On April 6, 2018, 16 people were killed and 13 were injured when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, a junior ice hockey team, slammed into a semi-trailer truck that had failed to stop at an intersection between two highways in Saskatchewan. Most of the victims were 18-20 year olds, although the team’s coach and physical therapist, as well as the bus driver and two radio station employees on the bus also died. This horrific tragedy received international press coverage and resulted in $15M being raised in a GoFundMe campaign. As a sign of respect and grief, Canadians everywhere put hockey sticks on their porches, a kind of vernacular memorial that allowed people to participate no matter where they were. Songs also emerged very quickly.
Smitty Kingston, a singer-songwriter from Kingston, Ontario, was one of the first to write and post a song, explaining that he couldn’t sleep after hearing the news and wrote a song to process his feelings. He posted the video on YouTube on April 10, four days after the crash. His song references the practice of putting hockey sticks on porches in tribute.
As the Canadian news media sought to provide new angles on the story for a shocked and grieving Canadian audience, and as it sought uplifting human interest stories to offset the horror of the tragedy itself, it began covering Kingston’s song as a story in itself. Alongside local and regional coverage in many media outlets, the CBC and Global News both covered the story nationally on April 11, the day after Kingston posted the video, helping the video to be viewed more than 100,000 times.
Others wrote songs too, some of which were picked up and circulated by the news media. An additional list of songs is documented here.
Emerald Greene Duo wrote and recorded “Humboldt Broncos Tribute Song” (a Facebook video is embedded in this page).
Marek Norman composed Song Cycle: The Light that Shines (I couldn’t find any online recordings). In my experience, it is rare to find a “classical” or “high art” composition about a tragedy like the Humboldt bus crash. Most songs tend to be vernacular or folk songs, alongside a number of pop or commercial songs.
Two Grade 12 students at a local high school wrote a song that they performed at the school’s chapel service in honour of the families and community of Humboldt. They then made a studio recording of their song:
CTV invited singer-songwriter Mitch Zorn to perform his Humboldt song on their Regina morning show. Zorn explains that he wrote the song very quickly within a couple of days of the disaster, and he donates all proceeds from the song to the victims’ families:
Two young sisters wrote a song, “Hockey in Heaven,” as a love song for the grieving Humboldt families, a song covered by CTV:
Donny Lee’s “16 Souls”:
Mark Perry’s “Cold Road”:
Kym Simon’s tribute to Humboldt’s first responders:
“Humboldt Broncos Strong,” by Ivan Danes:
Two major Canadian artists rewrote songs for the Humboldt tragedy. The first to do so was Calgary country singer Paul Brandt, who rewrote his song, “Small Towns, Big Dreams” (the original lyrics are here and the new lyrics are here):
Tom Cochrane and the rock band Red Rider had written “Big League” in 1988, when it first became a hit. It’s about an 18-year old aspiring hockey player who is killed in a road accident. It’s been a hockey anthem ever since, and often played at funerals for young hockey players. For obvious reasons, people immediately thought of this song after the Humboldt crash. Cochrane rewrote the lyrics somewhat to more closely connect it to the Humboldt bus crash and played it in an acoustic version for TSN’s NHL Playoff preview special only a few days after the crash: