I left Shaunavon before sunrise and headed south-west on the Red Coat Trail. The Frenchman river wound through the hills alongside the narrow gravel road I travelled. I was on my way to meet Anne Arnal at 8 a.m. near the small community of Ravenscrag.
The roads were empty of traffic until a young bull crossed the road. I edged the car forward. The moose galloped strangely in a circle and then sauntered down into the ditch. Anne was patiently waiting at the junction in her vehicle. I tailed her to the family farm, envying her effortless navigation of loose gravel.
We waded through mewing cats to get into the house. The large home felt empty, even though six children’s faces beamed down from picture frames. Anne and Clifford Arnal have lost their three youngest children. They were hardworking, kind, passionate boys who lived life to the fullest and were leaders in the community.
Blake lost his life in 2008 at the age of 14, in an ATV accident that took place north of Ravenscrag, where he was tending to a newborn calf.
In 2014 their youngest children, Sean, 16, and Lyndon, 10, were killed. It was July 23 and the boys were driving a tractor towing a baler on a steep, narrow hill down the road from the farm. The loss has left a gaping hole in the community.
Anne, Clifford, and their three children, Chantal, Dylan, and Olivia are coping with the generous help of friends and neighbors. In small communities, the whole town becomes a neighbour.
I sat across the window while Anne fixed us breakfast. She smiled, clasping the black cross on her necklace, remembering how the children would fight for the windowsill spot. It was the only place in the house with Internet reception.
Anne had been awake since 4 a.m. ῝I have this box, and in it, is where I put my grief, ῝ she explained. Spreading her hands, she paused to close her tired eyes. ῝And every day I open it a little bit at a time. Today, I opened it a little too wide.῝
I also spoke with Clifford. He takes his days minute by minute. “Where do you go from here?” he asked, saying that it feels cold at the farm. He said Anne started operating the farm machinery in the early 90s, which meant the kids grew up farming. ῝We had the jolly jumper in there. Sean was five weeks old, hanging in the cab, bouncing up and down. ” He added that Lyndon was six months old and riding in the combine, vying with six-month-old Chico, a collie-terrier cross, for a spot in the car seat.
Anne shuffled stacks of paper so we could sit at the corner of the long kitchen table. We ate eggs and fresh bread purchased at Manley’s Bakery in the miniscule village of Consul, Sask.
She told me that when tragedy happens you can wallow in it, or you can choose the positive light, a sentiment the family echoes.
The Arnals established the Arnal Boys Memorial Bursary, which will encourage children ages eight to 18 in the Chinook School Division to pursue an agricultural endeavour. The family has found light in the darkest times by working on the bursary.
῝Sean and Lyndon never really went into anything without a plan. They always knew who was going to do what and what costs were going to go where,῝ said their sister Olivia.
῝They had the same hard work ethic as their parents, but when they went to play, they played hard,” said Ken Hassett, a close family friend who purchased Lyndon’s award-winning Red Angus steer in last year’s 4-H sale.
Sean financed a pig operation for the self-titled ‘family runt,’ Lyndon. ῝We thought if we created that bursary we could be that big brother for someone who wants to get into the farming or agricultural aspect but may not have the funds, ῝ said Olivia.
Lyndon’s best friend Jaydon looks after the pigs now. “For my birthday we went to a Rider game,” Jaydon said. It was two weeks before the accident. Lyndon had told Jaydon’s dad, Shane, that he wanted to buy a football for Jaydon’s birthday. They stopped at the store on the way to the game.
Jaydon wanted to buy one, too, but Shane knew the plan and had to say no. Lyndon handed him the football before the game. “We were gonna go to mechanic school. We were gonna play football, then go back and ranch,” Jaydon told me. He won’t be applying for the bursary this year because he said he feels like he has already received one.
Sister Chantal said Sean “never got frazzled with a situation.” She recalled one time when Sean was driving a tractor that started on fire. He didn’t have water so he put it out with green grass, saving the equipment by keeping a level head
“He was the most educated kid I know for farming. He never took anything for granted,” said Kirk Humphrey, Sean’s closest friend and badminton partner. “I was probably the only one that could make him mad. He liked everybody. He was at my house the day before. You never think they’re not gonna come back the next day. ”
“It’s a shame they didn’t have more (time) to enjoy but I think that was the important part of it,” Anne said. “It sort of reaffirms to us that idea that, you know, we are only allotted so much time here and they just went at it with gusto.“ Anne said the bursary will help children experience the same joys her children had.
The bursary is funded by an annual heifer sale, a hockey tournament in March, and a skeet shooting tournament in July. Both tournaments are held on dates close to the boy’s three birthdays.
Bircham ranch has donated three heifers to this year’s kick-off heifer sale on Dec. 8. Donations will always be accepted and so far the support has been incredible, said Anne.
Also, members of the community have purchased naming rights to three stars in honour of the boys. The eternal shining lights can be seen with a telescope at the Eastend observatory, approximately 32 km from Ravenscrag.
Anne said she sees exceptional kids everywhere. The Arnal family hopes to encourage the dreams and passionate behavior of youth.
“I don’t feel they ever did let a moment go unlived because they have left the world scattered with so many of their memories,“ said their sister, Chantal.