Saskatchewan

'A full circle since the crash': Families reflect on anniversary of Humboldt Broncos tragedy

Today marks the first anniversary of the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Families and the public will gather together for a memorial at the hockey arena in Humboldt, Sask., hoping to move forward.

Broncos families, public will gather at Elgar Petersen arena in Humboldt, Sask., for today's memorial

April 6 is the first anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 on the junior hockey team's bus. The crash site has become a memorial site, covered with crosses, jerseys, flowers and other mementos. (Karen Pauls/CBC News)

It's a year in which families say they have lived through difficult firsts.

The first birthday since the crash. A first Thanksgiving. A first Christmas.

Today marks the first anniversary of the April 6, 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

Family members of the 29 people involved in the crash are expected to gather with nearly 3,000 members of the public  at the Elgar Petersen arena, the heart of hockey in Humboldt, Sask., to mourn together.

"It's hard for me to believe a year is gone but I also say to so many people, it feels like I've lived a lifetime because this past year as we grieve, we are grieving publicly," said Laurie Thomas, mother of Evan Thomas, one of the  hockey players killed in the collision.

Indeed, it's a grief that has unfolded at the forefront of public consciousness. Stories about the crash, the recovery of survivors and most recently, the emotionally-charged sentencing for truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, have dominated national news coverage.

Those daily reminders of the crash have been painful for Marilyn Hay, mother of Tyler Bieber, who said she needs today's memorial for her healing.

"I miss my son immensely. I can feel him with me. We've just got to move on, I'm thinking, after Saturday," she said.

"To me, it's coming to the end. It's a full circle since the crash."

Marilyn Hay shows a tattoo of her son Tyler Bieber on her left arm. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

For the family of Logan Boulet, Humboldt is calling them to come from their home in Lethbridge, Alta., to take part in the ceremony.

Logan is our son and we will always be here for him.- Toby Boulet , father of crash victim 

Toby Boulet told CBC News that he and his wife and daughter are drawn to come to any gathering that remembers the 29 people aboard the bus. His son and 15 others passed on, while 13 survived with life-changing physical and mental scars they will live with forever, he said.   

"When the community of Humboldt gathers to remember, then certainly a Boulet will be there," Toby Boulet wrote in a message to CBC News.

"We cannot expect Humboldt to remember for us. Logan is our son and we will always be here for him."

Bernadine and Toby Boulet, parents of the late Humboldt Broncos hockey player Logan Boulet, pose at their home in Lethbridge, Alta., on Dec. 6, 2018. (David Rossiter/The Canadian Press)

The game plays on

Thomas has spent the past year sharing photos and stories about her son on Facebook and Twitter, crafting a living reminder that survives beyond his death.

"Photos are such a good memory, but it's also because I miss him at times, and I'm grieving because my heart is broken, because I physically miss his laughter, I miss his smile, I miss his hug," she said.

Laurie Thomas, right, said she has to live and fight on, because that's what her son, Evan Thomas, would want her to do. (Submitted by Laurie Thomas)

Like Hay, Thomas said she hopes the anniversary represents a turning point, where the focus shifts from the tragedy to allowing her to move forward.

"Evan would want that," she said. "Sometimes it's hard because you don't want to move forward, you don't want to get out of bed."

But life goes on after Humboldt. Thomas said she has a daughter to look after and her son's legacy to uphold.

And there's more left in the game to play.

"I can hear Evan go, 'You've got to get up and conquer the world today mom — because that's what you taught me.'"

About the Author

Janani Whitfield spent 10 years working in the newspaper industry in Alberta before joining CBC Saskatchewan as a web writer in 2017. Contact her at janani.whitfield@cbc.ca or on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.

with files from Bonnie Allen

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