Last week the finalists were announced for the annual Kraft Hockeyville competition and when the dust settled, the four were,
- Lumsden, Saskatchewan (Lumsden Community Sports Centre)
- Saint Adolphe, Manitoba (Saint Adolphe Community Club & Arena)
- Bobcaygeon, Ontario (Bobcaygeon-Verulam Community Centre)
- Elsipogtog First Nation, New Brunswick (Chief Young Eagle Recreation Centre)
Each year the competition shines the spotlight on hockey-rich small towns that are in need of a boost to keep their arenas open and hockey at the forefront of the community. Being a finalist is pretty big in itself, as each of them gets a $25,000 arena upgrade and $10,000 to go towards new hockey equipment for their minor hockey programs, even if they don’t win the entire thing. The winner gets the grand prize of $250,000 in arena upgrades and the chance to host an NHL preseason game next season.
Before voting opens on Apr 9, let’s take a closer look at each community and a bit about their story as they prepare for the final push to be crowned Kraft Hockeyville 2021 champions. Next up is the beautiful town of Bobcaygeon, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Ontario where I interviewed Ann Adare, one of the community’s leaders.
Kraft Hockeyville Brought Positivity Back to Bobcaygeon
Like many towns around the world, the pandemic brought a cloud of negativity and isolation. Bobcaygeon was no different as the normally vibrant town struggled to keep spirits high. That’s why the journey to becoming a Kraft Hockeyville finalist was like a blessing in disguise for them.
“Bobcaygeon is a very vibrant town, but this year has been a difficult one. During the nomination period, we were in another lockdown that had started in December, spirits were initially pretty low. A local community member, Mike Mudie, nominated us for the contest on Jan 17. When the nomination was brought to my attention, I realized what a great thing this could be for Bobcaygeon by giving us something positive to focus on and rally behind now and what a win could mean for our arena’s future.
I sought the help of a local volunteer group I belong to, Impact 32. The group then worked to rally the town to help. We worked the phones, email, and social media enlisting the help of all the other volunteer groups and pretty much everyone we knew. Once the word got out, the entire town jumped on board and rallied, from the local school and daycare to our businesses and residents – including our three seniors’ residences. We even had some of our Vintage Bobcaygeon group members working with the Kindergarten class sharing memories and memorabilia to create a video. We had generations working together just like we do on the ice. The storytelling that was going on online was such a positive thing – the young and the young at heart all working together because of hockey. As with most initiatives in Bobcaygeon, it wasn’t any one person but rather the entire town working together, and that is what our community is all about.”
Community Is a Cornerstone Value of Bobcaygeon
Adare knows the value of getting involved in the fabric of Bobcaygeon’s community, having been part of it for over 20 years. It’s a town that feels like home even when you are just visiting.
“I grew up cottaging here, spending the entire summer and every long weekend here. I have vivid memories of attending too many arena events to list, mingling with other cottagers and local children. Right from the start I always felt that I was surrounded by those who made me feel welcome. Although I was born somewhere else, Bobcaygeon has always felt more like home than anywhere else I have lived. My husband and I met at an event that included an arena concert. We weren’t born here but moved here because of the sense of home we feel here…Bobcaygeon is a community that pulls together to support one another and to welcome visitors and new residents with open arms. For many who come here, the first opportunity to mingle with the community happens at a hockey game or other arena event. In the winter, hockey is the only game in town.”
It’s no wonder that Bobcaygeon is a tourist town with the rink as its beating heart.
“Bobcaygeon is surrounded by water – so it is not surprising that Bobcaygeon has had lake rinks since the rules of hockey came to be in 1875. Hockey is now firmly planted in our DNA. Even with our arena closed for the last year, hockey rinks were never more abundant than they were this year. Our rivers, lakes, backyards, and parks were home to more outdoor rinks than I have ever seen providing such a positive and healthy outlet…Sooner or later, everyone ends up at the arena whether for hockey or one of the numerous events that are held there year-round. Our arena is our community center too and houses such events as our summer Farmer’s Market, 163-year-old longest continuously running Fall Fair in Ontario, 50-year running Fiddle and Step, and we have hosted 41 years of US Canada Walleye Tournament to name a few.”
Getting Creative as a Community
With the pandemic throwing a wrench in large gatherings, Bobcaygeon had to get creative to keep many of their community-building events up and running. Adare and the town “reimagined” many of them including the Fall Fair, Santa Claus parade, Settler’s Village, Christmas tree lighting, and many more.
“The granddaddy of ‘em all, our Fall Fair has been running for 163 years. It was the largest undertaking to reimagine and the Agricultural Society didn’t let the town down. The group created online forums to submit entries in many of the traditional judging categories such as home crafts and photography. A reverse scarecrow parade was held that saw residents decorating and placing some pretty incredible scarecrows on their lawns or in front of their businesses – residents were then encouraged to follow a map to take it all in. A self-driving scavenger hunt was held, promoting some of our local heritage features, vistas and farms for safe, social distanced fun.”
Small Town, Big Heart
Like many communities around the globe, the pandemic brought Bobcaygeon residents together like never before. It didn’t take long for the town to unite and provide support for those in need.
“Our community is known for its heart. Even our slogan, ‘Three Islands, One Heart’ speaks to how we come together. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bobcaygeon was hit early and hard with a devastating outbreak at one of our long-term care homes, Pinecrest. At that time the pandemic was new, there was no playbook, no PPE, no government support, but volunteers rallied to source what was needed and worked to get supplies out to those in need.
