A group of new Canadians got a chilly reception in Perth last week, but then, that was the point.
With squeals of delighted fright, with red jerseys and wobbly knees abounding, as parents proudly watched from the bench of the Perth Blue Wings at the arena on Friday, Jan. 4, New Canadians took to the ice with great anticipation.
The newcomers were skating around as part of the “Share the Puck” program, “to help newcomers become involved in the wider community,” said Anneke Van Nooten, events coordinator for the community connections program with the Catholic Centre for Immigrants (CCI) in Ottawa.
“This is something that people are extremely eager to try,” she said. “They understand that, in Canada, this is the team sport… They want their kids to be involved.”
While getting your kids into hockey is as Canadian as it gets, for new Canadian parents, it may not be as high a priority, for understandable reasons.
“It’s not in the budget to sign them up for hockey,” Van Nooten said, since finding a job, finding schools and a place to live takes obvious precedence.
But social integration into a new community is also a very important part of arriving in a new country.
“It breaks down the barriers,” Van Nooten said, letting parents and kids see what type of commitment is involved.
The new Canadians are not simply thrown out onto the ice amongst the Blue Wings players, however. There is training that goes along with trips such as this to get kids used to the ice, with skating lessons on the Rideau Canal in years past, but also on the Rink of Dreams of late, since “it’s a little bit more reliable than the canal,” Van Nooten said.
Many of the skates in use by the immigrants are donated as part of an annual skate drive.
“Nobody on the bus (to Perth) had parents or grandparents who had ever ice-skated,” said Van Nooten. For some, “this is the first time,” on ice.
For parents, too, “understanding hockey culture is part of the work culture,” in Canada. “It’s something people need to know, to be part of the culture.”
Very often, when families and parents are paired with Canadian mentors to ease their transition into Canadian life, one of the most common requests is: “Can I be matched with someone who can explain the rules of hockey?”
Another often asked question for the first-timers, before they take to the ice, is, “Does it hurt when you fall on the ice?”
Families from Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, Colombia and elsewhere navigated the ice, learning how to skate with a hockey stick in hand, the families were the guest of the Perth Blue Wings, who not only offered them some ice time, but asked them to stick around and watch the game against Shawville. The bus transportation was also donated, as was the pizza dinner, with Central Wire Industries picking up some of the tab.
One aspect of Canadian hockey culture that some immigrants find intriguing is how different Canadians act in a hockey arena, from how they act at the office. One young boy from Guinea who was taken to an Ottawa Senators game said, “I did not know Canadians could act that way!”
“Canadians tend to be a little reserved and well behaved,” off the ice, said Van Nooten. On ice and in the stands, however, there is a lot of “enthusiasm and passion.”
“He felt at home there, this being part of a crowd that was roaring for its team,” she said of the little Guinean boy taking it all in at Scotiabank Place.
Others pick up on the love of hockey very quickly. Whenever Van Nooten organizes a raffle at CCI events, the first things to go are always the Ottawa 67s tickets.
“People want to get out there and feel like they are a part of that hockey culture,” said Van Nooten. “They are taking this on as their new culture. People want to see their kids smile.”