Laughter and playfully competitive comradery filled Ty-Histanis last month as the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation community hosted ball hockey games with 8 current and retired NHL players.
The group was led by Nashville Predators star Tyson Barrie who joined Power to Give and the West Coast Multiplex Society to raise awareness and support for the region’s proposed ice rink, swimming pool and gathering space facility at the August 17 event.
Barrie told the Westerly News during a break in the action that he was “having a blast.”
“The community has been great, lots of kids are showing up and having a good time,” he said. “The sun’s out and anytime you get a chance to play road hockey it makes me a little nostalgic. It’s always fun to get a little road hockey game going.”
Barrie said he had been looking for ways to give back and was working with Power to Give when he discovered the work the West Coast Multiplex Society was doing to bring a swimming pool and ice rink facility to the local area.
“I grew up in Victoria and I always loved coming up to Tofino and enjoying the beauty and what it has to offer. I just kind of can’t believe they don’t have a multiplex or a facility and I know how gloomy it can get here in the winter,” he said. “We thought it would be a cool idea to bring up some NHL guys and former NHL guys and just bring awareness towards it…Hockey is Canada’s sport and it’s just such a beautiful community and such a great part of the world it feels like it deserves that. It seems like it’s going to be a process, but it’s one that we’re happy to try to help aide and be a part of and I think it will be a pretty cool thing to see up here.”
He said the group had recently been in Hazelton for two days to celebrate a now completed Multiplex they helped raise funds for.
“They have a beautiful multiplex up there that they worked hard on getting and put a lot of time and effort and money into it and you can see how close it’s brought the community. It gives the kids up there a place to go and skate and gather and create friends and bonds for life,” he said.
He added multiplex facilities can connect communities while also forming lifelong bonds.
“You learn how to put others ahead of yourself, you learn how to create bonds and do things for one another and you create friendships that last a lifetime,” he said. “I’m still friends with the kids I grew up playing hockey with and playing sports with. That sense of comradery really brings people together and it can take you to some really cool places.”
West Coast Multiplex Society chair Samantha Hackett told the Westerly she was thrilled the players were so passionate about raising awareness for the local project.
“They’re wanting to support small communities and remote communities with recreation and health and wellness, in a proactive way,” she said.
“It just really shows that people care. We’re in a remote community and I think the essence of all of this is that remote communities don’t have the amenities and all of the things that larger city hubs have. They’re bringing that awareness and their care and showing they know that we’re having these struggles and that they want to help us do better for our communities and our future.”
She noted the games were being played “right across the highway from where the future multiplex is going to be located” and showcased the ability for sport to bring communities together.
She added the hockey game is one of several events the Multiplex Society is hosting to spread its message and bring the communities together about the importance of healthy and active living, bringing all ages together through sport as well as the event space it would provide.
The Multiplex Society hopes to break ground on the new facility at the end of 2024 and is currently working on a federal grant application led by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation that’s expected to be submitted later this year.
“We want a multiplex to further strengthen our community relationship between the eight communities, to have a gathering space, to recreate, to promote healthy living and just overall generational proactive mental and physical health and wellness,” she said.
Tla-o-qui-aht Education Manager Iris Frank told the Westerly that providing recreation opportunities through the ice rink and swimming pool as well as a gathering space for events make the multiplex project a key focus for the First Nation.
She added she was ecstatic to see such a large turnout for the Ty-Histanis hockey game.
“It’s fun and it’s something that’s healthy for them to do. To bring everybody out on such a beautiful day has been absolutely, overwhelmingly amazing,” she said.
“Having the kids look forward to something, to look forward to healthy events that brings people out is what I love to do.”
Retired NHL player Rene Bourque is Indigenous and said there was no multiplex in the small Northern Alberta town he grew up in.
“I know what it’s like not having some of the facilities that this community needs and what we’re here for is to raise money for a new multiplex,” he said.
He said his hometown now has a facility and he has seen the benefits it has brought to the community.
“When I go home I see the effect that it has on the community and how it brings people together,” he said.”It’s a gathering point for families, for friends and for other communities. It gives kids something to do, keeps them out of trouble especially as they get older and into highschool, staying away from drugs and alcohol. It’s just a lifeline for some of these communities…What I saw in my community growing up was there were a lot of problems, like there are everywhere, but sports brings people together. It keeps your focus on something and teaches you a lot more than just athletics.”
He added he enjoyed his day in Ty-Histanis, adding he had never been to the region before.
“It’s amazing. It’s like Hawaii with cold water. Beautiful landscape, very outdoorsy, I just love the Pacific Northwest. It’s awesome,” he said.
“Being here with the kids, having fun, meeting the locals and learning a bit about the community here and playing, it’s just all fun…I like to give back. I know how important it is especially for First Nations communities to give back and that this is our future. Anything I can do to help, I’m right there to do it.”
Local dad Hjalmer Wenstob was delighted to see so many West Coast youth being hosted in Ty-Histanis.
“Events like this are what make communities communities,” he said.
“Not just to be able to host everyone, but to have everyone come out as one West Coast community is really awesome to see. All the kids from all over the Coast are out here playing hockey just having a good time. My son’s four and he’s in there playing with all the big kids and the NHL stars as well so that’s really awesome to see.”
Player agent Bayne Pettinger told the Westerly that he hoped the event left as lasting an impression on the communities as being on the West Coast did on the players.
“It’s awesome to be up here and see the beautiful West Coast. A lot of these guys have never been here, we took them on Chesterman Beach and they’re like, ‘This is Canada?’ It’s an eye opener of a little hidden pocket of beautiful British Columbia,” he said.
“We’re strong believers in our group that the power sports have for life skills, teamwork, work ethic, all of those things are very important aspects in life and also in sport…We’re hoping to raise awareness around that to get this West Coast Multiplex done.”
NHL goaltender Mike Smith was visiting the area for the first time and was excited to see so many happy kids enjoying the game.
“It’s unbelievable to be out here to help a great cause and to play some ball hockey with the kids,” he said.
“Anytime you can give back to a community like this is just so special. To see kids come out that might not have had a chance to meet NHL hockey players before gives us great pride to do this and help to hopefully one day get a multiplex out here. It’s just great to see smiles on kids’ faces. It was just a great day.”
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