There are 2,000 kids at Thorncliffe Public School in East York. It is the largest kindergarten to Grade 5 school in North America and the first stop for countless newcomers.Thorncliffe accommodates 28 kindergarten classes and more than two dozens languages and dialects. It is impossible to build enough to incorporate the ever rising need for education. The school had a huge renovation a few years ago but still requires 20 portables.On Tuesday, all those children, born under all those flags, put on white t-shirts and waved small flags with the Maple Leafs logo. In doing so, they embraced a new culture and one of its touchstones.
“This is a great introduction,” said teacher Angelo Mouratidis, the organizer of the event. “Hockey is such an important part of the culture in Canada
The centerpiece of the visit was the Leafs Nation Mobile Fan Zone, a portable 30-foot replica of the Leafs dressing room. In it, Maple Leaf forward Matt Stajan greeted visitors, many of whom thought the tour guide was the hockey star.
“How many shots do you get in a game?” once child asked Stajan.
“Can we go straight home without going back to school?” wondered another.
“I get Turkish TV said another. Are your games on that?”
“Everyone came from somewhere,” said Stajan. “This is good to see. I’m from Mississauga
so I know everyone enjoys and rallies behind the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s just great to come here.”
Stajan signed autographs and posed at the front of a group photograph with every student at the school. Teachers wore their Leafs jerseys and Sittlers and Sundins mingled through the crowd, collecting and guiding the little ones.
Mahil Mahil is seven years old. He was born in Pakistan
. He has a new emblem to get behind.
“I am a Maple Leafs fan,” he said. “I don’t really know who the players are, but I love the Maple Leafs.”
“What we want to do is reach out to generations of new Canadians,” said Rajani Kamath, Director of Corporate Communications. “We know many of the children come from countries where they don’t play hockey but the Maple Leafs are for everybody. It doesn’t matter where you came from or when you got here.”
Hafizah Lulat was nine years old. She promised to watch her new favourite player. He is, of course, number 14, Matt Stajan and when she stuck out her hand, he found intricate inking applied to mark the passing of Ramadan on her steady hand, wrist and forearm.
Stajan, inundated by eager hands probably didn’t notice. But Hafizah Lulat will remember.
“The hockey player,” she said. “I got to shake his hand.”