Friday, 09 March 2018 15:44

Good progress with expansion of Swift Current Broncos memorial site

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The Swift Current Broncos memorial site is located east of Swift Current next to the Trans-Canada Highway. From left to right, R.M. of Swift Current No. 137 Administrator Linda Boser, R.M. of Swift Current Division 4 Councillor Mark Carefoot, Bill Lee, and R.M. of Swift Current Reeve Bob Neufeld. The Swift Current Broncos memorial site is located east of Swift Current next to the Trans-Canada Highway. From left to right, R.M. of Swift Current No. 137 Administrator Linda Boser, R.M. of Swift Current Division 4 Councillor Mark Carefoot, Bill Lee, and R.M. of Swift Current Reeve Bob Neufeld. Matthew Liebenberg/Prairie Post

The work to expand the Swift Current Broncos memorial site to improve visitor access has made significant progress since the fall.

 

The monument in memory of four Swift Current Broncos hockey players – Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff – was officially unveiled in December 2016 on the 30th anniversary of the tragic bus crash.

The site is located east of Swift Current at the corner of the Trans-Canada Highway and the Merivale Nursery road turnoff.

For Bill Lee, who has been the driving force behind the initiative to erect a monument near the crash site, the unveiling of the monument was the realization of a long-time goal.

“It's been life changing, for sure,” he said. “I'm starting to realize how it affected so many people. I did it for the four families and especially Louise and Scoof Kruger and their four boys, whom I grew up with for several years. ... I didn't realize there was still thousands of people that had hurt and they were touched by it.”

He placed a mailbox at the memorial site entrance with a guest book for visitors to sign, and he can therefore get a sense from where visitors are coming from.

“I've got people from Vancouver, Victoria, Yellowknife, Nova Scotia,” he said. “People from Australia have signed it and from all over the world. So it's just starting to dawn on me how significant this is, not only for Swift Current, but for Canada itself.”

Soon after the unveiling it became clear there was a need to expand the site to accommodate the variety of vehicles, including large buses, that stop at the monument.

“It's really amazing, now that we've expanded it,” he said. “It's easier for the busses to go right in. The way we have it set up now, we have an access road from the south that will take you all the way around the back side of the monument and then you come back out on the north side.”

The expansion of the site reduces the risk of any damage to the monument and it also increases safety for visitors, who do not need to stop next to the highway. The site was generously donated by Charles and Teresa Belza, who also agreed to the expansion.

“They graciously just let us pretty much pick and choose where we wanted to go,” Lee said. “So what we did, in fairness to them, is we measured everything out. We got a bus in there and we made sure that it could turn all the way around, because we didn't want to take more land than we needed.”

The work to enlarge the site and to widen the approach and entrance started in October 2017.  In December it became too cold to carry on, but activities will continue in the spring. Lee appreciates the ongoing support of a number of individuals who have been involved with the project from the start.

Byron Hansen of Hansen's Backhoe Service has donated and hauled in over 200 loads of fill dirt. Bruce McGinnis has been helping with the fencing, while Rick Conn of Grasslands Monuments has remained involved with the project.

Ed, Dale, and Larry Slusar of Southwest Paving, who have been longtime friends of the Kruger family and distant relatives of the Mantykas, have contributed huge dollars to this project with their donations of equipment, manpower, but most significantly the design and layout of the approach, entrance and paving of the site.

“For the last two seasons they graciously came along and helped to pack and level and pave the whole place,” Lee said. “It's been neat, because they've done a lot of these projects before. So I'm just there and I do a lot of the little jobs with my little tractor, but basically they just come and they understand what I need and they perform it.”

He is very thankful for the positive response from the R.M. of Swift Current to the project. Council agreed to his request that a registered interest in the name of the R.M. is placed on the monument site to ensure its protection. This will be done on condition that Lee will continue to be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the site.

Reeve Bob Neufeld feels it is a good thing that the R.M. of Swift Current can be a part of this project.

“It is a memorial and we treated that as such,” he said. “There's a lot of people that drive in there and take a look, because it's a national story. Anybody that is familiar with the bus accident of that era, knows about this because this was a huge thing, when four hockey players lost their lives. To have a memorial set up for them is very important.”

The R.M. also offered and has contracted Southwest Paving to pave the road from the highway turnoff to just beyond the memorial site entrance.

“There was a considerable amount of work done on that site before he really even came to talk to us,” Neufeld said. “He came to see whether we would register the easement there, and the reason that we paved that stretch was so that the busses coming in there weren't always dragging dirt and mud on a rainy day into that site and to keep it nice.”

There is still some work to be done before the project is completed and Lee is continuing to work on the various details. He has applied for historic site signage from the highways department and will include Tourism Saskatchewan if the application has been approved. He obtained approval from landowners to erect signs on their property. It will notify road users as they approach the site from the east or west along the Trans-Canada Highway.

SaskPower has been paid to install a transformer to supply a power box on the site. Badger Daylighting, a hydrovac company, has prepared all the holes for wiring and more signage. Melhoff Electric has donated a percentage of the cost to install the security system.

The landscaping of the site will be completed and donated by Sask Landscape. The labour will be spearheaded by Leslie Cornell from Moose Jaw.

“They're going to plant four trees, one for each player on the west side of the monument,” he said. “A hedge will also be added on the west and north side to block wind and snow buildup.”

The final work will take place next fall, when the approach and the paving will be completed. Thereafter the site will be legally surveyed and lawyers will be hired to transfer papers from the Belza's to the R.M. of Swift Current.

Lee often visits the site to spend some quiet time at the memorial, and during these times he is happy to see other people visiting the monument.

“Somebody will drive in and they'll get a picture,” he said. “I won't tell them who I am. I just move to the side and I'll watch them walk around and read the story and they'll go up by the box and they'll sign the book. ... It's really rewarding to know that so many people have taken the time to go visit there. That's what really makes me feel good, because people don't just drive by. They have made a point to go out there.”

Last summer he raised about $9,200 through the Lee family golf tournament to use towards the expenses to complete the memorial project, but there will still be some significant costs before the project is completed. Lee would like to replace the fence on the north side, and there is an ongoing power bill of $50 per month for the lights and security cameras.

Donations in support of the Broncos memorial monument are therefore still welcome, and people will receive a tax receipt. All large donations will be recognized on one of the big donation boards on the site in honour of a donor's family or personal request.

Cheques, made payable to Bill Lee Charity Golf, can be dropped off at the City of Swift Current for attention of Lyndsaye Greke, or mailed to Box 1752, Swift Current, S9H 4J8. For more information about the project, call Bill Lee at 306-741-1355.

“Thank you to all the builders and all the visitors whom have stopped in, especially all the WHL teams,” Lee said.

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Matthew Liebenberg

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