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In Canada, the sport of hockey goes far beyond the professional players that are watched on T.V. In small towns across Canada, pond hockey brings communities together. Read as our author M. Godoy shares the significant role hockey plays in Canadian culture.
Text and photos by: M. Godoy
Country: Canada

he sport of ice hockey became popular on the rivers, lakes, and ponds of Canada in the late 19th century. It likely evolved from field hockey, which has been played in Northern Europe for centuries. Although it would become a professional sport indoors, the outdoor game, known as pond hockey, became a winter tradition for Canadians across the country.

The tradition of pond hockey begins every winter when the temperature drops below zero degrees Celsius, and the water begins to freeze over. Some unlucky person, usually someone ranked the lowest on the totem pole, like a small sibling, is sent out to assess the thickness of the pond’s ice. The physical smallness of the sibling helps to ensure that if the ice isn’t quite ready, it will simply crack a bit, and not actually give way under their weight.

Ice thickness is only one of many factors that one needs to consider before committing to the lengthy bundling up routine that minus 30 degrees Celsius weather requires. Example: one must take into account the quality of the ice for, as every Canadian knows, there are many different types of snow and ice. In Inuktitut, the language spoken by the First Nations people who live in the northernmost regions of Canada, there are more than 200 different words for snow and ice.

When it comes to pond hockey, what matters most is the smoothness of the ice because nobody wants to be sent flying if there’s anyway they can help it. Ice smoothness, if not frozen naturally to perfection, can be artificially achieved by a very dedicated parent, with a very long hose, flooding the pond on a very cold night.

Next comes the process of clearing the pond of snow. At this point, it’s best if everyone gets involved as clearing a pond can be quite labour intensive, depending on the type of snow (if it’s wet, forget about it) and the size of the playing area desired. There is truth to the saying that “many hands make light work” and so, rallying the neighbourhood kids is the most painless way of getting the job done. Shovels in hand, they slowly make their way from one end of the pond to the other, leaning their whole weight into the pile of snow that continuously builds up in front of them. By the time enough space has been cleared, they’ve worked up such a sweat that they’ve peeled off their winter coats and are down to just gloves and sweaters. They’re warmed up and ready for the first game of the day.

It is in this way that pond hockey is a grassroots affair.

Kids who during the day go to different schools from rivaling school boards, on the weekend all end up on the same ice pitch. And when teams are selected, it’s done democratically by the time-old tradition of throwing all the hockey sticks into one pile, and then dividing them randomly into two separate piles. Parents drift by, stopping to chat with neighbours who they might otherwise never meet. Sometimes they join in with the kids for a bit, perhaps they start up a parallel game for adults. In pond hockey all are welcome. There is always room for one more player on the team.

This pond hockey phenomenon is one that occurs across the country in Canada: wherever there are frozen bodies of water, you can be sure that there are kids lacing up skates nearby. Canada’s passion for pond hockey spills over onto the professional ice rink, uniting Canadians on a national level as seen in international tournaments such as the Stanley Cup.

Hockey is a cultural cornerstone in Canada, a tradition that begins at the grassroots level and upon which a nation’s obsession is founded. And while Saturday night hockey in Canada is an institution of its own, nothing compares to the sheer joy and exhilaration of the games that have been played on the local hockey pond all Saturday afternoon.

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