Humboldt, ‘Heart of Hockey’

Brownridge presents memorial painting.

Humboldt Personifies ‘Heart of Hockey’

Nov 3, 2018

Humboldt: Heart of Hockey

Artist Bill Brownridge is flanked by Humboldt Broncos Hockey Organization President Jamie Brockman (left) and two Bronco team members who unveiled the memorial tribute original painting on Nov. 3 in an on-ice presentation prior to a Bronco vs. Nipawin hockey game. Painting title: ‘Humboldt: Heart of Hockey’.

Bill Brownridge presented an original painting to the Humboldt Broncos SJHL Hockey organization this past weekend as a memorial tribute and as a symbol of the artist’s empathy for the community’s loss and his hope for renewal.

Brownridge views the Humboldt community as representative of all that is good in the game of hockey, in particular that hope and strength through camaraderie can overcome the most difficult obstacles. It’s something Bill has believed in all of his life. And for this reason, he titled his painting: ‘Humboldt, Heart of Hockey’.

The presentation took place in an on-ice ceremony just prior to the hockey game face-off between the SJHL Broncos and the Nipawin Hawks the evening of Saturday, Nov.3. The 6-foot painting was unveiled followed by a short speech.

Bill also made himself available to the public in between periods to answer questions and comment on his painting and his thoughts behind the memorial tribute. A large crowd of gathered in both intermissions where men, women, children, teens, and the elderly all gathered to admire and reflect. A number of people spoke to Bill, many of them remarking on his past paintings and his children’s books, and what a deep and lasting effect his work had had on their friends, family and children.

One woman who viewed the painting continued over and over to quickly pat her heart, breathlessly explaining that this was how fast her heart was beating with the joy and hope that sprang from the canvas. This was just one of a number of emotional moments during the visit.

Brownridge also took time to speak with Bronco team officials such as President Jamie Brockman and some of the team players. Later he solemnly reviewed the player tributes and memorials at the rink and in downtown Humboldt. One such place is above the art gallery on a separate floor, a large space filled with heartfelt displays of support from people and groups spanning the globe.

Brownridge himself was born and raised in Saskatchewan, not terribly far from Humboldt. Growing up in a small prairie village in the 1930s, Bill is very familiar with the challenges of loss, pain, and hopelessness. The artist suffered physical handicaps throughout his childhood and then, as a teen, lost his leg due to improper medical care. Instead of wallowing in bitterness and self-pity, Bill struggled to find a way to cope.

Initially, his strong family ties helped him to carry on. Later, as a young boy, Bill joined the local hockey community and drew inspiration and hope from that, even if he couldn’t skate and had to wear moccasins to play goal. Ultimately came Bill’s art, and that offered yet another community from which he could draw strength.

Those key support systems helped lead Bill to a career as a professional artist which has now spanned more than six decades – Bill celebrated his 86th birthday last month. Throughout those many years Bill continuously faced new challenges, and defeated those, and then moved on to the next obstacle, and then overcame that. Just like Humboldt, Bill had developed a deep sense of courage and belief and hope, all stemming from that sense of community, that place of community.

The Broncos Team organization receives not only the painting – acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 72″, titled ‘Humboldt, Heart of Hockey’ – but they also receive and own the copyright to the painting. So, if they chose, they can make prints from the original and market those to raise funding. Bill hopes the original painting will find a new permanent home in the arena itself.

In April this past year, sixteen members of the Humboldt Broncos Junior Hockey team died tragically in a highway collision on their way to a game in Nipawin.

In the painting you see a group of youngsters playing outdoor shinny hockey. Surrounding them are 16 hockey sticks propped in the snowbanks. These reflect the ‘Put Your Sticks Out’ tribute which people adopted across the nation. The meaning? As TSN broadcaster Brian Munz, himself a Humboldt native, first tweeted shortly after the tragedy: “Leaving it out on the porch tonight… The boys might need it… wherever they are.”

A photo followed: a lone hockey stick propped up, as if beside the player’s box, ready to be grabbed up in an instant to join the rush.

The kids shown skating in the painting, they represent the survivors. Finally, you can see some kids dressed in the green and gold uniform colours of the Humboldt Broncos.

Lastly, in the background, you can see the darkness slowly give way to light.

Bill reads from a short tribute speech reflecting his thoughts and hopes for the recovery and renewal of Humboldt. The community faced a horrific tragedy last April. Bill, no stranger to adversity, and a native of Saskatchewan, strongly identifies with the community and sees them as a reflection of all the goodness within the game of hockey, primarily, the strength of togetherness, of camaraderie.

One local woman heard of Bill’s event on the radio news and she then immediately drove to the arena and sought him out. She just had to tell him how much she loved and admired his work and what a deep effect it had on herself and her family and her children. Here we see she and Bill and Jamie Brockman manage to share a laugh despite the solemnity.

Between periods, Bill made himself available in the arena concourse and was greeted by a throng of people, old and young, eager to view the new painting – 6 feet long! – take photos, ask for prints, and ask questions, or reflect on past meetings. Many spoke to Bill about art works they’d bought of his, or his children’s books, and how well-loved they are. One woman continuously remarked of how her heart raced at the sight of the painting (see her taking a long distance photo of Bill and the painting).

In the area lobby, Bill chats with Bronco President Jamie Brockman. In the background we can see one of several tributes displayed in the arena. This one includes jerseys expressing sympathy from oversea hockey organizations in Sweden and Germany. Bill is later presented with his own Humboldt Broncos team jersey.

A woman slowly takes in another of the memorial tributes to the Bronco team tragedy housed in the Humboldt’s Elgar Petersen Arena.