Nick Lees: Wildfire nearly waylays sculptor delivering statue of Humboldt Broncos coach killed in crash

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A wildfire nearly prevented the unveiling of a bronze statue honouring Darcy Haugan, the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team coach killed in a highway crash in April 2018.

Peace River’s Haugan and 15 others died, and 13 were injured when a bus taking the hockey team to a playoff game collided with a transport truck at a rural intersection in Saskatchewan.

“Days before the statue unveiling ceremony, my wife Shirley and I had been told a state of emergency had been issued and we might be given a five- to 30-minute evacuation warning as the Devil’s Head Wildfire raged out of control,” says sculptor Don Begg, from the village of Waiparous, west of Cochrane.

“I was putting the finishing touches to my bronze sculpture and feared about getting it to the Thanksgiving weekend ceremony in Peace River on time. It was an incredibly stressful period.”

In his Studio West Bronze Foundry, Begg has created many well-known works, such as the sculpture honouring four RCMP officers gunned down in Mayerthorpe in 2005, and he helped in the Wayne Gretzky sculpture now standing outside Rogers Place.


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The Devil’s Head fire west of Calgary, sparked by an abandoned campfire Sept. 4, spread across 3,624 hectares.

Some 122 firefighters were called in, along with 12 helicopters and an air tanker. Meanwhile, 18 pieces of heavy equipment sought to establish a fireguard on the east end of the blaze.

“We were told at first the fire would burn itself out,” says Begg. “It did die down for two or three weeks — and then suddenly it was out of control.

“I readied two fire pumps that could pump 200 gallons of river water a minute and we worked at a crazy pace until 3 a.m., carrying things out that couldn’t be replaced. Neighbours moved horses and cattle from the area.”

On Oct. 9, Begg had finished his three-quarters lifesize, 190-kilogram Haugan statue and set off to install it in Peace River. His wife wanted to stay behind in case of fire complications.

In Peace River and observing COVID-19 precautions, family, friends and local residents gathered the next day for the unveiling of the coach’s statue.

Greatly respected, Haugan, 42, had guided the local North Peace Navigators junior hockey team for 12 seasons, leading the team to five Northwest Junior Hockey League championships.

“Everyone present at the statue’s installation had been devastated when they heard of the team’s fatal collision,” said Begg.

In March last year, Calgary-based transport truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to 29 counts of dangerous driving causing death or bodily harm.


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“Haugan’s wife Christina, who attended the ceremony with the couple’s sons Carson and Jackson, said there was no doubt Darcy would be in complete disbelief at seeing the support for him and his family,” said Begg.

“Darcy had made it his mission to mold his hockey players into the men he knew they could be, men who cared about their family and their community as well as their team and the sport of hockey.”

Thanksgiving morning, Cochrane and area awoke to rain and snow and, with the help of firefighters, the fire was held.

Begg’s latest of many Edmonton sculptures is the mule deer he created for Barry Schloss and his wife Maureen, recently placed on the lawn of the couple’s luxury condo on Saskatchewan Drive.

“I’m now working on the statue of an out-of-province Indigenous chief, whose name I’d rather not mention right now,” says Begg.

Twinkling campaign

Journal readers are among supporters who quickly raised $150,000 to buy 3,000 lightbulbs to light up Fort Edmonton Park’s expanded Johnny J. Jones 1920’s-style midway.

“It’s a good start (15 percent) of our bid to raise $1 million to pay for 20,000 bulbs before the Fort opens next year after a $165-million enhancement project,” says Janet Tryhuba, Fort Edmonton Foundation executive director.

“The $50 bulbs will give visitors the experience of what it was like to attend the Edmonton Summer Exhibition back in the Roaring ’20s.

“We hope guests under twinkling lights will be inspired to hop on brightly lit rides, such as the larger Ferris wheel or vintage carousel.”


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For more on the midway bulb campaign — donors receive a tax receipt — go to

Trail dream close

The dream of the River Valley Alliance to connect the entire river valley with a trail from Devon to Fort Saskatchewan became three kilometres closer with the recent opening of a granular trail at Devon’s Battery Creek ravine.

“To date we have built more than 80 km of trails and have about 20 km left to complete full end-to-end connectivity,” says Brent Collingwood, executive director of the alliance, formed in 2003.

“The gap left is in southwest Edmonton, from Anthony Henday west bridge to the border of Devon at Rabbit Hill ravine.”


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