Mourners embrace during an April 8 vigil at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, to honor members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team who were killed in a fatal bus accident. (CNS photo/Jonathan Hayward, Reuters)
HUMBOLDT, Sask. — On the night of April 6, just south of Nipawin, an accident between a semi-truck and a bus broke the heart of every parent in Saskatchewan.
Around 5 p.m., a semi-trailer collided with the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, their coaches, statistician, athletic trainer/therapist, and play-by-play media personality. Fifteen people were killed and 14 remain in various states of recovery.
In the 48 hours that followed the crash, local, national and international media covered the story, describing the men who were lost.
The city of Humboldt was shaken to its foundation. But tragedy destroys and then draws together: on Sunday, April 8, they rose as a community and gathered in the Elgar Petersen Arena and Uniplex.
“This is a community event that has been orchestrated by an inter-ministerial organization,” said president of the Humboldt Broncos Kevin Garinger in a radio interview Sunday. “This is not about (the Broncos) tonight, this is about supporting the families of the Humboldt Broncos.”
The liturgy was live-streamed, broadcast, and watched in locations across the province as well as at St. Augustine Church up the street.
At the arena, the same scene played out over and over: family, friends and community members cried, hugged, and then began talking to each other, shaking their heads in disbelief.
Grief and crisis counsellors, including grief dogs, roamed the arena, available to any in need of support.
Rev. Joseph Salihu, pastor of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Parish, described first hearing the news of the accident. “On Friday, there was a concert, and just before it began, a teacher from St. Augustine School drew my attention to some news that there was an accident. All the ministers came as one. We drove to the Uniplex to be with the families.
“Coming together tonight is a powerful sign that these families are not alone in their anguish,” Salihu added. “We need to remember that after the funerals, these people will still need our presence.”
The evening prayer vigil began with the singing of “O Canada.” Rev. Matteo Carboni of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church and vice-chair of the Humboldt Ministerial Association, served as MC. “We remember the words of Jesus, who told us, ‘You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.’ We need each other to make this promise a reality.”
Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench brought condolences from the city of Humboldt. “This is a very tough time for all of us,” he said. “Together, we can get through this. I thank everyone from all over Canada and the world who have offered support. To use a hockey analogy, we’ll stick-handle our way through this and hopefully we won’t have to dump it in the corner.”
Dignitaries in attendance included Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Dr. Ryan Meili (leader of the provincial opposition) as well as media personalities Don Cherry and Ron Maclean, along with Elgar Petersen, for whom the Humboldt arena is named, and who has been part of the Broncos organization since their inception.
Garinger spoke at the vigil through restrained tears. “The real scope of this community tragedy will not be fully realized for days or weeks or even years,” he said.
The team president took time to thank the families, the community, politicians, sports personalities and the first responders who offered important work even while dealing with their own grief.
“I want to say to all the Humboldt Bronco families, billets, coaches, teammates, classmates, teachers, friends, and community members that not one of us is alone in our grief,” he said. “Reach out, help is there.”
During the service, Garinger named those who were injured and those who had died in the crash. Those who died are Humboldt Bronco players Parker Tobin, Adam Herold, Conner Lukan, Evan Thomas, Jacob Leicht, Jaxon Joseph, Logan Boulet, Logan Hunter, Logan Schatz, and Stephen Wack, along with assistant coach Mark Cross, head coach Darcy Haugan, team statistician Brody Hinz, broadcaster Tyler Bieber, and bus driver Glen Doerksen.
Those injured in the crash were Xavier Labelle, Graysen Cameron, Ryan Straschnitzki, Bryce Fiske, Tyler Smith, Kaleb Dahlgren, Matthieu Gomercic, Nick Shumlanski, Derek Patter, Morgan Gobeil, Brayden Camrud, Layne Matechuk, Jacob Wassermann, and team trainer Dayna Brons.
Rev. Colleen Pilgrim of Carlton Trail House of Prayer gave the opening prayer, followed by words from Lawrence Joseph, former chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
“The indigenous people are in the process of not only praying for you, lifting their pipes,” Joseph assured, “they are also gathering resources to support you and your loved ones in the days to come.
“Jesus wept when he found out his friend Lazarus died,” Joseph said, “so it is OK for all of us to weep. It shows the love we have for all these boys.”
At 7:32 there was a minute of silence to mark what would have been the beginning of the Humboldt Broncos next game.
Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon proclaimed Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd.
Pastor Sean Brandow of Humboldt Bible Church, the team chaplain for the Broncos, brought some appreciated levity, unblemished reality, solidarity of despair, and promised hope with his reflection: “In honour of Mr. Trudeau I wore my fancy socks, but you can’t see them because of my cowboy boots — a real Saskatchewan thing.”
“I don’t want to be here but it’s good that we are,” the team chaplain admitted. “I arrived shortly after the accident and walked up on a scene I never want to see again, to sounds I never want to hear again — groaning and panic and fear and confusion and pain. All I saw was darkness and I had nothing. Nothing. I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to have something. I’ve received thousands of texts and even Scripture, but I needed to hear from God.
“We do not have a God who is unfamiliar with what we are going through. He has suffered grief, wept, felt alone and lost. Jesus suffered like us and he has gone ahead of us into the heavenly realm. Death couldn’t hold him, he’s alive. don’t have all the answers, but I do know that.”
Lutheran pastor, Rev. Clint Magnus, offered prayers of intercession, asking for solace and healing, love and peace in the families and the survivors. He prayed for the caregivers who endured many horrors in order to offer comfort to the victims.
Rev. Brenda Curtis of Westminster United Church led a closing prayer: “Humboldt family and friends, a quilt of love has been placed around our shoulders and our community as our brothers and sisters around the world have held us in their care.”
Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon offered a final blessing: “Lord God, you are the light that illumines the darkness. Continue to lead us into your light.”
As music played, people left as they had entered: hugging, crying, shaking their heads in disbelief. Some just sat holding hands.
April 6, 2018, is a night that Humboldt and Saskatchewan will bear like a scar for the next century, but one small step in healing was taken that night. Saskatchewan was at its finest, its most broken, its most supportive, its most tender.