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February is a beautiful month. It’s the month of love.

But in 2003, February became a nightmare.

I had just moved back to Montreal after spending five years living in Calgary. In Calgary I attended Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, STS, for junior high. The school was kinda like hunger games in academia. The school’s motto is “Nil Nisi Optimum” meaning “Nothing But The Best” in Latin (a class I had to take) and they really took the sentiment to heart. They pushed us hard to excel in every capacity you can imagine. It was the kinda school with a wing for a subject matter, and state of the art equipment for every class.

I never saw myself ending up at a school like that at the time, but I ended up there honestly. My best friend was going and I wanted to go where she went. So I tried out for the school, got in and had the opportunity to make friends that will last a lifetime. You think I’m being corny with that? Nah, we have a special bond and I’ll tell you why.

On February 1st, 2003 (01/02/03) I got a phone call from an unknown Alberta phone number. I almost wished I had never picked up…as if I hadn’t picked up the phone I wouldn’t have had my world crash before me. What my friend told me would haunt me for 13 years.

There had been an “accident” at the school. That’s what I was told. An avalanche on a risky backcountry school trip in British Columbia, killing 7 students. The trip was so dangerous that the students going on the trip had to do avalanche training for months before the actual trip took place.

Upon receiving the first phone call, we didn’t know the names of our friends that had died. That phone call only took place sometime around midnight. But I was told that my junior high grad date, Will had died.

I was beside myself. I was in a shopping mall on my way to the theater to see Final Destination 3. I remember wandering away from my Montreal friends in the mall alone and just collapsed on the floor. I didn’t know who else was dead, but supposedly at least one of my close friends was.

Turns out, Will had survived. And he even told the story to Macleans in 2015 after what felt like 12 years of a cold silence. I still can’t bring myself to finish reading the article.

On my way home from the mall, I was in the car with my brother and I had a thought. “Thank God Dan is okay.” Dan was my best friend, I had just spoken to him days ago on MSN as I did all night, every night since moving back to Montreal. He was my greatest support. He was my person. 

At around midnight we received the names. Daniel Arato. Michael Shaw. Alex Pattillo. Scott Broshko. Ben Albert. Marissa Staddon. Jeff Trickett.

I didn’t know Ben and Marissa, they came to Strath after I left, but all of the other names on the list I had a personal relationship with, but I was closest with Dan and Mike.

After a fight with my stepfather about going to Calgary for the funerals, I booked a flight and went out West.

I’ll never forget the swarm of green uniforms coming towards my friend’s car when I arrived at STS for the memorial. It happened in slow-motion. In fact everything did.

The whole community was rocked by the avalanche. We were all bereaved, but we were bereaved together.

But there’s another aspect to the story that’s chilling as well. The same day as the avalanche where 7 students froze to death on a mountain they should have never been on, 7 astronauts were burning to death as the Columbia ship STS-107 crashed.

Notice something strange about the ship? STS-107. Kinda like, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS) 10 survive, 7 die.

I couldn’t make sense of this for years and now as a 29-year-old woman, I still can’t. What sign was the universe trying to send?

I still think about Dan everyday. He didn’t tell me he was going on this trip. According to his brother he didn’t even want to go, which upsets me because he didn’t even tell me. We spoke for hours every night and he didn’t even mention a thing. He never even said he was going on a trip, which is why when I was in the car I thought about him specifically and thought he would be okay. Okay being alive.

Every year February 1st comes around and my friends and I talk. We support each other. While I was in Montreal and didn’t have to deal with the empty seats in class, I struggled because I was alone. All of my friends were together in Calgary to support each other, but I was surrounded by people who just didn’t understand. I was known as the girl who’s friends died in the avalanche.

I always knew that I’d do something to commemorate the 7 angels that now appeared in my world. And yesterday I finally did it.

I hit the studio hard and recorded a song “Exhibit A”  that tells some of my story, including a verse that discusses the avalanche.

I decided that today, February 1st, would be the day that I release my first studio recorded track. I only started getting into the studio recently, but the experience was very cathartic. This guy that I’m seeing hooked me up with a friend of his who has a studio, so it was my first time at this specific one. I explained the concept to the engineer who’s an artist as well and we made sure that the concept was respectful for those who have been affected by the avalanche.

Since it was only my second time in the booth, I had to overcome some jitters. I conversed with the engineer for about 45 minutes when I got there, just getting to know each other and getting comfortable in the environment. Then I got in the booth and just laid the track. Singing and rapping for me comes naturally, but when it’s time to record the pressure is undoubtedly higher. That being said, hearing my voice on the beat I selected was a trip, and rapping about my friends who passed gave me a feeling I can hardly describe.

We all go through shit. We all have trauma. This is mine. I turned the date around and now I know for the rest of my life that not only is February 1st the day my best friend and former classmates died, but it is also the day I released my first song. Kinda like taking back the day.

Listen to “Exhibit A” to get a feel for who I am, and some of the places I’ve been.

RIP STS 7*

Arielle London

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