Elmira’s Henk and Bettina Schuurmans’ national milk tour ended in tragedy on Monday morning, when their John Deere 6430 was rear-ended by a semi-truck on Saskatchewan’s Highway #16 West.
Bettina, 55, was killed in the accident. Henk was transported to the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon with critical injuries, but has since been stabilized by doctors. The driver of the truck was not injured.
It’s quite common for farmers to drive their equipment on the main highways in Saskatchewan, according to RCMP spokesman Cpl. Rob King.
“Farmers are using the main highways to transport their equipment all over the place,” said King. “They just have to have proper signage and be riding on the shoulder, usually. But this was a fairly small tractor, compared to most of the tractors that are running. Usually, it’s a huge 12-wheel one.”
The news of the collision came to a shock to their family and friends, who cheered them on just around two weeks prior. They were documenting details from their trip in their personal log book, as well as through social media using the hashtag and handle of @CDNMilkTour.
The couple was travelling across Canada to promote and inform the public of the importance of protecting local dairy farms, having worked in the industry for nearly 30 years. They have five adult children.
The owners of the Milky Wave farm near Floradale left for the trip on June 23, and were visiting all of the larger cities to deliver their message. Their plan was to be back in Elmira for their oldest son’s wedding on September 8.
Attached to their tractor was a giant plastic cow, Maple, to promote the dairy theme. There was also a sign fixed to the tractor that read “Keep my milk 100% Canadian,” and another attached to the back that read “Honk if you support quality milk produced by Canadian farm families.”
Just days before the tragedy occurred, the two were enjoying their time, talking to media outlets and radio stations, exploring beautiful Canadian sights, as well as receiving plenty of support from the community.
“We’re currently in Regina, Saskatchewan,” said Bettina said in a phone interview Friday. “There’s unbelievable support here. People are all thumbs up and waving and are really supportive. It’s actually the whole trip like last night, when we came in through Regina it’s all honking the horns, so it’s really, really good, yeah. We get approached all the time because that cow just really stands out, and people like to take the pictures and wherever they stop like ‘oh we love you guys,’ and ‘keep up the good work.’ It’s overwhelming. People are supportive. They stand behind it. It’s all 100 per cent Canadians, I think.”
“Canadians are very supportive of what we’re doing,” said Henk Schuurmans in an interview. “They know what we’re talking about and with supply management being in the news lately, they know what it’s all about, and they’re the best at knowing we should go with our local dairy farms.”
Their goal was to draw support for Canada’s supply management system, which is under attack from the U.S. in trade talks.
“We try to keep the U.S. milk out of Canada,” explained Henk. “With Trump … you know, Trump is doing quite a bit in the news to attacking supply and management. He wants to get rid of the oversupply of milk in the U.S. and dump it into Canada. So that’s why we have to stand up for our dairy farmers and the rural community to keep the high standard of milk that we make here in Canada as the number one priority for the Canadians.”
“So everybody is involved actually in this process, and people understand that,” said Bettina. People are really proud of their communities.”
The RCMP investigation is ongoing.
A GoFundMe page been set up to cover the cost of the funeral as well as other costs to the family.