In Memoriam – Bathurst High School Phantoms

A little over eighteen years ago, two weeks after I started high school at BHS, on September 16th, 1989 my brother died. Stephen was 22, a mentor, good buddy and pretty much all a 14 year old could wish for in an older brother. I spent a week at home, grieving with my family and then, adrift, went back to school. One of the hundred things I never got to tell my brother was that I was a Bathurst High School hockey Phantom, same as him, and had gotten the number he’d worn in high school. (who knows… could have been the same jersey 🙂 ) The hockey team, and the soccer team, were connections, in a sense, to my brother and they were an opening to a whole new world of the ‘big boys’ that a boy from a hamlet of 360 people was more than a little surprised about.

So there I was, sitting in the back corner of the second seat in the high school sports van going to a hockey game, and I heard “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” come wailing out of the speaker next to me. It was dusk, I can still remember the feel of the plastic seats and the weird sense of trying to belong to something I really didn’t understand (and the ever-present smell of hockey gear). Listening to music that was clearly from another world. I remember “Squeeze Box” and “The night they drove old Dixie Down” and, of course, everything Led Zeppelin ever recorded. It was, really, the first time I’d heard any of the music that is pretty much the foundation of the music that I listen to today. I joined the soccer team and the rugby team, and spent alot of that year driving around in the back of a van. The hockey, rugby and soccer games were fun… but belonging to the community was the real worth of the effort…. I eventually go to know some of those huge looming athletes who became new mentors for me, who were, in retrospect, very kind to a little kid who very much needed a place to belong.

Two years later, I remember getting to BHS at about 6am, still barely recovered from the numerous… uh… sodas that I’d had the night before and meeting up with Timmy, the prop on our rugby team. He, the hooker, scrum half and myself took the van on the left, the rest of the rugby team took the other van. One long seat each… and we slept most of the way to Fredericton for a game that I can still remember as clear as day. I ran like my life depended on it that day, if only to keep people from tackling me… I’m not sure my stomach would have handled it :P. I, in my turn grew from that little kid sitting in the van into one of the leaders (if never a ‘looming athlete’, my 5′ 8″ frame isn’t really looming to anyone), was one of the people who made an effort to be kind to the group coming up behind me.

Alot of my high school was spent in the back of the van going to and from some sporting event or other. A sizable chunk of who I am was formed by the teammates and the coaches that I shared that time with. It is a very important part of who I am. So many coaches who took time out of their personal lives (something I understand much better now that I have a two year old) and teammates that I haven’t seen in years, but still remember. Those trips were important and they were fun.

Seven people, somewhere on that transition between “scared first time hearing pink floyd” kid and “ok, we’re the captains of this rugby team, we’re taking this van” kid died this week in a van coming back from a basketball game. Boys just like I was, like those teammates I remember, and most likely like my son Oscar will be someday – they kids almost home who will never now come home. I can’t help but see the faces of my old teammates in the faces of the people in the photographs on the facebook site that the students have set up as a memoriam. Some of them are, probably, related to those old friends of mine. A patch of ice, a slide across the road that all of us in Northern New Brunswick have made at one time or another during the winter. A slide that this time just happen to have the devastatingly bad luck to coincide with the passing of a tractor trailer in the other direction. That’s it. One piece of bad luck.

Another passenger died along with the seven boys. The wife of one of the coaches. Just another person of the throng of hundreds who supports students so that they can get to those games, and have those formative experiences. Another person making one of those tiny sacrifices that keep our society running who was taken away by that same piece of ice and the same piece of bad luck.

To the students and parents of Bathurst High School, my heart goes out to you. You are being thought of around the world this week… we have traveled a long way we alumni, but a sizable piece of who were are was formed by the same walls that you are grieving in today. I wish you strength, and the friendship and solace of those that are around you. To Mr. Lord, who was one of those people who sacrificed his time for me when I was at BHS, I’m terribly sorry. I know it doesn’t help, but I am sorry.

I remember very clearly those first few terrible “this can’t have happened” days after my own brother died over half my life ago. The sharp, terrible clarity of the realization that I won’t see him has faded into a regret of the lack of possible futures with him. I often wonder what my life would be like had he not died, and I still dream of him. And no, they wont be forgotten.

peace.

Author: dave

I run this site… among other things.

21 thoughts on “In Memoriam – Bathurst High School Phantoms”

  1. There’s nothing, really, that can be said here. So I’ll quote James Keelaghan:

    Johnny Mack lived near Maple Creek
    He was long and lean and tough
    A level head and a steady hand
    And a wizard with the puck
    And once across the blue line oh
    He’d never let you down
    You could tell by the look in his coal black eyes
    That boy was glory bound

    He could bring the home town to its feet
    With a goal in overtime
    The scouts had pegged him sure enough
    It was just a matter of time
    If there was any justice in this world
    He’d be picked in the second round
    Cause he had the goods there was no denying
    That boy was glory bound

    One afternoon before a game
    I stopped by Johnny’s place
    With my father’s car and a feeling in my heart
    That night we’d take first place
    But there was something that he’d left behind
    He’d fetch it back in town
    I never dreamt it at the time
    That fate would strike him down

    Oh, we phoned the Mounties when he didn’t show
    They found him in a ditch
    between here and Shaunavon
    Roof caved in and it’s fifty below
    Sirens wail, blizzard blows

    Johnny died young but I grew old
    And since that time I’ve come to think
    When I see his name engraved on trophies
    Or his picture in a case in the Kinsmen’s rink
    He somehow slipped the bonds of time
    He’s gained himself renown
    And I’ve started on that slow slide back
    But he’s forever glory bound
    And I’ve started on that slow slide back
    But he’s forever glory bound

    http://www.keelaghan.com/

  2. Thanks Dave,

    The heart of every parent jumped just a little when they heard about the tragic accident in New Brunswick. The parents of every child who leaves home on such trips understand deeply what what the parents, students and staff of your former high school must be going through right now. My son, although older than the students involved in this tragic accident is currently on a plane travelling from Calgary to Montréal en route to a short track speed skating competition. I am sure he will contact us when he gets there but we will wait with a certain deal of trepidation until that happens.

