Informant NR was visiting family in Canada on the anniversary of a bus crash that killed 16 and injured 13 more, mostly players on the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team on April 6th, 2018. The crash was widely publicized and became a major topic in Canada. In the years since, NR says that many Canadians have started wearing hockey jerseys on the day of the crash to commemorate the dead and injured that were players on the team.
“Everyone in Canada on that day wears a hockey jersey. I remember, one time we were, um, spending time with family in Hamilton, and we just happened to be in town on that day, and I remember, we did some sort of like, house tour, and this like lady who was apparently normally very fancy and like, put together, she was wearing a jersey as well., and like, she was the realtor.”
Hockey is a very popular sport in Canada, and the tragedy of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash really shook the population. Though there is a trend of folk speech disrespecting or making light of tragedies that are pushed as serious topics by national media, this practice moves against that trend. This may be because the victims were largely children, and because the sport of hockey acts as a uniting force for the country. The tradition is also very accessible, as many Canadians already own hockey jerseys for their preferred teams, so many do not have to purchase any additional materials to participate in the remembrance.
This national remembrance custom stands out to me because of the rising trend of insensitive or crude humor as a response to tragedy after the rise of mass media. In Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture, Peter Narvaez examines this phenomenon, illustrated for example through the internet memes surrounding the September 11th terrorist attacks. One theory he concludes with is the idea that mass media, by instructing everyone to care deeply about all major events, even those that had no connection to them, spurred an opposite reaction of humor jokes at the expense of those who suffered the tragedy. What is interesting to me is that this reaction does not seem to have happened in response to this tragedy. My analysis of this is that the victims, mostly teenaged hockey players, who had no fault in the driving accident, are very much aligned with the Canadian cultural ideal. They were generally of a privileged race and gender, and played Canada’s most popular and beloved sport. This endears them to the rest of the population, since even if they didn’t know any of the victims, they probably do know a teenage boy hockey player, or someone who used to be a teenage boy hockey player. The Canadian mass media succeeded at invoking sympathy for the victims of this tragedy because they were so relatable and emblematic of the Canadian establishment.