WASKADA — Jason Wickham was a hockey coach talking about three lost players, and how his team of young boys will persevere.
"We’re just going to try and do it together," Wickham said. "I’ve never woken up to something like this before. So we’re just going to have to learn together."
Wickham could have been speaking about a community, not just a hockey team. A week ago Sunday, this southwestern Manitoba village of 200 residents was rocked by the death of four residents — Darren Spence and his two sons, nine-year-old Logan and 10-year-old Gage, and their nine-year-old friend Dawson Pentecost — in a plane crash that made national headlines.
Despite weather warnings on Monday and terrible road conditions in parts of southern Manitoba, more than 1,300 mourners packed into a construction company shop that volunteers had spent days emptying to make room for the funeral services. Bulldozers and semi-trailers had been replaced by three framed gold-and-green jerseys of the Atom Canucks, which belonged to the boys, and a head table filled with flowers and photo albums.
Darren Spence, 37, was an experienced crop dusting pilot who that Sunday afternoon, nine days ago, was taking his two sons for a plane ride. They asked along Logan and Gage’s good friend, Dawson, who had never flown before.
The six-seater Cessna 210 was scheduled to fly to Brandon. It was spotted around 7 p.m. Sunday after crashing in an open field about 10 kilometres north of Waskada.
Volunteers had set out 850 chairs in the construction company’s main shop Monday, along with an additional 300 chairs in an adjacent room. It was standing room only when the service began.
The 90-minute service included poems in remembrance of Darren Spence from his mother Lorna and sister Deb Spence Wiltshire. For the boys, both team coaches Wickham and Jason Reddin offered short eulogies.
Padre Steve Neil offered the opening prayer in a multi-denominational service that was also conducted by Rev. Heather Sandilands and Pastor Glen Whetter.
Wickham described the presence of the three boys on what had been an 11-member team: Gage had the shot and could score on a blast from the blue-line; Logan was the comic, who once came back to the bench after one shift and announced he had "taken his game to another level;" Dawson was the "quiet leader" who never gave up. The coach sometimes wondered if Dawson sometimes gave the puck up on purpose just to chase it down again.
"Boys, thank you for representing your town," Wickham said. "You did it with hard work, determination and class. You’ll always be part of our team."
Hockey was the theme of the memorial service. Along with the framed jerseys, members of the regional high school team wore their jerseys and escorted family members into the make-shift hall.
Many mourners were wearing tri-coloured ribbons of navy blue for Dawson (Jets colours), teal for Gage, who sometime had it streaked in his hair, and orange for Logan, the colour of his favourite hoodie.
The ribbons were made by local schoolchildren.
Waskada Mayor Gary Williams agreed that the morning after Monday’s funeral "is going to be a big day."
"This place (the construction company building) is going to be returned to what it’s usually used for," the mayor explained. "That’s going to complete the initial stages (of mourning). Then it’s going to be the little things that are going to come up ..."
For example, Williams said, residents will pay close attention to the Atom boys team moving forward. After all, they were the oldest hockey team left in Waskada.
"They were the show," Williams said. "That was it."
Trying to hold his composure, Williams cited the example of the questions remaining for the lost boys’ friends in such a close-knit community.
"One little guy looked out one door and there’s a teddy bear of a father (Spence) with two kids living there (down the street). And a block away there’s another little guy (Dawson)," Williams said. "What’s his life like now? In a town of 200 people he had a great set up. He had these little friends right there. Now they’re gone.
"It’s part of living in a village for a guy like me. You see these little kids riding their bikes around. That’s what you want. (Kids) playing hide-and-seek.
"And this was the kind of a town where a kid could thrive in that. We don’t have a 7-Eleven on every corner. We don’t have a lot of the extracurricular activities. But a kid can really be a kid here. You can just go out and ride on your bike and your folks know you’ll come in when you’re hungry," said Williams.
"We’ll really miss watching those little guys."
» Winnipeg Free Press