THUNDER BAY – Dozens of bags full of hockey equipment are on their way to Indigenous youth in four northern communities, thanks to a growing charitable campaign.
Graham McWaters started the First Nations Hockey Equipment Drive as a small act of kindness in Richmond Hill, near Toronto, in 2015. After the hockey dad saw players from the Beausoleil First Nation turn up to games lacking proper gear, he organized a drive that sent eight bags of equipment to the community.
Four years later, the campaign has set a new record of 500 bags in 2019, with the help of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. With more than enough to meet local needs, they sent 63 bags to Thunder Bay for distribution to First Nations in northwestern Ontario.
Patrick Larocque coordinated the distribution of the bags from Thunder Bay, after a coworker at the CMHC’s First Nation Housing division alerted him to the opportunity. He quickly phoned contacts he knew in First Nations communities, who were happy to take part.
As a parent of hockey players, he understands how expensive the sport is. “This is going to be a huge impact for the kids who didn’t have an opportunity to play hockey before because the cost of gear was out of reach,” he says.
Community members from Aroland, Red Rock, and Eabametoong First Nations met at the AMJ Campbell shipping depot on Saturday afternoon to pick up the equipment, which include sticks, bags, helmets, pads, and more. Eabametoong is working with North Star Air to move the bags, while community members volunteered pickup trucks to drive the goods to the other communities. Some equipment is also being distributed through Thunder Bay’s Lynx Clan Watch.
Lauren Michelle showed up to bring equipment to the Red Rock Indian Band. She says the gear is a welcome Christmas surprise for kids in her community, where hockey is an important aspect of recreation and culture. “As a single parent myself,” she says, “buying hockey equipment is not cheap. I’m very grateful for this.”
She notes that many in the community are avid Maple Leafs fans, which will add to the excitement.
Larocque says he hopes to expand the campaign in Thunder Bay next year, including the possibility of seeking local donations.