‘Canadians are hockey’: New Brunswick group offers hope, support in annual hockey camp in Nunavut

‘Canadians are hockey’: New Brunswick group offers hope, support in annual hockey camp in Nunavut
As many Canadians head south on vacations looking to escape the frigid temperatures of the Canadian winter, eight people from Sussex, N.B., are on their way to Nunavut.

The fourth annual trip is organized by music teacher Rob Matthews who spent three years living in the 500 person community of Kimmirut, NU and wanted to find some way to give back.

“We wanted to do something that would just bring people together and equip people with skills and sport has the amazing capacity to unify people and hockey in particular,” Matthews said.

“So we thought about it and basically decided on this hockey camp.”

Organizing a hockey camp is an odd choice for Matthews, who admits he has never strapped on a pair of skates, but says the passion he’s observed for the game — both up north and at home in Sussex — led him to believe the sport was the best way to make a lasting impact in the community.

As of last year, he began putting on a music camp to go along with the time on the ice.

The group calls themselves the Kimmirut Hockey Camp.

“I think Canadians are hockey … it’s just how we identify sports-wise, largely, most of us, and as such is a huge unifying factor,” he said.

“Canadians are hockey crazy and the kids up there are just the same. It’s amazing when you go and you see two kids will be Bruins supporters and you’ll have a couple of Senators, plenty of Montreal Canadiens, and the Maple Leafs are here and there’s something quite uplifting about that.”

In many ways, the group is looking to combat the isolation that remote northern communities can experience.

Part of the hope is that they can improve long-term outcomes like “teen pregnancy, high school graduation rates, reduction of teen suicides, crime and drug use” that disproportionately affect indigenous communities in Canada.

“They have come to realize our team is not just a flash in the pan, but we are committed to them and we are committed to returning to their community every year to deliver these programs for their children,” reads a news release sent out by Kimmirut Hockey Camp.

  “It is our hope that the hockey camp and the music camp will have a lasting impact on the youth of Kimmirut.”

Matthews said living in the community had a profound impact on him. He says it allowed him to experience what it’s like to live in a remote, isolated community.

“There’s not much in the way of sports for the kids and I think those isolated communities rely heavily on people coming in to offer things like this. It’s difficult for kids to participate in different events,” said Matthews.

David Walker has been participating in the trip since the beginning.

He says it was his love of the game that led him to take the first trip, but it is the relationships built with the community that has made him return.

“I’m a person who loves playing hockey and to be able to travel to Nunavut and visit with the kids there and just spend time with them helping them out it’s been such a blessing, to me and I know also to them as well,” he said.

“I look forward to this trip up to Kimmirut every year for the last few years and it’s just so great to see the excitement that all the kids have, just waiting for us to come in.”

Walker’s wife Sara, is going on the trip for the first time and said she felt she wanted to see the community her husband has become so passionate about.

“He loves it and you could tell and I just wanted to see this place that has captured his heart,” she said.

“He was thrilled when I decided I would go but this is definitely his passion and I’m excited to see it myself.”

Walker said the project is a labour of love for the group, who depend on sponsors and donations to raise the money for the trip.

“It’s a lot of work. The sponsorships and they meet every month to talk about it and to find the money to go because it’s very expensive to fly north and so they couldn’t do it without the sponsorships and yeah it’s a lot of effort but it’s well worth it,” she said.
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