Saturday, January 3, 2009

A cold new year in the valley of tears

SPARWOOD, B.C. — At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 81 erupts with paper bugles honking and ragged cheers.

The hall is half-empty. The revellers, with their plastic hats and streamers, try to muster a good time in a town deep in mourning. The DJs keep the music upbeat for a mixed crowd of about three dozen. A few people are up dancing to Abba. Most, however, sit and nurse their drinks.

On any other New Year's Eve, partygoers in Sparwood, B.C. would be lined up outside the door. Not tonight. Most parties have been cancelled as the town of 4,000 prepares to bury eight men killed in their prime. The families of those men grieve at home tonight. But in a one-industry town where everyone is connected, there are people here sitting in the corners, quietly sharing stories about the co-workers and friends they've lost.

Three days earlier, in the Rocky Mountains, a fast, lightweight helicopter thundered over the Harvey Pass on a search-and-rescue mission in the southeast corner of British Columbia.

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