I remember a few things vividly about the winters growing up in Saskatchewan.
I remember having to listen to the radio in the morning to find out whether school was canceled – or for that matter whether we were allowed outside at all. If the windchill factor was above 2200, going outside wasn’t a thing you could do.
I remember walking down to the corner with my skates and my stick to the makeshift rink the Zamboni driver at the smaller of the town’s rinks made every year in the grassy area beside the parking lot. They’d even put out the old nets full of gaps tied closed with bits of skate laces over the years to keep the pucks at least marginally contained when they found the twine.
I remember the snowball fights in the schoolyard and the long walls of piled up snow in the middle of all the roads – too high to see over in many places – with small gaps in them at some intersections to allow traffic to make slow, cautious turns in and out of the side streets.
Those are the things that I always remember about winters in Saskatchewan as a child.
But last week, I remembered something else.
I remembered one particular December when everything changed.
I remembered the joy going out of our little town.
There were suddenly no smiling faces of neighbours waving as you were leaving your house. There were none of the habitual “how ya doin’?” small-talk-based conversations with the person at the counter of the convenience store when you went to get your bag of five-cent candies after school.
Probably because we all knew how each other were doing.
We were broken.
To me they were heroes. They were the “men” I looked up to week in and week out at the Civic Centre as they took on the world playing the game we all love.
To the rest of the town, they were just innocent kids – like me, but older – who were just living their lives.
And four of them had been taken.
The Swift Current Broncos’ bus had gone off the highway and Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff were gone.
Last week, over 30 years later, another Broncos bus, from a different town but carrying another group of innocent kids for the same reason, was involved in another winter tragedy on the highways of Saskatchewan.
And another town is broken.
And we’re all broken along with them.
But as hard as is is to imagine ever healing from something like this, it will happen.
The resilience of a small town is amazing. Just two seasons after that fateful December, the Swift Current Broncos won the Memorial Cup. The town shut down – both metaphorically and literally – when they came back from Saskatoon and we all gathered in the parking lot of the mall.
I think that was the beginning of the healing. We were finally all in one place, looking at the joy in each others’ faces, feeding off each others’ energy.
I don’t remember seeing any tears that day, although there were surely many shed. And while those boys will never be forgotten, on that day the joy began to return to our town, just as it will – one day – in Humboldt and the other communities reeling from this right now.
Know this, people of Humboldt: we are with you. I say this not only as someone who knows first hand how devastating an event like this feels, but as a Canadian.
All of Canada stands with you in this. Let us know what you need and you’ll have it.