Thirty banners hang from the rafters of Humboldt’s Elgar Peterson arena.
Sixteen of them have a cross, a name and position and two dates. Fourteen more have a name, a position and one word printed in capital letters on the bottom: “Believe.”
As the clock ticked towards 4:50 p.m. Saturday evening, hundreds sat below those banners in silence.
A year had passed, almost to the minute, since the tragic collision that left 16 people dead, 13 injured and hundreds of lives changed.
The playing surface was covered save for centre ice, where the Broncos logo was left uncovered. On its perimeter, quilts and candles for each of the 29 people who were on the bus. Families sat behind them, and first responders behind that.
Surrounding the ice surface, fans and other supporters sat in the seats, with uniformed police and paramedics standing on the concourse.
Above their heads hung the banners. Sixteen with the names of those who died. Thirteen more with the names of the survivors and one more with the name of the only one, assistant coach Chris Beaudry, who wasn’t on the bus that day.
“April 6, 2018, is a day we will never forget, said Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench. “It seems like just yesterday, but at the same time, an eternity ago. Two days later, we gathered again here in this very building, in sadness and uncertainty, trying to bring comfort to the families involved we shed tears together, and offered a shoulder to cry on or a comforting hug.
“I believe today, a year later, we are now starting to see a glimmer of that light. As a community, we have lifted each other up with the help of the love and support gathered all over Canada.”
While Saturday wasn’t an occasion of joy, it wasn’t entirely one of sadness either.
“A main message of today was to show the world and the nation that we hope and we believe in moving forward and healing together,” said team president Jamie Brockman after the ceremony.
“Hopefully we can have the opportunity to focus on what we need to as we continue to move forward.”
The readings chosen from the Bible shared a message of strength, belief and hope.
One, from Isaiah, said those “who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
The second, from the letter of Paul to the Hebrews, urged those who have faith to hold firm and approach the throne of grace with confidence.
The message was the same from team chaplain Sean Brandow, tasked once more with finding some answers in the face of something impossible.
He spoke about change, and of love, and of faith, strength, hope and healing.
He spoke about belief.
The message was then carried on the voices of children.
A video played, with thousands of children from dozens of schools, one each from the hometown of each of the Broncos, as well as from the four communities that sent first responders and medical personnel to care for the team that night. Each school shared a message. Two words: “We believe.”
Then, a choir took the stage. It was the Prince Albert Children’s Choir, supplemented with students from all four schools in Humboldt. They sang a song from the movie The Prince of Egypt. It’s title: “When You Believe.”
When they finished, it was time for representatives from the 29 families to step forward. They stood behind the podiums, a small candle in their hands.
As the 29 names were read aloud, the flame was passed around the circle, and each of the candles atop the podiums was lit. Once instructed, the family representatives then turned around and passed their flame to the person behind them. As that flame spread, people seated in the stands began to turn on the flashlights from their phones, spreading until hundreds of pinpoints of that glimmer of light filled the arena.
They extinguished their lights, and as Amazing Grace was sung, a video played, with each of the faces and names.It, too, ended with one word: “Believe.”
Two young girls stepped to the microphone. They had a message to read from their billet brother, Kaleb Dahlgren, addressed to the 16 who didn’t make it off of that bus.
“It’s been a year since I last saw your beautiful faces, and it still blows my mind daily,” they read.
“It’s the worst knowing there is no way to bring you back. If there was a way for me to do it, I would.
“You guys should be proud of the impact you have on our world. … You have reminded us how valuable life is and by doing so, have made this world a better place.
“I am extremely grateful we had the opportunity to be involved in each other’s lives. I have learned lots from everyone and will cherish our memories forever. I will do everything in my power to honour … you brothers and sister. I will live my life to the fullest. … Your teammate, friend, brother, son, forever Humboldt Strong, Dahly.”
As the meaning and emotion of Dahlgren’s words sunk in, two women stepped to the podium.
They shared a bond no mother should have to bear. They had both lost children in a moment that defied explanation. On the left stood Celeste Leray-Leicht, mother of Jacob Leicht. Beside her was Carol Brons, mother of Dayna Brons.
“Today marks a milestone for everyone here,” said Leray-Leicht. “Not a joyful milestone, but one of perseverance, faith and courage. It takes tremendous courage to believe and move forward.
“We all have the power to change, to create change. Please keep talking. Continue to advocate for positive change. Good must continue to come for this. Hearts that are generous know to do good.”
Brons said people must also remember to take care of themselves. To get help when they need it, but also to give help when they can.
“By helping others, we can give to heal and find … courage,” she said.
Then, she turned to the idea of legacy.
“When we speak about the legacy of our loved ones, what does that mean? It means speaking their names and living a life that honours our 16 angels and 13 survivors. It means living a life that honours our true selves. It means keeping it simple and taking nothing for granted.
“The legacy of the 29 means taking time for one another and taking control of our busy, noisy lives. It means standing up and being counted. Hope that those no longer here will ever be forgotten, and those who remain will heal and be able to carry on. The one year anniversary is meant to give everyone permission to move forward in life with the blessings of our loved ones.”
She turned to those seated in front of her and began to ask people to stand. First, those who attended to the scene that night. Then, those who transported the survivors to hospitals. Next, those who tended to the survivors in the hospital and those who comforted the families of the 16 angels. Fourth, those who fed the families, who prayed over them, held vigil either in Humboldt or at home because they are the coworkers, friends, neighbours and relatives.
Almost everyone was on their feet.
“If you have hope,” Brons said, “please stand.”
No one remained sitting.
“We wish we could hug each one of you, and thank you for everything you have done. Thank you for your love,” Leray-Leicht said.
“We are family, not by blood, but by pain. To honour the legacy of our loved ones, we will continue to believe.”