More than 100 students and chaperones from Winnipeg’s Maples Collegiate were stranded in rural Saskatchewan as they travelled home from a field trip this week, following a collision involving one of their charter buses amid blustery weather conditions.
High school choral and band members attended the 2023 Cantando Musical Festival in Edmonton, the first of its kind since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On their way back Wednesday, amid a snowstorm, one of the eastbound buses collided with a semi-truck on the Trans-Canada Highway near Indian Head, Sask., about 500 kilometres away or a five-hour drive west of their destination.
“The weather was terrible,” recalled Indian Head Mayor Steven Cole, when reached Friday. “The winds were up and blowing hard, too. It was just creating lots of havoc.”
Photos of the evening crash, which were uploaded to Facebook shortly after it happened, indicate the bus driver had rear-ended a trucker, the result of which was a crumpled charter vehicle and a significant dent in the semi-trailer.
Local, independent, in-depth.
Our Prairie stories.
Sources told the Free Press the driver suffered a broken leg.
Cole said volunteer firefighters extracted the man and treated all passengers, whose most serious injuries were bumps, bruises, nose bleeds and scratches, at the hospital that evening.
The incident prompted local officials to execute their emergency plan, which included setting up matts and blankets to create a makeshift shelter in the town hall. A bakery quickly sent over cookies and muffins to feed visitors.
Two-thirds of the Winnipeggers were invited to stay in Indian Head, whose population is 1,900, and wait out the storm. The third busload was housed at an elementary school in nearby Wolseley.
Superintendent Brian O’Leary, who oversees operations at Maples, said the collision was traumatic for everyone involved and there were challenges related to a timely emergency response.
“It’s not what anybody signed up for, and I know parents are concerned,” said the leader of the Seven Oaks School Division, noting students and staff are expected to return to Winnipeg Saturday.
“I’ve always been proud to call Indian Head home and it just showed, the other night, when something happens like this, how the community pulls together,” Cole said.
The stranded travellers have spent recent days playing games, puzzles and watching a play at the town’s theatre, the mayor said, adding initial shock and uneasiness among teenagers in the wake of the incident has subsided.
O’Leary called the hospitality of the host towns “unbelievable.”
The division leader likened their response to that documented in Come From Away, a popular musical based on the acts of kindness that occurred in Gander, N.L., when numerous flights were unexpectedly grounded after 9/11, leaving thousands of passengers stranded in the community.
The highway that was closed due to the storm reopened Friday, although RCMP continued advising against travel.
Principal Scott Shier said students and staff are expected to leave Indian Head and Wolseley Saturday morning.
This story was originally published in The Free Press. It is republished under a Creative Commons license as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.
Our Prairie stories matter too.
The Flatlander takes a closer look at the stories that unite us, and make us unique, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Will you help us tell our stories?