Over four decades ago, Dale Carriere - known by his friends and family as “Porky” - died in a car wreck on his way home from a graduation bush party. In the more than 40 years since, his family and dozens of volunteers have fought to make sure no other grads suffer the same fate.
Flin Flon's Safe Grad ceremony will continue on this year, having been held for the first time the year after Carriere's death - with no Safe Grad held in 2020 due to COVID-19, the celebration this year will be the 40th time it will be held locally.
Carriere’s family played an instrumental role in helping organize the first few Safe Grad events and while the family’s involvement has ebbed and flowed, the Carrieres still hope that volunteers will come forward to help run the show.
Veronica Bates is Dale’s sister. She was at the same party Carriere was at that fateful night - June 26, 1982, somewhere down the North Star Road, about 20 minutes out of town. Forty years on, she still remembers the incident clearly.
“I remember it plain as day - we were sitting on a log and we were partying,” she said.
“I left first and I said to one of my other friends, who was in the car with Dale. I said to him, ‘make sure you get him home safe, because he was drunk.’”
Bates, who was set to graduate a year later, remembers that there were buses around to help ferry grads and revellers home, but Carriere and others did not want to wait for a ride. One friend who Bates said had been drinking offered to drive and Carriere got in the car, along with three other people - Bates did the same, ahead of the car her brother was in.
“Dale was in the back - it was a tiny little car,” Bates recalled.
Rounding a corner on the road home, the car Dale was in went off the road and into a ditch full of water. Three of the occupants, including the driver, got out of the vehicle. Dale wasn’t as lucky. Unable to get out of the vehicle, Dale drowned.
“I remember, plain as day, my mom coming into the room. I think it was five o’clock in the morning - she said Dale had drowned, that he’d been in a car accident,” she recalled.
“I’ll never forget it.”
The years after the accident provided a level of hindsight for Bates about things that could have eliminated the risk, that could have allowed her brother to get home safe that night.
“If we would have jumped on a bus, we probably would have gotten home safely. There were many cars out there and a lot of cars that shouldn’t have been driven,” she said.
“For myself, I got in a car with a drunk driver - I could have been right behind them. It could have been the two of us that night.”
Once the family had gone into mourning, they, led by Bates’ brother John and later her brother Wayne, hoped to start a new, more centralized event for grads to celebrate their accomplishments. That event would include supervision to make sure nobody became sick or got into a fight, along with, perhaps most importantly, volunteer drivers to make sure partiers got home safely.
“I think over the following year, there were basically a lot of talks with the school,” Bates recalled.
The first Flin Flon Safe Grad event was held in June 1983, almost exactly one year on from Dale’s death. It was also Bates’ graduating year.
“There hasn’t been an accident since then. For 40 years now, it’s been a safe grad - literally,” she said.
“It’s safe for other people, other families - they don’t need to go through what they went through. Nobody should have to go through that, on any night, but especially on grad night.”
Safe Grad volunteer Jackie Hucaluk said that this year’s event is in need of some extra volunteers, ranging in tasks from helping work as security to helping drive people home in the wee hours of the morning. She also says that parents of graduating students are asked to help make sure their kids and their friends all get home safely.
“We’re all parents of 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds, where we’ve waited probably all night until they come home from a party that you’re worried about,” said Hucaluk.
“I feel like some people have forgotten why we do this.”
While the Safe Grad didn’t come in time to save Dale, it did come in time to save dozens of other graduates from misadventure. In the four decades since it first began, Flin Flon has seen no fatal crashes involving students at grad time - due in no small part to the presence of a safe place with safe rides home.
“It makes a huge difference. It saves so many lives. Especially for parents too, you know your child is going to go out and celebrate one of the biggest nights of their life, get there safely and come home safely. You don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Bates said.
“We’re hoping to raise awareness of Safe Grad, how everyone is included and the safety aspect of it,” Hucaluk said.
Bates didn’t return to the site of her brother’s death until many years later. At one point, she decided to have a memorial built at the site - one is located there today, near Scotty Lake on the North Star Road, with a white cross bearing Carriere’s name and nickname, a memorial plaque and a log bench - “because that’s what we were sitting on that night,” Bates said.
“I go there every year. I scrub it out at the beginning of the year and I’ll put out some fresh flowers and stuff like that. I spend a lot of time out there now - we were very close.”
Bates hopes that Safe Grad can find volunteers and continue, mainly so other families don’t have to go through what hers did so many years ago.
“Regardless, they’re going to go out and party. It’s better for them to be in a safe building than to be out driving on the highway or at a bush party - that’s where the parties were before,” said Bates.
“It’s very important to have this, very important. Without volunteers, Safe Grad doesn’t happen, and then what? They’ll be back partying in the bush, jumping in vehicles. Please volunteer. Nobody wants to go through this.”
Anyone interested in helping out with this year’s Safe Grad can get involved by asking Hucaluk or any other committee members.