'A hug for Humboldt': Winnipeg students don Broncos green and gold as Manitobans honour crash victims

The principal of a Winnipeg school that was attended by a Humboldt Broncos player says he, his staff and students are grieving along with the province and the country after a deadly bus crash in Saskatchewan.

Former school of player injured in deadly crash lowers flag to half-mast

Students and staff at Pacific Junction School in Winnipeg wore green on Monday in honour of victims of the crash. They stood in a circle for O Canada and 30 seconds of silence. (Submitted by Stacey Ashley)

The principal of a Winnipeg school that was attended by a Humboldt Broncos player says he, his staff and students are grieving along with the province and the country after a deadly bus crash in Saskatchewan.

The collision Friday between a bus carrying the junior hockey team from Humboldt, Sask., and a semi-trailer truck killed 15 people. Another 14 were injured, including Winnipegger Matthieu Gomercic, 20.

The flag outside École Christine-Lespérance, a kindergarten to Grade 8 school Gomercic attended, was at half-mast on Monday morning. Teachers and some students wore green — one of the Broncos colours — and the mood in the halls was sombre.

One of Matthieu Gomercic's former teachers wrapped a hockey stick in green tape to put on display at École Christine-Lespérance in honour of the Broncos team on Monday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A hockey stick wrapped in green tape with 'Humboldt Broncos' written on it stood in a display case. Principal Rémi Lemoine, who wore a Roughriders jersey on Monday, said the stick was made by one of Gomercic's former teachers, the school's music teacher.

Lemoine said he lived and worked in Saskatchewan for eight years and attended principals conferences in Nipawin, the town the Broncos were going to at the time of the crash.

"The community is a tightly knit community," he said. "When I woke up this morning I said, 'I have to wear this jersey.'"

His school was one of several in Winnipeg that honoured the Broncos Monday morning, and the flag was also at half-mast at the Bell MTS Iceplex, where the Winnipeg Jets were scheduled to practice at 11 a.m.

Elsewhere in Manitoba, the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, the league the Broncos play in, and other hockey teams will hold a vigil Monday at 7 p.m. at the community's Whitney Forum arena. Participants are asked to bring a candle and donations will be accepted.

Rémi Lemoine, principal of École Christine-Lespérance, said he woke up Monday morning and knew he had to wear green in honour of the victims of the crash. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Lemoine didn't work at École Christine-Lespérance when Gomercic attended, but some of his colleagues did.

"We're thankful that he survived," Lemoine said.

"We're hoping that he gets well soon and that all this process of healing now is for the whole team and for the community."

He said a variety of thoughts went through his mind when he learned on Sunday that one of the Broncos used to go to his school.

"We go on bus rides ourselves. We went on a ski trip — even just school buses," he said. "It's quite the thing to deal with. It's not easy."

The flag at the Bell MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg was lowered Monday in honour of the Broncos. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Schools in Winnipeg's Pembina Trails School Division also lowered their flags to half-mast on Monday.

Shaftesbury High School, which has a hockey academy, posted on its Twitter page that the school will observe a moment of silence for the team following O Canada. Acadia Junior High posted it will be collecting money in a donation jar.

Pembina Trails superintendent Ted Fransen said he saw many of the division's schools posting on Twitter, asking students to wear Broncos colours, green and yellow, on Monday in honour of the team.

The first school to post was Pacific Junction, a kindergarten to Grade 5 school, he said.

"I was moved by that," he said, so he and colleagues decided to ask schools to lower their flags.

Fransen said the accident moved him.

"Like so many other Canadians, I was certainly touched by this. My own children, my sons rode hockey buses," he said.

"I personally travelled rural Manitoba on hockey buses when I was a principal in rural Manitoba, so I had personal experiences with those many lonely highway evening drives after a hockey game."

Students at Pacific Junction talked about community healing after their moment of silence, principal Kathy Bru said Monday. (CBC)

Pacific Junction principal Kathy Bru said the idea originally came from a teacher on her staff who is from Tisdale, Sask., near the crash site.

Bru said staff and students stood in a circle on Monday morning and sang O Canada along with a video from a singer performing at a Broncos game in February. After that, they stood for a 30-second moment of silence, and then students discussed how communities help each other heal.

"That was a hug for Humboldt, from all of us," she said.

West Kildonan Collegiate student Payton Post, 15, says she wasn't sure she wanted to come to school today. (CBC)

Across the city at West Kildonan Collegiate, students in Tammy Harder's civic leadership class discussed ways to raise funds for the Humboldt Broncos' Go Fund Me, which surpassed $6 million Monday. They decided on a bake sale to be held on Thursday.

"My sports team is like my second family," said student Payton Post, 15. "If that happened to my [soccer] team I would be devastated, so I really felt for them.

"I didn't really want to come [to school] today, because we were just talking about it last night and it's heartbreaking."

The Winnipeg sign at The Forks was lit up green and gold this weekend in support of friends, families and victims of the crash. (Mayor Brian Bowman/Twitter)

The Winnipeg sign at The Forks was also lit up in green and gold over the weekend in honour of the victims, and a Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoff game between the Steinbach Pistons and Virden Oil Capitals scheduled for Sunday night was postponed out of respect. The MJHL said Monday afternoon the playoffs would resume on Thursday.

The Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks honoured the team by wearing the word BRONCOS on the back of their game jerseys in place of their own names during their Saturday night match.
The Winnipeg Jets and the Chicago Blackhawks come together at centre ice, wearing Broncos on the backs of their jerseys, for a moment of silence for the Humboldt Broncos bus crash victims on Saturday night. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

100s attend vigil on First Nation

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday night on Opaskwayak Cree Nation to mourn and to honour the lives lost.

"Like everyone else in Canada, there's that feeling in the chest and mind, a feeling you can't ignore — so much pain," said Dale Knutson, a councillor for the First Nation near The Pas, about 525 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

"I find myself choked up every time I think about it. It shakes you right down to the core and I think it must be like that for many people in Canada."

That pain prompted Knutson to post a message on his Facebook page on Saturday, to suggest a gathering at OCN's Gordon Lathlin Memorial Centre, which was quickly embraced.

Dale Knutson's cousin Steve stands with a sign in honour of the Humboldt Broncos, which was taken to Sunday's vigil in Opaskwayak Cree Nation. (Dale Knutson/Facebook)

Less than 24 hours later, 400 people from OCN and neighbouring communities The Pas and Moose Lake filled the centre.

They lit candles, spoke about the grief, sang gospel songs and listened to drummers perform a powwow honour song. Their signs of support will be sent to Humboldt, along with $1,100 the vigil raised to help offset funeral costs.

"We wanted to send positive thoughts and love, and to let them know they are not alone. Their neighbours in Manitoba are with you," Knutson said, noting OCN is just 190 kilometres from the crash site.

The OCN Blizzard play in the MJHL, the equivalent of the Saskatchewan league the Broncos play in. The community also has the OCN Storm, a junior B team.

"We know how this tragedy could happen to anybody, to any of us."

Winnipeg schools show support for the Humboldt Broncos

4 years ago
Duration 2:22
Winnipeg students and teachers took time to remember the Humboldt Broncos, planning fundraisers to show support.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson, Darren Bernhardt, Erin Brohman and Aidan Geary