A deadly bus crash that united a hockey-mad country in grief and spurred people to leave sticks on porches from coast to coast has been selected as Canada’s News Story of the Year.
The Canadian Press annual survey of newsrooms across the country saw 53 out of 129 editors cast their votes for the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in rural Saskatchewan as the most compelling story of 2018.
The legalization of recreational cannabis in October came a close second with 51 votes.
“Although cannabis is landmark legislation, legalization arrived mostly with a shrug,” wrote Murray Wood, provincial news director with Saskatchewan radio stations CJME and CKOM.
“No story affected Canadians in 2018 more than the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.”
The junior hockey team was on its way to a playoff game when its bus and a semi-truck collided at a crossroads on April 6. Sixteen people were killed. Another 13 were injured.
The crash made headlines around the world and struck a chord with hockey-loving Canadians, many of whom saw themselves and their children in the young players and their grieving families.
Some of the players were changing into suits and others were texting girlfriends as the Junior A team’s bus headed to Nipawin for a matchup against the Hawks. It was at an intersection just north of Tisdale where the bus and a truck carrying a load of peat moss collided.
Motorists who stopped to help, as well as some parents who were also on their way to the game, were met with a chaotic, gruesome scene. Those who survived were sent to nearby hospitals, the dead to a makeshift morgue.
Aerial pictures of the devastation are seared into the nation’s memory.
“Almost everyone in this country has climbed onto a bus with their peers or put a child on a bus for an out-of-town trip,” wrote Tim Switzer, managing editor of the Regina Leader-Post newspaper. “Many people could relate.”
Ten players along with the team’s coach, an assistant coach, trainer, radio play-by-play announcer, statistician and the bus driver were killed. Of the injured, two players were paralyzed and two received serious brain injuries.
“The aching void of unrealized potential, the memorial services, and the fundraisers captured the interest of Canadians — in an event basically unmatched since Terry Fox’s death in the middle of his Marathon of Hope almost 40 years ago,” said Bill McGuire, editorial page editor of Charlottetown’s Guardian newspaper.
Canadians and others around the world started leaving hockey sticks on their front porches to honour the team. Many sticks are still standing outside.
“You only had to walk through the streets of Toronto for weeks afterwards and see all these hockey sticks on the front steps of people’s homes to know that this horrific accident, so many thousands of kilometres away, had reached in and tugged on the hearts of every hockey-loving Canadian,” said Janet Hurley, a senior editor at the Toronto Star.
People from more than 80 countries donated $15 million to support those on the bus and their families, making it the second-highest GoFundMe fundraiser of the year next to the Time’s Up legal defence fund to fight sexual harassment and discrimination.
Lorne Motley, editor-in-chief of the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun, noted that the Humboldt story continues to make headlines about truck-driver training, the painstaking recovery of survivors and calls from players’ families for mandatory seatbelts on buses and trucks.
The story will continue to be in the news in the new year.
RCMP have charged the truck’s driver, Jaskirat Sidhu, with 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily injury.
Sukhmander Singh, owner of Adesh Deol Trucking in Calgary, also faces eight charges relating to non-compliance with federal and provincial safety regulations in the months before the crash.
Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press