    Thanks for your sharing.

  3. I was passing through Bathurst early Saturday morning, on a typical northern New Brunswick winter day. It’s very sad indeed, but I keep wondering about our culture that has us traveling about in the dead of winter in uncertain road conditions.

    No one ever wants to cancel a meet, so we just push on. I lost my father in a car accident and I’ve left the road several times due to poor road conditions. I don’t know, but maybe we should learn something from this.

  4. I agree with Harold, we all need to learn something from this. As a student at UNBF, I travel to Bathurst (my hometown)almost every weekend to visit my Boyfriend and my family. This weekend I decided to stay in Fredericton because of the forecast for freezing rain. I heard about the tragic accident Saturday afternoon and I was just heartbroken. Although I do not know any of the victims, I know some of their families. It made me realize just how important it is to weigh in the weather forecast before traveling. I am almost extra cautious about driving in bad weather, but I know many people who will take the risk. As a future teacher and hopefully a future parent, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of the families, the school and the community as a whole. My heart is with all of you, and I wish I could be there to help.

  5. I once taught school in Newcastle, NB, and visiting Bathurst became sort of a routine for me. One of my best friends in Newcastle at the time was a fellow teacher, Don Dickie, who was a native of Bathurst and who took another teaching job moving back to his home town. I’ve been through experiences where multiple-student deaths occurred but nothing to match this tragedy. My thoughts go out to the parents and friends, especially fellow student-friends of those who died. We know that in their hearts is a type of love that transcends color, religion, background, and whatever you want to name. It comes from the fact that those who might have gone on to achieve great things for their own parents, friends, wives, and children have been unexpectedly stopped in their venture. Stopped by a weather driven accident similar in nature to many that happen in Canada every winter. Let us not forgot those who died; may someone be there to support those who need help to overcome the heartbreak that goes with the memory of such a disaster.

  6. Thank you for sharing your very touching story Dave. I too am from Bathurst and attended BHS, Mr. Lord is an amazing teacher/coach and my heart goes out to his family as well as the families of the others. The whole community is in mourning and I keep them all in my prayers. I received a message on facebook asking to wear red and black on wednesday to remember those lost, I am currently in Halifax and will be proud to wear my school colors for them. RIP boys in red and Mrs. Lord, you will never be forgotten but missed terribly.

  7. I just want to send My deepesy condolences to all of the families and friends of the young men and Mrs Lord who’s lives were so tragically taken from them on Sat morning.I’m so sorry for your losses and My prayers are with you all.

  8. To all of you in Bathurst that have lost your lovely young sons and also a beloved wife, there are so many of us all over Canada that are praying for you. This senseless tragedy has touched us all deeply and I personally wish I could be there to help you out in some way. I wish I could put my arms around each and every one of you, mother, father, brother, sister to comfort. Be there for each other.

  9. We want to send our condelences to all of the families of the young persons,and Mrs Lord,who tragically pass away last saturday.All our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  10. My sincere sympathy goes out to the family and friends of the seven young boys and teacher who lost their lives in that horrible accident.
    R.I.P
    My prayers and thoughts are with you all at this time!

  11. As a fellow teacher/coach in Ottawa who oftens travels with athletes for competitions, I just wanted to say that our hearts and thoughts are with all of you at Bathurst HS during this very sad time. The articles written and posted have truly touch all of us across Canada.

    Dave, you said it best when you mentioned that some of our greatest memories in high school are spent travelling with the team and competing for your school. I too share these sentiments and attempt as a teacher now to make that impact on my students.

    Mr. Lord, while I have never met the man, seems to be one of these tremendous people doing extra-ordinary things and make impressions on young people. He truly stands for what teaching and coaching is all about. This “unfortunate incident” or “bad luck” is beyond words. From all of us across this great nation, our greatest condolences for your loss.

  12. Hi Dave – thanks for sharing of yourself and your experiences. Like most Canadians and many others from around the world, I find this tragedy to be a heart-wrenching reminder of the things that matter most in life – relationships, connections, friends, family. Reading through your post and sensing your own re-awakening to your tragedy from years ago is touching.
    George

  13. It is a shame that the only time people get together to praise and help others, is during tragedies like this. The government must start looking into how to make transportation on most of our highways more safe. The boys in red will be long remebered, let’s not let them die in vain, and get our highways safety improved.

    Remane the highway “Boys in Red memorial Highway”

  14. My family and I are deeply saddened by the loss of your darling seven boys and your kind teacher Mrs. Lord. We were traveling to Shipagan that same night for my son’s hockey tournament. The horrible news found us the next morning and I have not been able to stop thinking of it ever since. I feel so much pain and sorrow for the families and the community and for lives lost at such a young age. Our hearts and thoughts are with you.

  15. Wonderful tribute, Dave. An apt reminder that we have to value every moment we get with loved ones.

    peace.

    Richard (BHS grad ’87)

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