Hope Through Hockey 2: Final Report

A next chapter, or just the introduction?

The daily arena atmosphere was exciting as over 60 First Nations children filled the dressing rooms eager to hit the ice in the learn to skate program that started sharp at noon. But the faithfulness award had to go to little Gabe, about 6 years old, who was always the first one out on the ice. He came with his mom by snowmobile, their only mode of transportation in the cold, northern winter. By the end of the week Gabe, along with so many others, had sparkles in their eyes having learned to skate all on their own, just a few days after those first steps out on the ice had spelled fear!

Equipment distribution.

Equipment distribution.

Tiffany coaching the girls team drills!

This was what it was all about: the incredible effort of an entire community that gathered equipment for months, the dedication of Wayne and his team at the Uxbridge arena, sharpening, cleaning and covering the blades of some 160 pairs of skates, the fundraising, the university exams completed by the 11 person team and the sorting, packing and shipping of some 9 skids, piled high to Pickle Lake, the last outpost by road. Our destination was the remote community of Weagamow (Oji-Cree for “Round Lake”). Weagamow, also known as North Caribou Lake is part of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation which includes 48 communities whose treaty area covers almost 1/3 of Ontario.

Due to the incredible generosity of our community and area we were able to send:

  • 160 pairs of skates
  • 120 shoulder pads
  • 139 sticks
  • 131 helmets
  • 104 pairs of gloves
  • over 300 sweaters
  • over 300 pairs of socks
  • over 100 pants
  • over 130 pairs of shin pads
  • over 100 elbow pads
  • and hundreds of other items such as coaching tools, tape, pucks and equipment.
This enabled one of our big dreams: To equip each young person with hockey equipment with enough extra to create an exchange program when their equipment does not fit any more.

Some 130 young people (in a community of just 750), attended the clinics consisting of:

  • learning to skate
  • learning to play
  • advanced hockey
  • girls hockey *new this year (thanks to Tiffany Bacon’s leadership-our new honourary Tiger)

In the evenings the men in the community enjoyed a competitive game of hockey with our team proving to be a great end of the day activity just before a final clearing of the ice by hand (the arena has no zamboni).

Bus driver Ryan Noakes, our transportation coordinator for the week.

Bus driver Ryan Noakes, our transportation coordinator for the week.

The team on an outing to the ice road!

The team on an outing to the ice road!

This was the 2nd year a team travelled from Uxbridge, made up mostly of former USS Tigers hockey players, to lead the week long hockey program and engage with the people of Weagamow. It was a team of 11, with 7 of last years’ participants returning:
Tiffany Bacon, Fanshawe College, EMS program
Adam Cranley, University of Waterloo, Aviation
Suzie Cranley, Adam’s mom, specialist in facilities for the elderly
Ryan Lavrench, University of Guelph, Criminology and Junior hockey, Fergus, ON
Courtney Lawson, Customer care manager, PropertyGuys of Durham
Josh Lubbock, Durham College, Policing
Pete Luinstra, self-employed, Carpenter
Lue Mahaffey, Sports Director specializing in aboriginal engagement, Hamilton
Ryan Noakes, Laurentian University, Sports Therapy
Tavis Smith, MBA, University of Edinborough, Scotland
Coach Simmonds, USS Tigers

We were able to take other interesting things as well with the Uxbridge Council sending a thousand pencils and Mayor O’Connor providing hundreds of her election pens which were used to supply schools. A group of women kindly made pencil cases with treats inside for all of the participating children.

Tavis giving Amarence her participant gift: a pencil case sewn and filled by ladies from Uxbridge.

First scrimmage led by drills captain Adam Cranley.