During these challenging times, Bobcaygeon has been able to come together, on so many levels. The Kraft Hockeyville nomination rally has given us the opportunity to rally for a happier purpose. A Hockeyville win would ensure that the arena can reopen and we could tackle the upgrades that would make our arena accessible to all. Bobcaygeon welcomes everyone and our arena needs to welcome [everyone] too.”
Hockey Grows Small Towns & Grows in Small Towns
Kraft Hockeyville is so important to the fabric of hockey in Canada because it keeps small towns at the forefront of its growth. As we all know from the history of the sport, small communities are the seed of many stars in the NHL from the Bobby Orr’s to the Sidney Crosby’s of the world. They all grew up in a place where hockey and community were one in the same.
“I think small towns are key to the growth of hockey in Canada. It is in [there] that we see the devotion to the game that permeates everyday life. In small towns, hockey touches everyone on some level. In Bobcaygeon, it really is a generational game. It wouldn’t be unusual to see four generations in the rink at the same time – children playing, parents coaching and grandparents and great grandparents cheering on from the stands. I have lived in both large and small towns. In the large towns, hockey is a part of the community, in Bobcaygeon hockey touches every part of the community. For many who come here, this is their first introduction to hockey, for those who leave here they take their love for the game with them to share.”
Hockey not only grows in small towns but also helps build them too. Once the sport takes root in the community, it becomes part of the very fabric of it. That’s why Bobcaygeon needs the arena to remain a strong and central piece of the community and its infrastructure.
“Bobcaygeon has room to grow and we need that to help with our economic recovery. With almost 500 housing starts planned over the next few years, Bobcaygeon is counting on hockey and our arena to help draw residents to Bobcaygeon and those homes. The hockey arena also acts as our community center. Several years ago, we lost our local bowling alley to fire, it was not rebuilt. The arena is our only remaining community space where we can gather together in large numbers. It is central to providing year-round activities appealing to all ages, keeping local youth engaged in a positive way, and not only ties generations together but helps unite those who are born here with those who move or visit here.
The arena offers a place for community building at its finest. Quite simply, hockey and our arena enhance our local life and help provide the type of life that people are looking for when looking for a place to live. The arena remaining open and being updated to welcome all is key to our village being able to encourage young families to choose Bobcaygeon, visitors to come, and is much needed for the generations that are already here.”
Bobcaygeon-Verulam Community Centre: An Arena For Everyone
One of the biggest reasons Bobcaygeon pursued a Kraft Hockeyville nomination was the need to make the Bobcaygeon-Verlulam Community Centre accessible to everyone that was fortunate enough to come into the town.
“The arena is often the first place that newcomers are welcomed into the community. There are those who retire here who make their way to the arena on a hockey night to see what is going on in town. They quickly become hooked on watching the game and when their children and grandchildren come to visit, enjoying a hockey game together quickly becomes a family tradition…
Our arena is not very accessible and we need to fix that. As players age, we don’t want them to age out of the game because they can’t access the ice, stands, or washrooms. The same holds true for those who don’t play, we still want to see them in the stands, no matter what their ability.
We need to update the washrooms, level the floors, add door openers, and a low glass seating area for those in wheelchairs. Our arena needs to be made barrier-free to continue as a viable, usable space that welcomes everyone, player, coach, or fan – everyone in the community should be able to access and use the facility regardless of age, gender or ability.”
Like Lumsden, Bobcaygeon also wants to make sure women’s hockey remains an important part of their community and keeps girls close to home rather than venturing elsewhere for opportunities.
“Upgraded changerooms that include girls’ facilities, would accommodate our local female players and skate clubs. Our girls’ changerooms are makeshift and need to be updated, which will be key to keeping the girls here in Bobcaygeon so that we can expand our girls’ program and ultimately women’s hockey too.”
Basically, Bobcaygeon wants hockey to be the engine that not only brings people to the rink but lets them join a tight-knit community that cares about including everyone. If you can’t tell already, the value of community is very important in Bobcaygeon.
Hockey Is An Education in Bobcaygeon
Bobcaygeon may not be a town that churns out NHL players, but it does have a hockey program that produces great people that have gone on to do great things outside of hockey.
“For Bobcaygeon, it isn’t just about those who go on to play at higher levels, it is also about how hockey shapes so many players who go on to have a positive influence on those they touch during their lifetimes. Our players have gone on to be teachers and successful business owners who instill their sense of team in their students and staff…”
As Adare mentioned, hockey is an education in the values of team, community, and giving back. Hockey doesn’t have to lead to NHL stardom to be an important aspect of a person’s life. Bobcaygeon wants that tradition to live on with the upgrades to the arena so that they can continue to provide that type of education for generations to come.
“Prior to the closing of the arena in March of 2020, in addition to Sturgeon Minor Hockey, the arena hosted six various casual and more formal teams and hockey groups, all helping to create an interest in skating and hockey. If our arena can’t reopen, our players will have to travel well outside Bobcaygeon to play, and, sadly, that will negatively impact our ability to foster hockey as many will simply leave the game. We are counting on our arena being upgraded and reopening to help us grow Bobcaygeon and ultimately grow hockey and introduce more players to the game.”
Simply put, Bobcaygeon is not only a hockey town but a tight-knit community that wants more and more people to be an integral part of it. You come for the beauty of the natural surroundings but ultimately stay for the community that has been lovingly built by the people that proudly call it home.
Voting opens at 9 am ET on Apr 9 and closes at 5 pm ET on Apr 10. For complete contest rules and program details and to explore all the finalists and their stories go to krafthockeyville.ca
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, editor, part-time journalist, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.