Waskaganish, QC --
As the sun sets In Waskaganish after a long hockey-filled day, the swarming bugs barrel in on us as the staff hustles into the Auberge Kanio-Kashee Lodge and shuts'er down.
Upon arrival to the small Cree Nation Community situated near James Bay, Jamie and I had no idea what to expect. All we knew was that we were brought here to teach and motivate kids to chase a dream and try to be role models they could look up to.
But our perspective took a drastic turn after attending group meetings to learn about this small Cree community.
After hearing speeches from locals, as well as people who have spent time here, we realized our help was very much needed and the experience would be far more than just hockey. It is not just a hockey camp; it is far more to these people. It is a getaway from the harsh realities of their lives.
The statistics were a rude-awakening for us. To name a few: one percent of the kids in the school system graduate, there have been multiple suicides in the area, ranging from 8 to 30 years of age and finally substance abuse has increased at an alarming rate among the young children of the reservation.
We had more than enough to absorb before even stepping foot into an arena or talking to any of the young ones. However, the objective of our team, The Great North Wellness Group, was to have fun, educate the kids on the power of the dream and, most of all, STAY POSITIVE!
And despite all the negatives we heard about, there have been many positives, too.
The community welcomed us with open arms. Locals on the street were always saying “hello” or “good morning” with big smiles on their faces. On top of that, the scenery was absolutely amazing.
Most importantly, the kids were very responsive – willing to work and to listen. The facilities on the small reserve more than exceeded our expectations and the arena was great!
They are just like the small town barns we all grow up playing in as kids, very cold with good ice.
One of our concerns was whether or not we would have access to work out ourselves. After all, we do have a date with (Strength and Conditioning Coach John) Whitesides in just over a month’s time!
But they were able to accommodate us with a small space at the local wellness center with a gym and all the equipment we needed, as well as a big gymnasium to work on our sport specific agility training.
Here is a break down of our day:
7:20 a.m. - group meeting to break down the day
7:30 a.m. - breakfast buffet
8:30 a.m. - work out
10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. - on ice instruction
12:45 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. - lunch and break
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. - on ice instruction
5:30 p.m. – dinner
7:00 - 9:00 p.m. - elite group on-ice instruction
Wednesday was a big day for the Bruins gang.
We went on an early morning Fishing Derby on the outskirts of James Bay and had a big softball game later in the day – instructors versus the locals. We tried to take all the things we learned from the Red Sox when they crushed the Twins when we were in town at Fenway!
Overall, the experience has been one we will not soon forget. Hopefully we have been a positive influence to these kids as much as their stories and their hospitality have influenced us. We've enjoyed every moment of our trip and hope we get the opportunity to come back and do this all again alongside the great people at the Great North Wellness Group.
A big thanks to Gord Hudson, founder of the Great North Wellness Group Sports Camps, as well as Wayne Smith and Grant Sonier of the Boston Bruins for inviting us here and giving us this opportunity to give back.
Stay Classy Beantown!