Community members and hockey fans gathered along the funeral procession route for six-year-old Ben Stelter Friday morning.
The young Oilers fan captured the heart of the city, team and hockey world during the NHL playoffs. Ben became a rallying point for the Oilers this past season as they advanced through the playoffs.
He died of an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumour on Aug. 9.
Ben’s funeral was at Hope City Church in south Edmonton at 11:30 a.m., and his dad shared a livestream link where the celebration of life can be watched.
On Friday morning, a procession ahead of the service provided an opportunity for the public to say farewell.
It left Park Memorial Funeral Home on 111 Avenue and 97 Street at 10 a.m., driving south to Rogers Place. Along 104 Avenue under Ford Hall, fans were invited to gather as a way to say goodbye to Ben.
“We drove very, very, very slowly so the fans could wave goodbye,” said Ashif Mawji, who organized the procession after speaking with Ben’s family.
Edmonton police were at the start and finish of the procession and about 12 vehicles took part.
Mawji said Ben’s legacy will live on.
“His spirit will live on forever. He brought us hope, courage, perseverance, be your very best. Those traits will live on forever. I know the Oilers organization, the players, they will want a lasting legacy.
“I’m sure they’ll work with the family to make sure that legacy lives on… There will be something very special.”
“We’re here to celebrate Ben, his life,” said Lana Nicoll, her voice breaking.
Nicoll was there with her kids, including her youngest son Jameson.
“He was in Ben’s kindergarten class at Ronald Harvey in St. Albert. So a real special connection for our family and watching Ben go through all this.
“He wasn’t in school as much because he was obviously really sick, but it was a special thing to be connected to him and just to be exposed to his incredible personality… he was so loving.”
Nicoll said the school made T-shirts with Ben’s likeness on them and sold them as a fundraiser for the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Ben’s honour. The response was overwhelming, she said. Requests came in from across Canada.
“He definitely united people across the country.”
Janice Olivier attended the procession with her friends — big Oilers fans — to pay tribute to Ben.
“We feel bad for his family, want to support them, and just loved him during all the playoffs.
“Just want to be there to let them know we’re supporting them.”
She said she was touched by Ben’s compassion and his love for the game.
“Just a lovely little boy who brought the whole city together.”
Sylvia Macivorski was not surprised to see such a big turnout for Ben.
“He’s such a brave little guy and the courage he showed through all of that was just amazing.”
Nine-year-old Miranda came downtown with her grandpa to honour Ben. She even drew some pictures for him.
“I drew angel wings and his favourite words: ‘Play la bamba, baby.’
“He was a very strong kid,” she said.
“This is so great. Ben would absolutely love this,” his father Mike Stelter said of the public farewell.A spokesperson for the team said members of the Oilers and OEG would “be in attendance to celebrate Ben’s life and show our support for Ben’s family.”
The Oilers pledged before the start of the 2021-22 season they would play the song La Bamba after every win at Rogers Place, in honour of long-time locker room assistant Joey Moss.
Earlier this year, Ben became a household name, known for cheering on the team to win and “Play La Bamba, baby!”
More to come…