Mr. Speaker, last week, a group of people gathered to mark a loss of life of near-unprecedented magnitude in Canada. These people gathered in the cold just before the start of the NHL playoffs, an event that most Canadian families usually do not want to miss.
They brought hockey sticks, not to play with this time, but to hold quietly and say a prayer. This did not happen in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, or even in the town next door. It was more than 5,000 kilometres away, in the community of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador. From the heart of our beautiful Canadian prairies to the outermost limits of our nation at the edge of the continent, the tragedy that took 16 lives and shattered hundreds more has connected us all in a way we never expected.
Anyone who drives Canada's highways knows the vastness of our country. The feverish pitch of activity in many countries contrasts with Canada's highways and rural roads, the farm fields, small villages, and remote communities.
I am proud to live in the great province of Saskatchewan. We have hundreds of small communities, all spread out. It has always struck me how, despite the hundreds and hundreds of small towns over a space larger than most European countries, people always seem to know someone from one of those towns, no matter where they live. A friend could mention that he is from Hanley, and everyone will know where that is. I once asked a friend of mine how he always seemed to know where so many of these small towns are. They surely could not have taught every town and village in geography class in Saskatchewan. “It's simple,” he said. “I played hockey. I've probably been to more than half of them.”
It is always a tragedy to lose a loved one. Far too many Canadians lose their lives on our roads and highways every year, but to have lost so many young people, all taken at once, has sent shockwaves through our entire province and our country.
We may be spread out all over to the four corners of our province, but there are many things that connect us together. There are so many reasons why we always seem to know somebody from every corner of Saskatchewan. There are not too many degrees of separation. It is almost like the whole province is one big small town. Everybody feels connected. People support each other, whether they are from Meadow Lake, Nipawin, Estevan, Fort Qu'Appelle, or Humboldt. We care about the people from our province. We cheer them on. We rally together, and we do it with pride.
Hockey has been one of those great unifiers that pull communities together. With that community spirit, sport is one of the greatest unifiers of all. On game night, everyone heads down to the arena for the match. Getting a rink burger is even considered a romantic date. It is where one hears all the town news, gets all the good gossip, and finds out the big events for the weekend. There are friendly rivalries, memories of legendary games and players, and the fall fundraiser to pay for new boards or new stands.
For the kids who play on these teams, these will be some of the best days of their lives. They develop friendships on the ice and on the bus that become lifelong bonds. Laughing in hotel rooms and holding up championship trophies, they learn to depend on each other and to trust each other. They tap their goalie on the helmet and say something nice, even after he lets in a goal. They learn the valuable lessons of sportsmanship: how to win, how to lose, how to communicate, and how to listen. They learn that hard work pays off. Best of all, they learn what it means to be a teammate.
So many young boys and girls have ridden the bus down those long stretches of highways, in good weather and bad. So many parents have followed along. So many families have opened their doors to billet young kids playing out their dreams. That is why this tragedy has shaken us all so much.
However, in times of crisis, in times of tragedy, a Canadian in Humboldt, Saskatchewan becomes the neighbour of a Canadian in Newfoundland, British Columbia, or the territories. For days, Canadians have been leaving hockey sticks outside their front doors in a show of mourning for the lives lost in the Humboldt Broncos family. In our hockey-obsessed country, a stick left against a garage door or on a front porch is as normal a sight as the school bus pulling up to the curb in the morning, as comforting as mom calling the kids in for dinner. Last week, those sticks became a symbol of a nation coming together to grieve and to support the families and friends of the Humboldt Broncos.
We simply cannot imagine what the family and friends of the 16 people who lost their lives in this terrible accident are going through. It is a tragedy that defies understanding. It is a moment in time that brought our country to a standstill and from which we are just now starting to recover.
From a small town in Saskatchewan has flowed a river of grief, one that has washed over thousands of families across the country. Everybody back home knew somebody touched by this tragedy: their doctor's cousin, their sister's co-worker, their son's neighbour.
To the community of Humboldt and to the towns across Canada from which the victims came just to play the game they love, we say we grieve with them and we will remember them. No matter where they live, no matter how quiet the nights seem, no matter how small the town feels, we are all their neighbours now.
To those still recovering in hospital, we are thinking of you and sending our prayers for strength for the challenges that lay ahead. That powerful photo of Derek, Graysen, and Nick holding hands in the hospital has become a powerful image. As Premier Scott Moe said, “Saskatchewan, these are our boys.”
The entire country will be there to help support the victims and their families and to keep the game going and win the next one for the Broncos. For those we lost, Dayna, Parker, Darcy, Brodie, Logan, Jaxon, Adam, Mark, Tyler, Stephen, Logan, Conner, Glen, Evan, Jacob, and Logan, may God rest their souls. For them, we will keep the stands full, we will keep the rink lights on, and we will keep the sticks by the door.