Woman who was supposed to be on plane to Bunibonibee Cree Nation mourns friends killed in crash 50 years ago

On June 24, 1972, a plane took off from Winnipeg, set to take eight students home to Bunibonibee Cree Nation for summer break. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed into a vacant lot between two houses, killing all eight students and the pilot.

June 24, 1972, crash killed 8 students going home to northern Manitoba for holidays, pilot

A memorial at the site of the former Portage la Prairie residential school commemorates the students and pilot who died in the June 24, 1972, plane crash. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

On June 24, 1972, a plane took off from Winnipeg, set to take eight students home to the northern Manitoba community of Bunibonibee Cree Nation for summer break.

But shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed into a vacant lot between two houses on Linwood Street.

Nine people lost their lives that day 50 years ago — six students attending Stonewall Collegiate Institute, two students at the Portage la Prairie residential school and the pilot. 

"We were supposed to get picked up and I remember just waiting" for a bus to the airport, said Eleanor Brockington, who was a Stonewall Collegiate Institute student and was also supposed to be on that flight home. 

"To this day, I don't know what really happened. I didn't get picked up." 

She waited around all afternoon for the bus, and when it never came, she cried. 

Later that night, she found out from her billet family that the plane had crashed. 

"I don't know why my friends had to leave so soon," she said.

"My mom says that night she could just hear all the wailing that went on into the night, throughout the community" of Bunibonibee Cree Nation, also known as Oxford House, about 575 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Brockington lost her two best friends from school in the crash — Mary Rita Canada and Margaret Robinson. 

Fifty years later, Brockington still wonders what they would have become. 

"Mary was very pretty, but very shy. She always got me to speak up for her, because she was really shy," Brockington said.

Mary was interested in hair and makeup, and wanted to go to beauty school, said Brockington.

"Margaret was very smart," and dreamed of finishing school and becoming a nurse, she said.

A jingle dress made in their honour 

Amanda Grieves made a burgundy jingle dress with over 300 jingles and nine butterflies on it — each one representing a person who lost their life on the 1972 flight.

Her aunt, Ethel Grieves, was one of the two Portage la Prairie residential school students who died on the 1972 flight to Bunibonibee.

Amanda Grieves started making the dress when she was on her own healing journey, and met with a traditional healer after her husband died in 2017.

"She gave me a sewing machine and then everything just started falling into place," said Grieves.

Karalyn Bradburn wears the jingle dress her mother, Amanda Grieves, made in honour of the nine people who died in a plane crash in 1972. Amanda's aunt was among the eight students from Bunibonibee Cree Nation who died. (Submitted by Amanda Grieves)

She said she remembers her grandmother also turned to sewing and crafting as a way to heal after the death of her daughter, and would keep busy making everything from dresses to moccasins to dream catchers. 

"I found strength from that [sewing machine], turning to our creator and asking for that spirituality there.… That's how I made that jingle dress," said Grieves, who made it specifically for her daughter. 

When she gave her the dress, "it connected [her] to my home community, to my family … still affected by that tragic crash of 1972," said Grieves.

She said she doesn't know many stories about her Aunt Ethel, which she says is a product of colonization. 

"We were taught not to show emotions, not to talk about [our] feelings."

Grieves says what she hopes people will take away from her jingle dress is an understanding of how that plane crash in 1972 affected — and continues to affect — Bunibonibee Cree Nation.