Very few of us will make it through life without knowing tragedy. We are never prepared for it, and when it comes, it comes with disbelief and unbearable sadness. Our world stops.
And so we watched in shock last Friday as the small city of Humboldt, Sask., coped with the death of 15 people and injuries to 14 others after their Jr. A Broncos hockey team bus collided with a semi-trailer north of Tisdale while on the way to a playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks.
The depth of the tragedy — the loss of so many young people, their coaches, the team’s statistician, the radio broadcaster, the bus driver — was overwhelming.
The Broncos roster has players aged 16 to 21 from all over Western Canada.
Who couldn’t hold their breath for a few moments during the vigil at Elgar Petersen Arena on Sunday night as photographs of those who died appeared on the screen while local singer Araba Quay sang a mournful version of Amazing Grace? Those in attendance cried. They held each other. They prayed. They recognized the pain they must endure in the days and weeks ahead.
In the last few days there isn’t a mother or father on the Prairies who hasn’t allowed themselves a few seconds to ponder their own youth, the times they may have spent on lonely stretches of highways travelling to distant games or events, and perhaps even the journeys of their own children, and wondered why it is that the Humboldt Broncos had to suffer like this.
There have been other such accidents; we know of them. Tragedy struck the Swift Current Broncos — with whom the Humboldt Broncos were once affiliated — in 1986, when four players died in a bus accident. Some of the players who survived that accident attended the vigil, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Scott Moe.
The most often heard refrain in times such as these is that strength and support will get a community through this.
And it is so. Look at how people tried to help. There was an hours-long wait to give blood in Humboldt as people came out to donate. Hockey parents throughout central Saskatchewan let it be known that they would accommodate visitors for the vigil, funerals and family gatherings.
The Queen released a statement of condolences. The Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks played Saturday with “Broncos” on their jerseys, replacing their own names. An online fundraising campaign raised more than $5 million in 48 hours. Visiting journalists were heartened by the welcome they received from residents, who thanked them for telling their stories.
In Winnipeg, players from both teams and on-ice officials stood in unison at center ice during a moment of silence. The @NHLJets and @NHLBlackhawks wore “BRONCOS” name plates on their jerseys for the entire game. #PrayForHumboldt pic.twitter.com/2mT3LiEUYH
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 8, 2018
As Broncos President Kevin Garinger said at the vigil, “Not one of us is alone in our grief.”
That grief seeped through the community: to the families and friends; to assistant coach Chris Beaudry, who was driving 20 minutes behind the bus and was consigned to sit in a fire truck as the depth of the tragedy became apparent; to emergency room physician Dr. Hassan Masri, who said it was “the most tragic night of my career.”
We are already seeing strength in acts of kindness. Broncos player Logan Boulet of Lethbridge was kept on life support so his organs could be donated to six patients in need. He had signed his donor card weeks ago when he turned 21.
But perhaps the most tangible evidence of that strength came in a single photograph of three Broncos players lying side-by-side in their hospital beds, holding hands.
Derek Grayson and Nick bonding and healing in hospital pic.twitter.com/DzesIoT27B
— R J patter (@rjpatter) April 7, 2018
That photograph, which was seen around the world, is the embodiment of the hope that the Broncos, the people of Humboldt and residents of towns and cities across the West who lost a native son will need in the time to come.
Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.