Tiny Nunavut community raises cash for Ontario hockey tournament
“The reason it blew up was the internet"
A ragtag hockey team of peewee, bantam and midget players from the Nunavut community of Whale Cove has managed to raise more than $20,000 to play a tournament in Ontario next year, an achievement that would have been nearly impossible before the advent of social media.
Andy Mcfarlane, a first-year teacher and coach at Inuglak School in Whale Cove, said he was thrilled for the 10 boys, who love hockey but get very little competition.
“It seems like everybody is excited about it,” said Mcfarlane, who’s originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. “Really, there are a lot of students here who don’t get the same opportunities as kids in the South.”
Mcfarlane said friends and family members on Facebook and Twitter spawned the initial wave of donations to the gofundme website in late November 2013.
Then, perhaps because of a re-tweet from ex-NHL star Theo Fleury, the story got picked up by media across the country and beyond, including a live Skype call on the popular national morning show Breakfast Television.
After that, the donations came pouring in.
“The reason it blew up was the internet. I mean, I can’t make enough phone calls for that. I can’t get on the phone with Theo Fleury,” Mcfarlane said.
The idea grew from a couple of hockey pen pals from Inuglak School and Geraldton Composite High School in Geraldton, Ont., where Mcfarlane used to teach.
Mcfarlane and some of his old colleagues organized the pen pal exchange and a student from Geraldton wrote in one letter that he thought it would be great if the two schools could play hockey together.
The Inuglak Whalers will go to Geraldton, just north of Thunder Bay, from March 15 to March 24, to play seven games against the high school. Which means they’re going to have to practice.
Whale Cove’s indoor rink just opened Dec. 10, so up until now, the boys have been playing shinny outdoors on a frozen lake.
After Christmas, Mcfarlane is planning to practice three times a week at the indoor rink and is also hoping to put together a men’s team to give the boys, aged 12-17, some competition.
Mcfarlane, who has four of the team players in his Grade 8 to Grade 9 class, said it’s been difficult trying to focus his students on learning lessons when all they want to do is refresh the Gofundme web page to see if their total has risen.
As of Dec. 11, they had surpassed their $20,000 goal with $21,301 and that doesn’t even include all the generous corporate donors including banks and businesses.
Robin’s Donuts in Longlac, Ontario, has donated jerseys and socks, the Victoria Inn B & B in Geraldton has offered up free accommodations and Nunasi Corp. kicked in $1,500 so they can all go to a Winnipeg Jets games — just to name a few.
The fundraiser and tournament planning have been rewarding, he said, just adding to what has already been a wonderful teaching experience in the Kivalliq community.
“I love it here. Everything changes so fast. I love the outdoors, and the opportunities to do things around here are unbelievable. I’ve seen polar bears and whales, I just love the wildlife,” he said.
“But the people too, they’re the most friendly people I’ve ever met, making me feel welcome.” That welcoming attitude just makes him want to contribute more, he says.
Whale Cove, one of Nunavut’s smallest communities, has a population of roughtly 400 people and 150 or so are children who attend Inuglak, a school that goes from Kindergarten to Grade 12.