Hundreds of bags full of hockey equipment will be distributed Saturday from a south-end Barrie storage facility to First Nations communities who are in need of some gear, all because of a chance meeting in a hockey arena parking lot.
Graham McWaters is a hockey dad from Richmond Hill who started a drive for good hockey equipment following an encounter at a Midland hockey arena parking lot in 2015.
But while McWaters loves all the support he has been getting, it won’t be needed on Saturday.
“We’re not trying to get people to come and pick up equipment or drop any off; we just wanted to let people know that thousands of people in Ontario have been answering the call to get new and/or gently used hockey equipment to First Nations communities who can’t afford it,” McWaters explained.
McWaters’ conversation with families from Beausoleil First Nation at a hockey tournament in Midland six years ago led to the creation of First Nations Hockey Equipment Drive.
“I had been leaving the arena with my son and saw a kid going in with a garbage bag full of equipment, then another kid had two small duffel bags instead of the normally big bag someone would have to carry everything,” said McWaters.
“As I walked farther outside, I saw a dad fixing a helmet with no mask. I asked him where they were from and he said Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island. The conversation went from there and he put me in contact with his girlfriend who was originally from the island but lived in Barrie," he added.
And from there, the equipment drive began.
In the first year, McWaters reached out to his son’s Richmond Hill team for equipment donations and they gathered eight bags' worth and numerous hockey sticks.
There have been several drives since and distribution has taken place, with each growing larger than the last. So far, more than 800 bags, 150 sets of goalie pads and over 500 sticks were accumulated and donated over the past two years.
“Two years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs gave us $75,000 worth of brand-new youth hockey equipment, the (Ottawa) Senators have donated and we get donations from other organizations and businesses as well,” said McWaters.
The plan for this summer is to hand out the equipment to 40 First Nations youth players and families from their storage facilities in Barrie, Whitby and Burlington.
In addition, McWaters says they are shipping a few hundred bags to Thunder Bay for distribution to northern First Nation communities with the assistance of Indigenous Sport and Wellness Ontario.
McWaters credits numerous businesses, such as their partners at AMJ Campbell and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), as well as many hockey associations that were on board this past year.
In addition, their sports charity, Their Opportunity, has assisted with planning, logistics, social media, and the online presence for the cash donations to buy new helmets and support any transportation costs.
For more information, contact McWaters at 416-809-2130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.