One of the 13 Humboldt Broncos players who survived the hockey bus crash is slowly recovering. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Hackett: The day Humboldt shocked the world

With a chaotic week outside of work, I wasn’t sure what or if I would be able to write this week.

Not that there was any lack of fodder, it was just finding the time and necessary motivation. (It’s Easter Weekend, I’m a part of a wedding on Saturday and my parents are coming to town – just a few of the distractions flying my way)

But when I woke up Thursday morning and scrolled the news as I usually do, I realized it was the fifth anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. The emotions came flooding back.

For a lot of reasons that crash had a deep impact on me.

I remember sitting at work that night when the crash happened, as news first trickled in. A bus crash, just a few people had died was all that was being released at the time. I left the office and didn’t think very much about it for another hour or so.

Sitting at a bar with some friends, the reality of the crash turned out to be way, way worse than we first imagined.

News of the crash interrupted sports channels. Pictures and video of the horrific scene start to roll in and the death toll climbed quicker and quicker, almost as fast as you could scroll on your phone.

I didn’t know any of the players on that team, but I knew that road and I knew that intersection. I worked as a reporter at the Melfort Journal for nearly a year in 2013 and Nipawin, where the Broncos were travelling that day, was part of our coverage area. I had made countless drives up that highway.

I had also spent plenty of time riding buses with sports teams. There’s very little regard for safety on those things. Nobody wheres a seat belt, people are up and down the aisle to chat and socialize with teammates. I’m sure that day in Humboldt has helped foster change in that. I hope it has.

In 2015 I rode a bus in Northern B.C. with a hockey team on a sketchy winter night, to cover a game in a neighbouring town. That night Humboldt happened, I thought a lot about those kids, the coaches who had made that trip 1000s of times before and the bus drivers, who are often passionate hockey fans that take the responsibility of getting that team to a game safely so seriously.

As silly as it sounds, I got home the night of the Humboldt crash and I cried. I cried for a bunch of strangers I had never met, just because their world felt so close to mine.

As we would learn in the days following the crash, so many Canadians felt like I did, as if the Humboldt crash was their own child, their own brother or family member.

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians put their hockey sticks on porches and left the light on. It was a small gesture, for a nation that didn’t know what to do with its collective grief, about a tragedy that most had no direct connection to. But we all have a connection to hockey, many have taken a long bus ride somewhere. It was something. And when things go bad, Canadians need to find a way to help. We show solidarity. We unite. At least we used to.

Millions were raised for the families who lost their sons or family member in the crash. But money will never replace that grief.

Just a few years ago, I read Crossroads by Kaleb Dahlgren, one of the few Broncos that survived the crash.

Dahlgren isn’t able to remember very much about the crash. Most of what he’s able to recall, he says, is from what people told him in the aftermath.

What stood out to me was as difficult as the physical scars were for the survivors, the emotional toll and damage will be ever-lasting. They were toured all over the world, to speak about their fallen teammates and the crash and the impact it’s had across all kinds of different landscapes.

The survivors were chosen as symbols of perseverance and resolve. And rightfully so. As Dahlgren describes it, that role was difficult for them. How do they honour their teammates on a world stage, while also grieving the loss of their brothers on that bus? They were just teenagers after all. It’s so funny how hockey can elevate young men in our minds– how quickly we forget that.

Grappling with grief is tough on the best of days, let alone in the spotlight of the entire world. Dahlgren’s strength and grace in those moments, along with his teammates, including Ryan Straschnitzki who was paralyzed in the crash, is remarkable.

Five years on from the tragedy, I hope those who survived and those who lost loved ones in the crash have found some sense of normalcy– some sense of closure and escape from the pain.

Sticks on porches won’t bring those who were lost back. It’s a small gesture to let those people know they are still in our hearts and thoughts, even as the years drift on.

They will always be remembered — Humboldt Strong.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

Be Among The First To Know

Sign up for a free account today, and receive top headlines in your inbox Monday to Saturday.

Sign Up with google Sign Up with facebook

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Reset your password

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

A link has been emailed to you - check your inbox.

Don't have an account? Click here to sign up