Some other interesting developments occurred during our time there:

  • Several team members created a portable Zamboni using some hockey sticks, PVC tubing, and combined with Tavis Smith’s bath towel….enabled exceptionally smooth ice between sessions!
  • We uncovered a full size electronic scoreboard in a storage area that had never been used in the new arena. The instruction manual was not the correct one but the electronic wizards on the team figured it out and it was a great thrill for the kids to have a real scoreboard for the Saturday tournament!
  • On the Saturday morning, the whole community was invited to watch and cheer on their children at a 4 team tournament. It was a great morning and for many of the kids it was their first real game of hockey! Medals generously donated by Baldwin Sales were presented by the Chief to her own young people….very precious to watch!

(Top Left) Testing out the makeshift Zamboni for the first time. (Top Right) Ryan and Tavis get the
scoreboard working. (Bottom Left) The teams on tournament day. (Bottom Right) Chief Kanate
presenting awards at the end of the tournament.

In a surprise twist this year the new Chief, Ms. Dinah Kanate presented us with an appreciation award, that reads:

Appreciation Award to The municipality of Uxbridge
Hope through Hockey
Mayor, Town Council, Community Members and Volunteers
Meegwich (which means Thank you in Oji-Cree)
North Caribou Lake First Nation
Chief and Band Council & the Community Members of Weagamow Lake, Ontario
Courtney presenting the award to Mayor O'Connor at an Uxbridge Council Meeting.

Courtney presenting the award to Mayor O'Connor at an Uxbridge Council Meeting.

Ryan, Josh & Lue with Community Crisis Coordinator Olive Harper

Ryan, Josh & Lue with Community Crisis Coordinator Olive Harper

The team was very touched to come home to a message on the Community Facebook page from Olive Harper, the Crisis Coordinator in the community: “On behalf of the community especial the children of North Caribou Lake First Nation, I would love to see all of you back for round 3.. Hope through Hockey has been a success as well we are seeing more children improving with both their skating and hockey skills. I always enjoy having you guys here and most of all, thank you all for your friendship!! God bless each and every one of you!!”

First Nations communities have many programs offered, but rarely do groups comes back repeatedly as “friends”. We found an incredible openness this year because of this growing friendship and the trust that results. Like relationships between any people, perhaps the most effective, lasting way to help is through the intimate knowledge of needs and issues that are learned and responded to out of unconditional friendship and care.

Perhaps the most inspiring moment of all was the knowledge that there were almost no suicides in 2014, for which the community is giving thanks to God.

Thanks to all of you in our wonderful community of Uxbridge and surrounding area that have supported this initiative so fully. We hope you feel the same joy in knowing we have helped others in a tangible way!

A fitting conclusion comes by way of reflections from team members after the week in Weagamow:

  • The improvement in everyone’s skills from last year and even from the beginning of the week to the end
    Surprising amount of momentum carried over from 1 to 2
  • The increased trust, openness and connection with the community as a whole; how much stronger the involvement of the parents were this year from helping dress the kids to asking us to come back next year with a plan to help run a separate parenting session
  • More intimate and friendly engagement with older youth and adults
  • Willingness of the Band council to engage with us on a deeper level
  • The girls team had a lot of fun and really appreciated having someone push them to see their potential
    Getting to know the men hockey players better
  • How much we were able to accomplish as a team this year; the Zamboni, clock, storage, the program and furthering relationships
  • Taking the school bus on the ice road was sweet!
  • The importance of returning to Weagamow helping to build stronger relationships and trust with everyone in the community
  • That the children trusted us enough to open up and share their feelings and problems with us, things that would take a lot of courage and trust like addiction problems and bullying problems
  • Seeing one of the dads come out every day to watch his kids, something about the dedication of a father watching their child learn and grow really touched my heart
  • April, the arena manager was so incredibly helpful and had an eagerness to learn. The arena and programs are in good hands! When we came home she had posted this on Facebook: “So the hope through hockey was a success. I’m happy to see the kids smiling and I know for sure they enjoyed themselves. I’m gonna keep it going for the learn to skate and so on. For sure I’m gonna put on the girls hockey team practices. I will find a way to do it. This is my New Years resolution, to keep the kids happy as my work! I know I will make a difference some day.”