'It's a very powerful and emotional exhibit': Humboldt showcases love for Broncos team from around the world

A new display is showcasing some of memorial items and messages of support that continue to pour into Humboldt, Sask., four months after the small city's beloved hockey team was involved in a deadly bus crash.

Memorial exhibit features jerseys, flags, banners, quilts and artwork

One of the many banners sent to Humboldt, Sask., in the aftermath of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The words Humboldt Strong can't be missed.

They're painted in the Humboldt Broncos team colours of green and gold, surrounded by signatures along with words of encouragement.

"Keep fighting," one reads. "Stay strong."

"May your pain lessen," another one says. "I hope hockey is as fun in heaven."

Some of these banner messages as well as jerseys, artwork and other memorial items are now on display in the museum and gallery of Humboldt, Sask. They were donated by Americans, Canadians and others who wanted to pay tribute to the Humboldt Broncos hockey team killed or injured in a horrific bus crash four months ago.

Jennifer Fitzpatrick is tasked with sorting through the gifts that are being sent to Humboldt and putting them on display. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"It's a very powerful and emotional exhibit," said curator Jennifer Fitzpatrick. 

"We really tried to select pieces that show how heartfelt people's sentiments were."

On one wall, a drawing hangs of a tree with a heart on its trunk and leaves made with children's thumbprints in the team's colours. 

On another wall, 1,000 colourful paper cranes hang to symbolize hope and healing during challenging times.

There are also hockey sticks, quilts and banners from as far away as Omaha.

Children used their thumbprints to make this artwork for the community. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Crash still under investigation

The Humboldt Broncos were on their way to a playoff game on April 6 when their chartered bus collided with a semi-trailer at the intersection of Highway 35 and 335, which is about 30 kilometres north of Tisdale, Sask.

Hockey sticks remain outside doorsteps in memory of the 16 people who died and the 13 who were injured, including two players who remain in hospital.

The cause of the collision is still under investigation.

Truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 29, faces 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and 13 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily injury.

Messages of sympathy and words of encouragement can be read throughout the exhibit at Humboldt's museum and gallery. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

As a way to pay tribute to the victims, people continue to donate items on a weekly basis at Humboldt's visitor centre, the RCMP detachment or wherever they feel comfortable. 

The city decided to put those objects in a place where the public can view the outpouring of sympathy and read words of encouragement.

"I personally feel it's heartwarming," said Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench. 

"I'd like to say thank you on behalf of our community.… We couldn't have probably moved through this without the help of everybody."

Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench said seeing the commemorative donations helps his community heal. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

But the pain is still very real. Pamphlets advertising counselling services are on display next to the artwork. 

'View on their own terms'

Many of the objects were originally placed at the Elgar Petersen Arena, where the Broncos play, but then moved to the gallery. 

"We've had some people that have had a little bit of a challenge when they come up here," Muench said.

"They can view on their own terms. If it gets overwhelming, they can take a step back."

Jerseys, handwritten notes, flags and many other items keep being sent to Humboldt even months after the deadly bus crash involving the Broncos. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

For all the memorabilia that comes into the community, just as much goes out. 

Summer is usually a slow season for Mike Yager, owner of Spotlight Sport & Corporate Wear Ltd., but his back room is buzzing with the sound of hats being stitched and stickers printed with the Broncos logo or the slogan Humboldt Strong to keep up with the demand for the team's merchandise.

A portion of each sale goes toward the Broncos.

"I think people are doing it to pay tribute to the team to show that togetherness," said Yager.

"[It] gives them the opportunity to proudly display that they are feeling a connection to the people here." 

Last month, Yager started a guest book, which already has 700 signatures, including some from New York City, Russia and Ethiopia. 

Paper cranes symbolizing hope and healing take up a wall at the exhibit. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"Everybody is telling a story," Yager said.

"A lot of it is hockey based, but there is a significant amount of people who have been touched in another way."

'It makes you feel better'

Many of the people who are making a detour to Humboldt are connected through schools, players and families, according to Yager. There are also those who feel impacted because their children ride buses.

The mayor said, "It's been tough on a lot of people. But we're looking forward to get back to our everyday lives here."

That includes a new normal, in which the gallery will play an important role for reflection.

Some people have even donated leatherwork creations for the Humboldt Broncos. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The Humboldt Broncos memorial exhibit runs until Dec. 29.

Donations are rotating on display so everything can eventually be shown, catalogued, digitized then placed in the building's vaults for safekeeping until the community decides what to do with them. 

An offering of prayers is a common theme in the exhibit. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"When you come up here and look at where everything has come from. The amount of work and just what people have put into it and how it's helped our community, I think it makes you feel better," Muench said.


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: