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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Chapleau stands with Humboldt Broncos during hockey tragedy in Saskatchewan

More than 40 years ago now I took a course in 20th Century European history from Dr Jacques Goutor, and the first thing I learned from him was that hockey kept Canada together.  Well, he didn't actually come out and say that exactly, but on the first day of class he told us about his arrival in Canada from France.

Dr Goutor told us that upon arriving in Toronto, he went out and bought the newspapers and the headlines were LEAFS WIN STANLEY CUP! It was 1967, our Centennial year as a nation, and the Toronto Maple Leafs had defeated their arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens in six games. It was to be the last time the Leafs would win Lord Stanley's mug. 

If newspaper headlines were about hockey, Dr Goutor decided that Canada would be a great place to live having been raised in France during World War II. He stayed and had a distinguished career at the University of Western Ontario. He died a few years ago.

Ever since,  I have watched the headlines of Canadian  newspapers, and headline writers are ecstatic on those days they can proclaim victory for their local hockey team when it wins a title, and are beside themselves with joy when Canada wins internationally. But they know their audience. Hockey has kept it it all together in this vast and magnificent land where we will travel great distances for a hockey game, and complain about that other great Canadian unifier, the weather.

Fast forward to April 6, 2018, and the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, are travelling by bus for a playoff game --- something that at this time of year, was occurring across Canada. It is playoff time.

I turned to Pam O'Hearn Morin of Chapleau, the mother of two boys who play hockey for help. 

Pam posted on Facebook that on "Friday night I went to bed and had never heard about the Humboldt Broncos. Fast forward to Saturday morning with the tragic news; it is the kind of news that shakes you to the core and for so many reasons. As a parent, THAT IS your worst nightmare. But as a parent of two beautiful boys who not only play hockey (and other sports), the travelling is part of that....to and from games....near and far...great weather and crazy weather. But we do it for our children and for the love of the game. "

Pam of course was referring to the tragic bus accident that, at time of writing, had claimed the lives of 16 people associated with the Humboldt Broncos.
Courtesy Pam O'Hearn Morin


She added: "Hockey will never be the same. Every time I watch my kids play or enter an arena, I will always hold a place in my heart for the victims, their families, the survivors, their friends and everyone in that community that has no doubt been affected by this.  What now? Prayers will continue and any gesture that symbolizes unity and strength we will do."

After watching the vigil in Humboldt, Pam added  "But we have also witnessed the outpouring of support from all over. I always hug my boys and tell them I love them..lately....I am doing more of that. "

While I have believed that hockey was a great unifier, and I too have watched the outpouring of support in communities large and small, and indeed from around the world, never in my life, have I seen such an effort to bring us all together and it is working. Like Pam, many had never heard of Humboldt, Saskatchewan. I had because I worked as a daily newspaper reporter at the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.

I also contacted my friend Gord Woods, whose son Dakotah is currently playing Junior hockey with the Dryden Ice Dogs, and since he was 13, has been travelling on buses to follow his dream. The hockey community in Canada is small in a way, despite distances, and Dakotah knew some players on the Humboldt Broncos.
Courtesy Gord Woods


Gordie added that after receiving the news of the tragedy, he hugged Cedar and Hunter, his children at home, and "phoned Dakotah with a hug". I am sure that was happening all across the country.

I also turned to Charlie Purich, a former Chapleau hockey star who has played hockey most of his life and in the 1960s was referred to as "the catalyst' of the Chapleau High School hockey team.
Charlie Purich circa 1964


Charlie said: "A split second sooner or later, it might not have happened.I think back over the three years I played for Laurentian with all the bus trips down south and back from Sudbury.

"All the car trips to Wawa, Blind River, Sudbury, Timmins, Espanola.All the train trips to Sudbury, Schreiber, Terrace Bay. All to play hockey and be part of a team and to show pride for my town.

"On every team we had such a collective group of supportive players, coaches and trainers.We had fans that joined us both at home and away games.Priceless.

"Nothing can describe that feeling.This terrible happening has touched all of us."

Thank you Charlie. Like Charlie I travelled from Chapleau thousands of miles on hockey trips over the years, and fortunately there were no mishaps. 

Back  to Pam who organized a group photo in Chapleau on Jersey Day for the Broncos with activities across the country


Pam explained: "What started as an idea this morning because I am simply a mom of two boys who play the game. My heart hurts for everyone affected and yet this picture reminds me that there IS strength in numbers and I am so blessed to be surrounded by so many kind people! The photo to which she is referring is the one above of Chapleau folks.

"Thank you all for coming out and thank you to all those who shared the post and were there in spirit. Taken on the Chapleau River, the place where it isn’t uncommon for many to begin playing hockey. It is a simple ges
ture to show that we-CHAPLEAU (not all present of course but due to the short notice I am still proud) stand with all of you who are affected by this tragedy. In the darkness, there is a light...a light that has been glimmering...glimmering with Hope shown through unity, Prayers, Strength and Love.
"Thank you Kari Luhtasaari for taking the time to capture this picture and thank you to Wade Cachagee for the awesome sign and Joel Langelier for his drone photo."

Yes Pam, many of us throughout the history of Chapleau began playing hockey on the "Front River" where you had the photo taken, and on the pond on the "Back River" too.

Way back Dr. Goutor used hockey as a metaphor for safe place to live after the horrors of World War II. In 2018, the outpouring of support for all those affected by this tragedy demonstrates once again that Canadians from all walks of life, and communities large and small, can focus on actions which bring us all together. For sure my friends, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

My most sincere thanks to Pam O'Hearn Morin, Charlie Purich, Gord Woods, Pat Purich Russell for their assistance with this column. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet

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