A ceremony to honour the members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team who were killed or injured in a highway crash April 6 drew dozens of local minor hockey players and their families to the Monument of Honour in Conception Bay South on Sunday.
The event was organized by Branch 50 of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Conception Bay Regional Minor Hockey Association and drew Lieutenant Governor Frank Fagan and his wife Patricia, who participated in a stick laying ceremony around the circumference of the monument.
The centrepiece of the event was a wreath laying ceremony in which minor hockey players placed wreaths around the walls of the memorial for each of the 16 Saskatchewan players and team staff, including the bus driver, who died after their hockey bus was T-boned by a transport truck while they were enroute to a game. Each wreath bore the picture of an individual Bronco player.
“We’re really pleased that you came out today to pay tribute to those individuals from Humboldt, Saskatchewan who were involved in a very, very tragic motor vehicle accident,” said Woodrow French, the second vice-president of Branch 50. “We thought this place would be a good place to bring the residents of Conception Bay South together and show Humboldt that we’re really caring for them and praying for them in these trying times.”
Hockey NL president Jack Lee said the past 10 days were challenging for the hockey community. “And for the whole country of Canada,” he added. “As I travelled around last week to the provincial tournaments where all the young boys and girls were playing hockey throughout the province, you had to stand back and reflect on how much travel we do as a branch and as a province just to play this wonderful sport of hockey, and a tragedy like what happened in Humboldt to the Broncos team hits home to us. I think every one of us travel all the time for sports, not only hockey, but sports, and we have not (got) real great weather. It struck home to me. I have a son who still plays pro hockey in Europe and he travels on a bus two or three times a week… It only goes to show how it affected everybody when you saw what happened across this province in the last week or so with people coming together to celebrate the lives of the 16 people who lost theirs and to pray and hope for the other 13 who are left hanging on to life. We’ll keep them in our memories also the next few days hoping they will walk out of that hospital and move on with their lives.”
Those thoughts found resonance with the president of CBR Minor Hockey, Vince Burton, who also addressed the crowd.
“It seems like a lifetime ago now, and yet it was only a week this past Saturday when I woke up in a hotel room in St. Anthony with a team on the verge of the championship for the All Newfoundland and looked at my Twitter feed and it was talking about an accident in Humboldt,” said Burton. “I read the news reels and I was floored. I was thinking of my team, all the kids that CBR had out over the road from Port aux Basques to St. Anthony and down the Burin that would be travelling later that day and Sunday to go home after playing a game that we love so much.
Later that day as we won our championship and I was hugging each of the kids and thinking, ‘I have this opportunity as a coach to share this with my team and those young men and women and their trainers won’t have that opportunity, those parents who were here waiting to watch a game won’t have that opportunity again,’ I was struck with a deep sadness. As the week went on, I was so proud of Canada as a country, as everybody became more than just a community that revolves around hockey, but a family. Hockey is a family. From the ‘Sticks Out’ campaign that swept across the nation to the donations to the Go Fund Me Page, the outpouring on social media of support and love from our fellow Canadians – that is what hockey is about. When our passion in the stands becomes compassion of a nation, that is what hockey is about.”
Canon Wilson Tibbo, a retired Conception Bay South Anglican minister who spent some years ministering in Saskatchewan, as well as coaching peewee hockey in that province, led the onlookers in prayer.
“I spent eight years in Saskatchewan, four years associated with Humboldt, Saskatchewan,” said Rev. Tibbo. “I lived in a little town called Watrous and for two years every Saturday morning for two hours I was in Humboldt.”
Tibbo told the crowd that mourning the death of a loved one and grieving their loss is natural and appropriate and that people should not be surprised by death as it comes to everybody.
“Something irreplaceable and precious has been taken away,” said Tibbo. “Something has come to an end. Funerals put a period on a sentence’s last word, they close the door and let you get on to a new life.” Tibbo prayed that everyone use the example of death to live good lives themselves and to have the grace to prepare for and accept their own fates.
With that, the wreath laying ceremony began with Avalon MP Ken McDonald placing the first one, followed by the children of CBR Minor Hockey. After a ‘Sticks Out’ ceremony, French thanked everyone again for participating in the tribute. “We hope that something like this (tragedy) never ever happens again,” French said. “But certainly the residents of Saskatchewan really appreciate the outpouring of sympathy for them.”