'Our hockey Christmas': Drive gathers donated equipment for 25 First Nations

Rosemarie Mckenzie was managing two youth hockey teams from Christian Island, Ont., the home of Beausoleil First Nation, when she started receiving messages from kids who wanted to come play but didn’t have the proper gear.

“They were all saying, ‘I want to come play hockey. Can I come and practice?'” Mckenzie, who’s originally from Beausoleil First Nation, told Global News.

“I would say, ‘If you have equipment.'”

At the time, there was no hockey rink on Christian Island, so Mckenzie had to take the young players to practice at a Midland arena.

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Then, in 2015, she met Graham McWaters, a Richmond Hill dad, who was at Midland’s rink for his son’s Silver Stick hockey tournament.

“When the game was over, I was coming out, and I saw a man helping a little boy with a helmet, and it didn’t look like the helmet had a mask on it,” McWaters said.

After seeing other children without the proper hockey bags, the Richmond Hill father approached the man who was helping the child and asked if the kids needed equipment. That was when McWaters was introduced to Mckenzie.

“We exchanged phone numbers and emails, and then I went back to my son’s hockey team,” McWaters said. “I talked to the parents and the coaches, and I said, ‘Hey, would you guys like to help me gather some equipment?”

Equipment collected in Richmond Hill during the hockey drive's second year.

Equipment collected in Richmond Hill during the hockey drive's second year.

Provided/Graham McWaters

McWaters ended up collecting eight bags of gear and numerous hockey sticks, which were taken to the Barrie Native Friendship Centre and then brought back to Christian Island.

“The came in and they couldn’t believe that in front of them was free hockey gear, and all they had to do was try it on, get a bag and put it in there,” Mckenzie said.

“I would call it our hockey Christmas.”

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Emily and Holly Vanderstelt, ages 15 and 9, received some of the equipment from the drive when it began four years ago. The sisters play in the Little Native Hockey League and in rep level hockey in Barrie.

“When Rose communicated to the rest of the community we have this equipment coming, it was this huge relief,” Kristin Vanderstelt, the girls’ mother, told Global News.

“We didn’t know what, we didn’t know what size, but we knew everybody would be safe and have the proper equipment, which was great.”

Holly Vanderstelt, 9, stands in front of her home in Barrie with some donated hockey equipment.

Holly Vanderstelt, 9, stands in front of her home in Barrie with some donated hockey equipment.

Global News/Daina Goldfinger

Since then, Kristin said her daughters have grown in size, creating the need for better-fitting equipment — something that commonly happens to young, growing hockey players.

“The registration costs are high, then you got to pay for the equipment, so finding a balance that works for everybody with the cost of things is where the equipment drive really comes in handy and helps, especially when there’s growth spurts,” Kristin said.

There’s been three more equipment collections and distributions since the initial drive, with each one getting bigger than the last.

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This Saturday, however, will be the first time that the drive reaches 25 First Nations within a six-hour drive of Barrie.

The goal this year is to accumulate 500 bags of gear and 200 hockey sticks.

“I have seven storage bins in Barrie. They’re all bursting at the seams. I have no more room to put the equipment in,” McWaters said. “I think we reached our 500 bags.”

The decision to expand the hockey drive came relatively recently after Beausoleil First Nation, which typically received the equipment, was bursting at the seams with extra gear.

“Last year, with Graham getting us 100 bags, it was well above what our community needed, so we put an invitation out for a few other communities,” Mckenzie said.

After connecting with a number of people who were interested, Mckenzie heard from Dayna Cosgrove, from Mattagami First Nation.

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“I told we’re having the grand opening of our arena,” Cosgrove said. “We didn’t have an arena in our community for quite some time, so please consider us.”

By this point, Mckenzie needed the equipment to go quickly since it was being stored at Christian Island’s rink, which was undergoing renovations.

Within a couple days, Cosgrove mobilized some volunteers and rented a U-Haul to pick up the gear.

“It all happened so fast. It was really amazing, and I’m super happy with everything that happened,” Cosgrove said. “It’s a blessing.”

During the hockey drive's third year, the equipment was delivered by boat to Christian Island.

During the hockey drive's third year, the equipment was delivered by boat to Christian Island.

Provided/Graham McWaters

McWaters said much of the equipment for the upcoming drive was donated by the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club. He said he was also recently notified that the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club and the Ottawa Senators Foundation are also contributing gear.

On top of that, over 20 other groups are assisting with the drive, including the Barrie Minor Hockey Association and employees from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

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The hockey equipment will be distributed at the AMJ Campbell Self Storage at 100 Saunders Rd. in Barrie on Saturday, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.

“It shares the love of hockey. It stops the equipment from going to landfill or just people reselling stuff or at the end of the driveway,” Kristin said. “It’s actually getting to the children who want to play but can’t.”

Those who wish to donate equipment in the future can contact McWaters at mcwaters1@rogers.com.

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