WASKADA — It was a day of closure and a chance to celebrate the tragically abbreviated lives of three young boys and a father from rural Manitoba.
On Monday, more than 1,300 friends, family and community members filed into the Jolly Construction Shop in Waskada, located about 130 kilometres southwest of Brandon, for the shared service for Darren Spence, 37, his two sons Gage, 10, and Logan, 9, and their friend and teammate Dawson Pentecost, 9.
The fog of mourning rolled into the village of 200 people on Feb. 10 after Spence’s Cessna 210 crash landed shortly after take-off from the village.
On the day of the funeral, flags flew at half-mast and every vehicle in the area was driving into the same parking lot.
An emotional Gary Williams, the village’s mayor, said the funeral marks an important turn for the grief-stricken village as normal life begins to resume.
"I’m sure for the kids’ sake, there will be times where little things come up and it would have involved those three guys," Williams said prior to the service. "As time goes on you have the memories to hang onto and that’s all you got so you make the best of it."
The boys leave behind eight teammates from the Pierson/Waskada Canucks Atom hockey team.
At the front of the massive service, the boy’s hockey jerseys were enshrined in glass and sat among flowers and photo albums documenting their life.
The always well-attended Canucks games is the highest caliber of hockey played in the village arena and Williams expects the team will no doubt see bigger crowds as their season winds down.
"The outcomes of their games will be something people will be tracking," he said.
The kids’ coaches, who offered up some light-hearted stories of the three kids and the father, gave voice to fond memories of shaping the young hockey players on and off the ice.
Gage the firecracker. Logan the jokester. Dawson the determined.
"I cannot say how lucky it is to have these boys in my life," said coach Jason Wickham.
Wickham also spoke of Darren, giving some insight into where Logan and Gage got their sense of humour.
"At the rink, while we were downstairs getting the team ready, Darren was upstairs, entertaining the parents — especially the moms," he said with a chuckle.
The team’s other coach, Jason Reddin flanked Wickham during the service, remembering fondly the players his team lost last week.
"We lost three unique kids that brought something to the ice every day," he said. "To me, as a coach, as a father, all three represented what hockey is all about."
The tragedy and the victims were mentioned on the Canadian television institution "Coach’s Corner," and Don Cherry sent out words of support for the families while pictures of the team and fallen players were shown on the screen.
"It just breaks your heart," Cherry said on Friday night. "We’re a hockey family and we have to stick together ... god love you all."
In a school of less than 100 students, Waskada School principal Denise Benton said kids have started back to normal life in the wake of the devastation.
"The kids have actually been stellar, they have rallied back and banded together and gotten stronger, they’ve been great," Benton said prior to the service.
There’s little distinction between the grades, she said, which amplified the loss.
"There’s two sides to it. It hits them really hard because we are so small, but at the same sense, they do rally together," she said.
"It’s been tough, but everybody in the school knows everybody, we’re like a big extended family."
The principal of seven years credits the staff’s strength throughout the past week and commended neighbouring districts and schools for extra support. As well, the school was quick to offer counselling for students.
"Because of all the fantastic support we received … we’re at the point where we are ready to move forward and remember the boys and celebrate their lives rather than mourning their death."
Lorna Spence, Darren’s mother and Deb Spence-Wiltshire, his sister, read poems during the funeral to commemorate his love of flying.
"Flight is freedom in its purest form, to dance with the clouds which follow a storm, to roll and glide, to wheel and spin, to feel the joy that wells within," read Spence-Wiltshire.
"Should my end come while I’m in flight, whether brightest day, or darkest night, spare me your pity and shrug off the pain secure in the knowledge that I’d do it again."
The national spotlight is shining on the small, unassuming village, and Mayor Williams, who has been the main spokesperson while the story unfolded, said it’s put a strain on the village.
"We’re not used to seeing our friends and neighbours in the media and then you add the horrific circumstances that went along with this, and I’d have to say it was kind of stressful."
A fund has been set up to help cover the funeral costs for Pentecost. Cheques for the Pentecost family can be made out to the village of Waskada, postal code R0M 2E0.
The village has also set up a special fund in honour of the three young boys. The money donated will be used to send kids in the community to summer hockey camps. Donations can be dropped off or mailed to the Waskada Athletic Club.