It was May 29th, 2008 in Lamèque, New Brunswick, just a few minutes outside of his hometown of Shippagan. Luc Bourdon lost control of his recently-purchased motorcycle and collided head-on with a tractor trailer.
He was just 21 years old.
It was a tragic end to a young life filled with promise and it was especially devastating to the community of Shippagan.
On Sunday, a bronze statue of Bourdon was erected in his hometown of Shippagan, New Brunswick in front of the same arena where thousands mourned his passing at his funeral. Despite his passing, Bourdon still stands as an inspiration for young hockey players dreaming of playing in the NHL despite coming from such a small town.
Bourdon was drafted tenth overall by the Canucks in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and fulfilled his dream of playing in the NHL with 9 games in 2006-07 before returning to Junior. He seemed destined for a long career in the NHL, playing 27 games with the Canucks in the 2007-08 season as a 20-year-old, with poise beyond his years.
It is fitting, then, that he will be wearing a Canucks jersey for decades to come, as he is immortalized in bronze in the jersey he worked his whole life to earn. The statue appears to be based on a Jeff Vinnick photograph from an April 3rd game against the Edmonton Oilers, the second-to-last game he ever played with the Canucks.
Two years after Bourdon’s death, a committee was put together to arrange for the creation of the statue, an expensive undertaking. The statue reportedly cost $75,000.
“We wanted to make sure to remember Luc,” said Gilles Cormier, Bourdon’s former coach in Bantam and director of minor hockey in Shippagan. ”When Luc died, we always said we wanted to remember him as he was.”
It was hoped that the statue would be unveiled in a matter of months, but it took two years of planning, designing, and fundraising for it to finally be ready.
The ceremony unveiling the statue was held prior to a major midget game featuring Bourdon’s former team, the Miramichi Rivermen. Young players from several of Luc’s former teams came to witness the unveiling and pay tribute to their hero.
“He was very popular in the area,” said Cormier. “When he made it to the NHL, it was a dream come true for the kids.”
Even once he made it into the professional ranks, Bourdon remained strongly connected to Shippagan, returning in the summer to help out with hockey schools and donating $10,000 to minor hockey in Shippagan to help buy equipment for underpriveleged children. After his death, a charitable foundation was established by his mother that continues to support athletes in Shippagan.
“Luc was a tough player on the ice, but he had a big heart,” said Cormier.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Edith Savoy, a member of the committee that made the dreams of a statue a reality. “Luc had always been someone who demonstrated his hockey abilities,” she said to CBC, “but first and foremost he was a big guy, and a very honourable one.”
The statue now stands near the entrance to the Rheal Cormier Centre, home to all of the local youth hockey teams. Giving it a central location was essential according to Dave Cowan, a member of the committee and president of the Luc Bourdon golf fundraiser.
“With the statue, people will always have feeling that Luc is always present,” he said, “Each time that the youth exit the arena, I think that they will be able to look at the statue and know that they have a chance to reach their goals too.”
Cormier feels that Bourdon is a symbol of perseverance and hard work to the youth of Shippagan. “”In his first year of PeeWee, he had to stop playing as he was growing too fast,” he said. Bourdon was, in fact, wheelchair-bound at one point in his youth due to junior arthritis.
“It was hard for him not to play, but he worked hard,” continued Cormier. “Then when he broke his leg in Junior, it was like another brick in a wall, but he kept going.”
Patrick Arsenault, a defenceman for the Miramichi Rivermen, is one of those young players who sees Bourdon as an inspiration. “I remember my dad telling me about seeing him skating here every day,” he said, “spending his whole day skating. He really worked hard to get where he was.” Another young player recalled that it was Bourdon who taught him how to skate.
“It’s a great example for young people,” said Irenée Mallet, who initiated the project,” and that’s why I wanted to put it up. It was really important to have the statue as a symbol for this community.”
Bourdon’s loss was difficult for Canucks fans, but it was especially hard on the small community of Shippagan, which has under 3,000 residents. Bourdon was a role model for young hockey players, an ambassador for the small Acadian community to the rest of Canada, and a beloved friend and family member.
Cormier hopes that the statue will play a role in the healing process for Shippagan. “The statue helps close the gap that Luc left.”