the hardest for Mounties to deal with, he said.
"It's bad enough when we have fatalities on the highway ... and even people dying in violent criminal situations, but whenever there's a situation involving children, it's extremely, extremely difficult," he said.
"Everybody sees their own children or their own grandchildren and it's very hard."