WESTVILLE ROAD – Humboldt is almost 2,000 miles from Pictou County.
While the small Saskatchewan city struggles with almost unimaginable grief, some of our people tried to narrow the distance between here, and there.
An estimated 300 people, almost all of them wearing hockey jerseys, gathered Thursday night at the Pictou County Wellness Centre (PCWC) for a candlelight vigil to reflect on the Humboldt Broncos bus crash of April 6, which has now taken 16 lives and altered so many others.
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Outside the PCWC, a mother put her arm around her son and kept him close.
For the longest time, she did not let go.
A choir sang Bridge Over Troubled Water, their voices flowing into the fading light of an early April night, and the Rev. Glen Matheson, as he often has in sombre moments in Pictou County, painted a picture. This one showed us what it must have been like for those who first arrived at the horrific scene outside Nipawin, Sask., the front end of a bus obliterated, carnage all over the highway, scenes that a mind cannot erase.
A firefighter for many years, he and his first-responder colleagues have seen things nobody wants to see and as some of his fellow firefighters stood in the crowd, in uniform, Matheson spoke of the need for people to be together in the darkest of times.
“Whenever there’s a tragedy, it’s very easy to just go home, close the door and not let other people in our lives,” he would later say. “But we are not ever created to be alone.”
Those who cared enough to show up at the PCWC braved the elements and stayed with each other until the end, observing a moment of silence, lighting candles they would shield from the cold wind.
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Crushers coach Doug Doull travelled from his home in Dieppe, N.B. He recalled hearing of the accident late last Friday, and not yet knowing the astounding breadth of the tragedy, Doull’s coaching instinct took over. How would if affect the team’s playoff chances, he wondered?
The next morning, he would learn just how bad things were out west, where wins and losses at the hockey rink suddenly meant nothing.
“When I woke up, I woke up as a father and, immediately, like all of us here, broke down.”
During the hockey season, Stellarton’s Yvonne McChesney takes in Crushers players, young men – boys, really – who soon become family.
“We worry about their well-being. I do not sleep a wink until they come home from a road trip,” she told the hushed crowd, her voice breaking slightly.
“Their parents have given us the ultimate responsibility, and that’s to take care of their precious children.”
Luke Melanson played with the Junior A Crushers for two seasons.
“It’s hard to put into reality how difficult the last week has been. I can’t imagine what those families are going through,” he told the crowd.
“I see my coaches, my teammates and everyone I ever played with, and the thought of that happening to them just destroys me.”
The countless hours that hockey players spend on buses with teammates: playing cards, listening to music, joking or talking with each other, looking forward to the next game, and always believing there are many days ahead. As we are sometimes reminded, that isn’t necessarily true.
“Please,” Melanson implored the crowd, “reserve a special place in your hearts for the Humboldt Broncos.”