December 30th is a day for many in the southwest of Saskatchewan that is unforgettable, a day reminding locals of terrible tragedy that occured nearly 30 years ago.
This past Wednesday marked the 29th anniversary of the 1986 bus crash 4km outside of Swift Current that killed four members of the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League.
The team was on their way to Regina that afternoon to meet the Pats in a regulation matchup of junior hockey. Bronco Sheldon Kennedy was on the bus that day in December and recalled the experience with SwiftCurrentOnline.
"We were running late that day, a few things had gone on and we were running late so people were already in their positions and some were sleeping. I remember as a young kid just being in shock. Sometimes when incidents or accidents happen, they're hard to explain to people," Kennedy remembers.
"I remember walking in the snow and standing on the pavement in my socks and my feet not being cold. I'm getting to the hospital.. when we got to the hospital, the word came in that this had happened, this happened. Back then there was no cell phones so I know families were going into watch their kids play in Regina, my family was, and all they heard when they got to the gate in Regina was there was a bus accident in Swift Current and four kids had died. So parents didn't know which kids had passed, so it was very confusing and just a very sad, tragic event."
Multiple posts were made on social media about the anniversary Wednesday, with some commenting the crash brought the team and the community closer together. The team won (what remains) the only Memorial Cup in Bronco franchise history in 1989. Kennedy was a part of the Cup winning club.
"The team definitely rallied around each other and the city rallied around the team. There was that sense of the community grieving. It was a very tragic event. Part of it was the guys wanted to do it.. there was something to play for that year. There was a passion that was more than winning. It was about doing it for the boys, the guys. I think whenever that is in play, you get some inspirational leadership out of it. If you look at what happened, and going on to win the Memorial Cup with a number of players still on the team from the bus crash. I think the first thing that was said when we won the Cup was, 'That was for the guys."
The former NHL'er plays an integral role across Canada in raising awareness for children and young adults experiencing childhood trauma and/or abuse. Sheldon says an incident like this warrants some forms of PTSD.
"We look at the four individuals we lost and I think of their families. Trent (Kresse) was engaged, Scotty (Scott) Kruger whose brothers and uncle was on the bus, we look at Brent (Ruff) being 16, so young and so much talent, and then Chris (Mantyka) and his family being from Saskatoon, a character player. All good people and young. We look at the impact, say if four soldiers and their tank blew up on a roadside bomb, we know the impact PTSD has on those individuals. It is no different than what went on that bus. The emotional impact of trauma, seeing four of your friends and teammates pass in front of your eyes, that had a lot of impact on a lot of guys. When we say these events like this create scars that last a lifetime, we know what they are and that is the impact of trauma or PTSD."
Kennedy says whenever the day comes up, he always remembers the lives lost and the impact it has and continues to have on their families.
"We were a close team. It was the first year of a brand new team of players coming from everywhere, we just came from Lethbridge and I know there wasn't a lot of remaining players that were on the Lethbridge team that came to Swift so it was a bunch of new guys and everyone got along really well. I think at that age, from what I remember, we were all close. The committment in junior hockey... you're playing everyday, you're practising everyday, you're spending all this time together and everyone was excited. It was our first game back after Christmas break so everyone got back a day or two before. It has a major impact on families and teammates for the rest of their lives. For me, when this day comes up, I think of the families of the people that lost their son, their fiancee, their brother in that event."
Sheldon Kennedy will be making his way to Swift Current next weekend for the screening of his documentary film "Swift Current", which tells the stories of victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of former coach Graham James. A speech from Sheldon and panel discussion on trauma and abuse will also be a part of the event along with the film, which aired across Canada on Global in November.