Jersey Day especially poignant for N.L. town with family connection to tragedy - InfoNews

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Jersey Day especially poignant for N.L. town with family connection to tragedy

John Rennie high school students wear jersey's at their school in Montreal, Thursday, April, 12, 2018, in honour of the victims of the Humboldt bus crash. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
April 12, 2018 - 11:12 AM

BAY ROBERTS, N.L. - It's been 40 years since Ed Tobin wore the yellow jersey of Ascension Collegiate's Astros, when he and his teammates carried the Bay Roberts high school hockey team to victory at Newfoundland's provincial championships.

Today, Ascension students poured into the school clad in jerseys and green and yellow to honour the memory of Tobin's son Parker, who was among 16 people killed in the Humboldt Broncos crash in Saskatchewan.

Across the country Thursday, people showed up to work and school decked out in sports jerseys as part of Jersey Day, inspired by a group of British Columbia hockey moms to send a message of support for the families who lost loved ones in the Humboldt crash.

For this small Newfoundland town, thousands of miles away, the connection is personal and the grief intense.

Glenn Littlejohn, a childhood friend and former teammate of Ed Tobin, was getting ready to drive his son to school on Saturday morning when he caught the images from Saskatchewan.

"When I saw the bus and Humboldt, my first thought was Parker," said Littlejohn.

Ed Tobin's brother still lives in the town. One woman, standing under the Canadian, provincial and Bay Roberts flags at half mast just down the road from the school, said she was especially struck when she saw Parker Tobin's picture — he looked just like his uncle as a kid.

The town is holding a vigil Thursday night for Parker and his family. Littlejohn spoke to Ed on the phone Wednesday night, and planned to share some words from the family. He said Tobin and his wife Rhonda feel the support from home is helping them get through the tragedy.

"It's been even beyond his wildest beliefs," said Littlejohn. "They're so appreciative."

Jerseys were worn across the country, with many employers encouraging staff to wear jerseys.

At Ontario's legislature, members of provincial parliament from all parties wore jerseys during question period in the house.

Meanwhile, Toronto's transit authority said it was allowing employees to wear jerseys over their uniforms. And a number of Toronto schools posted photographs on social media of students wearing their jerseys.

Farialle Pacha, 26, an employee of a wealth-management firm in downtown Toronto, wore her cousin's AHL sweater in solidarity with the Broncos.

"Being Canadian and hockey being so entrenched in our culture and it's such a terrible tragedy to have so many young lives go in such a terrible way — my brothers play sports and I play sports and you can't imagine something like that happening to your family — anything you can do to show solidarity and support for those who lost those young lives, it just seems like the right thing to do," she said.

Bailey MacLachlan, 25, said the bank she works for sent a mass email asking people to show support. She wore a Maple Leafs jersey.

"It really hit close to home. It was a horrible accident," she said. "I'm part of a hockey community, so it was something that I could really relate to. I just think it's great how all these different towns, cities, countries have come together to show their support and help those who are dealing with it heal."

Paramedics in Peel region, west of Toronto, and police officers in Guelph, Ont., were among those who donned their jerseys. In Quinte West, Ont., provincial police showed their support by having two members of their canine unit wear jerseys and pose for a photograph alongside uniformed officers.

In Alberta, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft donned a red Team Canada jersey to deliver a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce extolling trade between Canada and the United States on Thursday morning.

She said she and her husband, Joe, were "deeply saddened" by the tragedy.

On Parliament Hill, a lone hockey stick leaned outside the Senate entrance to the Centre Block.

Political and non-political Parliament Hill staffers donned hockey and football jerseys, or whatever sports shirts they had. MPs, cabinet ministers and senators tweeted photos of themselves wearing jerseys as well.

Dozens of Senate staffers jammed the Hall of Honour for a lunch hour picture.

Among them was Isabelle Poulin, who is from Zenon Park, Sask. She said her family regularly drove the same stretch of highway where the accident happened, and still has close friends back home who were affected.

"Being from home and knowing people who knew some of the kids intimately, like my best friend's daughter is in the same class as Xavier Labelle," Poulin said. "It just hits a little bit closer to home to know that people you know so well like your brothers and sisters, their children are going through all this heartache."

In Halifax, staff at Citadel High School were dressed in the school's oversized hockey jerseys as they greeted students arriving for morning classes.

Ryan Connors, coach of the boys' Phoenix hockey team at Citadel, said he was devastated when news started coming in last Friday of a team bus crash in rural Saskatchewan.

"It was surreal," he said, wearing one of the team's black and red jerseys. "I've taken a lot of players from this school on bus trips for the last 16 years and it was gut-wrenching just thinking it could have happened to anyone, any time."

"Some of our kids are the same age as the players that would have passed in this tragedy and they've been on buses their whole lives right from novice on. That's a rite of passage — playing hockey is being on a bus."

For his young players, Connors said Jersey Day was a "way for them to find some peace."

Anthony Hall agreed. The 18-year-old forward wore his Phoenix jersey to send a message to anyone affected by the tragedy, which also left 13 injured.

"We travel on buses all the time and these guys, they're some of your best friends, you know, you consider them your brothers — it's your family — and just imagining that happening to your group of guys, it's heartbreaking," he said.

Jersey Day organizer Jennifer Pinch said she wanted Humboldt to know it's not alone and hoped participants would post a photo of themselves in a jersey on social media with the hashtag #jerseysforhumboldt.

Grade 12 student Mason Oates went to Ascension Collegiate in Bay Roberts Thursday wearing his Astros jersey; Oates views his friends on the school hockey team as a second family.

"Over the years I've travelled a lot with my high school team," Oates said. "I can't imagine the pain that the families are going through. If I were to get on a bus, and to lose all your teammates and family like that it would be tragic."

Oates said he doesn't know anyone from the Tobin family, but "still felt it" when he heard the news. The team has talked about it and "we've all got our sticks out to it." They all planned to attend Thursday's memorial.

"It's nice that hockey stretches out so far. It's a small world."

- With files from Alison Auld in Halifax, Colin Perkel in Toronto and Jordan Press in Ottawa

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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