Just two weeks after frigid temperatures would have made it too dangerous to do so, residents, politicians, country music stars and NHL alumni gathered in Bragg Creek to support a local non-profit in one of the best ways Canadians know how: through an outdoor hockey game.
Easter Seals Camp Horizon, which provides subsidized summer camps for Albertans with disabilities and medical conditions, organized the charity game on Jan. 27 at the Bragg Creek outdoor rink.
The 24 players on the two teams had to raise a minimum of $500 in order to play in the game, which saw country music star and Calgary Flames anthem singer George Canyon in one net and Foothills MP John Barlow in the other. Officials with the Easter Seals organization said the total raised from the charity game exceeded $25,000.
Katherine Such, CEO of Easter Seals Camp Horizon, said the organization was excited to have such strong community support.
“Every dollar makes such a huge difference in our ability to subsidize the cost of these kids going to camp,” said Such.
Inflation and rising cost of living has impacted Camp Horizons' ability to function at the same level it once did, said Such, who added the idea for an outdoor hockey game could be credited to Barlow.
“[His] passion really drives this,” Such said. “It’s so important to have his support year after year. Through his work as a member of Parliament, Barlow has supported Camp Horizon through programs like Canada Summer Jobs, which finds camp counsellors and nurses who help take care of the camp attendees through the camp days.
“Every contribution from John, every interaction with him has been so incredible; his passion for camp is inspiring."
Barlow has been involved with Camp Horizon for as long as Such can remember. Back in 2014 shortly after he was elected for the first time, Barlow was invited to tour the camp where he met with clients and ambassadors
“You can’t help but fall in love with the cause,” said Barlow. “We’ve had fundraisers in the past that have been good, but we really wanted something in close proximity [to the camp], and we had some great volunteers jump on board.”
Warm weather a bit of a challenge on game day
The only issue for the Camp Horizon staff seemed to be the beautiful weather. As play tipped back and forth from one end to the other, ice attendants used shovels to scoop off layers of melted ice and slush from the rink's playing surface. Players tripped on soft spots and slid on the slushy mush that caused comedic turnovers.
Barlow could do nothing but laugh at the weather conditions.
“I’m over the moon, plus 10 or minus 27, you don’t know what you’re gonna get [but] everyone’s having a good sense of humour about it,” he said. “Obviously you don’t want to wreck the ice for the community but they seem pretty gung-ho.”
Down at the other end of the soupy ice surface, Canyon thought the same thing.
He said Barlow talked him into coming out to support the fundraiser.
“When Johnny [Barlow] called and asked me before Christmas, I said, ‘Are you crazy, it’s gonna be minus 40.’ When I saw the weather at 10 degrees…it couldn’t be nicer," he said. “Yeah the ice is tough, but it’s worth it to be out there with these guys doing such a great job.”
After looking around at the groups of people enjoying hot chocolate or beers sold from a food truck, Canyon said that more things like the charity game need to be held.
“I think the world concentrates too much on BS,” said Canyon. “We need to concentrate on the kids and doing stuff like this for the community means the most to me.”
Empathy for those struggling important
On its website, Easter Seals said that its Camp Horizon program offers unique opportunities for campers to build self esteem and independence.
A camper named “Mac” delivered a few remarks before the game about what Camp Horizon does for people with disabilities or medical conditions. After the game, Mac was able to reflect on the over $25,000 raised for Camp Horizon.
“It’s so amazing just to see so many people come out and support this,” Mac said. “Camp is such an amazing place [and] $25,000 can do so much.”
Last year, one of the grants provided to Camp Horizon paid for an all-terrain wheelchair rig, which Mac said made the woods around camp a lot more accessible for a lot of campers.
Such explained that inflation and the rising cost of everything made subsidizing Camp Horizon much more difficult than in past years.
Canyon too remarked on the difficulty inflation and rising costs have posed on people. However, he said that the generous support from the community blew his mind.
“People are struggling and they’re still willing to give for these kids and that says a lot about the empathy of Canadians,” he said.