The sky was dark and rain fell steadily in Humboldt, Sask., on the morning of the anniversary of the Broncos’ bus crash.
The Elgar Petersen Arena in this city is packed with an expected 3,000 people, commemorating one year since the Junior A hockey team collided with a semi en route to a playoff game.
Now, at centre ice, there are 29 candles, representing the 29 people aboard the bus at the time of the crash.
‘A whole range of emotions’
Scott Thomas, father of Broncos player Evan Thomas who died in the crash, made his way to the arena a few hours before the memorial — spending about 45 minutes at the crash site along the way.
“It’s a whole range of emotions,” he said.
“On the way up we’re getting texts from family and friends, Evan’s friends texting us with pictures they found on their phones … stuff from when they were eight, nine years old and it makes us smile all the way up. Then we get to the crash site and it’s the exact opposite of that.”
He described the feeling as, “just an emptiness and a void, just surreal, pit of your stomach, make you want to fall down on your knees and cry type of thing.”
He said the minute of silence at 4:50 p.m. CST, the anniversary of the bus crash one year ago, will be especially hard.
“It still seems so unreal that somehow this tragedy hit our family like that. It’s just nonsensical. You’re confused and you’re just heartbroken,” he said.
‘It seems dark in here’
Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench, who is speaking at the memorial, was also inside the arena before the program started.
“It seems dark in here,” he said.
“The last time I was in here was a hockey game, so you know it’s quite different. But it’s something we’re going to have to go through as a community, to recognize this one year anniversary, and we’ll move forward from there.”
The 16 people killed in the crash, and the 13 others that survived, were honoured with a memorial song from a drum group, as well as choir performances and speeches.
Muench said tough memories have started to return for many people as the memorial gets closer.
“It’s been quiet and a bit reserved,” he said.
“People are kind of looking forward to next week when the lights aren’t shining so bright on us and they can get back to their regular routines and the families can have some quiet time themselves.”
Many of the surviving players and their families have spoken recently about how their lives have changed in the past year and what the memorial means to them.
Most of the players are not at today’s memorial service. Instead, they’ll gather privately to watch a video of their last game together and go through photos on social media.
“It will be an emotional time for sure, but it’s a celebration for me. I want to celebrate the lives of everybody on that bus and especially the 16 who aren’t here anymore. I want to remember them for who they were and for the good moments,” Kaleb Dahlgren, an assistant captain of the Broncos who survived the crash, told CBC in the days leading up to the memorial.
CBC News is covering the memorial live on its website and Facebook pages.
This story originally appeared on CBC