Eileen Smelski went to play bingo at the Dauphin Active Living Center on Friday afternoon, knowing it was going to be a small crowd.
“I was there to be there,” said Smelski, who said she knew many people who were on a bus that collided with a semi-trailer as they crossed Highway 1 onto Highway 5 on Thursday.
The bus was carrying 25 people, mostly seniors from the Dauphin area, and was heading to a casino near Carberry, Man. Of the people on the bus, 15 were killed and 10 injured in the crash.
“It’s very sad,” she said. “Today bingo was very, very small.”
One of the injured was the cousin of Smelski’s husband, Josephine Stokotelny.
Smelski said Stokotelny was supposed to go to the casino in Carberry with her and her husband the day before, but chose to go to the casino with one of her friends instead.
“We said we wouldn’t go there. It wasn’t the right date for us,” Smelski said.
A close relative of Stokotelny told Breaking: that she was being treated at the Health Sciences Center in Winnipeg.
Smelski said the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since news of the collision broke.
“We must have had 40, 50 calls,[asking]if we were on that bus. Because everyone knows we’ve been on bus trips,” she said.
“A while there I picked up the phone and said, ‘Yeah, we’re alive, we’re home,’ and ‘Oh, another call waiting.'”
Dauphin Active Living Center administrator Kim Armstrong said it’s important for the community to come together in times like these.
“They’re going to have to discuss their friends, discuss the tragedy, and hopefully that will help them heal,” she said at bingo on Friday at the center.
That’s why there are still programs in the senior center, such as bingo.
“People can gather here, they can talk, they can be with other people when they may feel alone,” Armstrong said.
About 500 people visit the center all year round. The programs are mainly aimed at seniors.
Armstrong said she talked to some seniors who went to the casino on Thursday before leaving.
“They were excited to have a fun day out, and then tragedy.”
While Armstrong said it’s hard to take center stage after the crash, she knows it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s my goal to be here, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer.”
Mavis Pambrun was also at bingo on Friday afternoon. In a tight-knit city where “everyone knows everyone,” she said the tragedy will likely haunt Dauphin for some time to come.
“I don’t think they will forget this,” she said. “It’s terrible. I feel for the people – the people who are left behind.”
Frances Stewart, a deacon at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Dauphin, agrees.
“I don’t think there will be many people who are somehow not personally affected by what happened yesterday,” she said.
“It’s going to take months and years to get over this.”
Stewart joins other pastors at a Trinity Lutheran Church support center in Dauphin to see how she can help.
“If anyone…needs a listening ear or prayer, I’ll be there,” she said.
Karin Overgaard said she saw many relatives of the deceased go to the center.
“It was a very sad event. So much sadness,” she said. “The whole community is in shock right now.”
For now, Smelski said she hopes her cousin gets better and the community learns to move forward.
“We have to keep going, everyone does,” she said.