At a time when Canadian municipalities are facing their biggest challenges to do more with less, it’s incumbent on the private sector to provide support.Infrastructure priorities are commonly directed to areas like bridges, road, sewer and water, and these more than ever are taking a sizeable chunk from civic budgets. What’s left is understandably not enough to fully fund areas like sport, recreation and the facilities used for those services.
For example, 40 per cent of Canadian hockey rinks were built prior to 1967. And as those venues age, the money required for upkeep and maintenance balloons, placing more financial pressure on governments to keep them operating.
Enter Hockey Canada.
In acknowledging this national quandary, the sport’s governing body has recognized the shortfall and anointed itself to be a part of the solution.
In a joint partnership with local hockey charitable groups across the country, the Hockey Canada Foundation (HCF) enters its fourth year of involvement in a unique initiative that selects one project per year and works to fund the necessary refurbishments for that arena.
“The Hockey Canada Foundation mandate is to support Hockey Canada from grassroots to Olympic teams,” HCF executive director Chris Bright said. “There’s a certain need in Canada for rink refurbishments and new rink infrastructure, and we’re happy to pitch in.”
Starting with Montreal, Que., in 2009 and continuing with Edmonton, Alta., in 2010 and Ottawa, Ont., last year, the HCF annually conducts a major summer fundraising event to raise money for these rink improvements and to generate legacy dollars.
This year the focus is on the outdoor rink in Regent Park, as part of a larger revitalization project focused on one of Toronto’s most underserviced urban communities. It will not only be the 10th refurbishment that Hockey Canada has engaged in with MLSE and the MLSE Team Up Foundation, but also the largest and most significant to receive funding.
In conjunction with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) and its charitable arm, the MLSE Team Up Foundation (TUF), the groups are hosting the 9th annual Hockey Canada Celebrity Classic Gala & Golf Tournament. The two-day function in Toronto consists of a ballroom evening on the floor of the Air Canada Centre followed by a golf tournament.
“It’s a valuable project for us,” Bright said. “The gala is our flagship fundraising event. We’re proud to partner with local and NHL team foundations, as they know the community best and where the needs are, so we can then help support it from our event.”
As with the other projects already completed in this directive across the country, the Regent Park Rink initiative will benefit those in the inner city of Toronto, providing the underprivileged with accessibility to a safe and well-maintained environment to participate, while also giving new Canadian families eager for their first introduction to the game of hockey a backyard venue.
“It’s not one event that solves the problem,” Bright said. “But we can certainly have some impact and we’re proud of that.”
The nature of the rink refurbishments can take a variety of aspects. Fundraising for this type of project goes far beyond aesthetics. Sure, paint can offer a fresh look, but the MLSE Team Up Foundation has a track record for providing more than quick touch-ups, with in investment in facility assets such as new rink boards, plexiglass and replacing antiquated ice plants and cooling systems.
And while the HCF moves its summer fundraiser around to a different city each year, the MLSE Team Up Foundation works directly in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and also invests in legacy fundraising contributions to improve community basketball courts and soccer pitches.
This broad focus is congruent with the sports franchise MLSE has under its umbrella, which includes the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL), Toronto Marlies (AHL), Toronto Raptors (NBA) and Toronto FC (MLS).
“It’s wonderful work that they do,” Bright said. “And the kids are the beneficiary of it.”
In the past three years alone, the MLSE Team Up Foundation has given more than $7-million dollars back to community projects around the GTA, while MLSE and the MLSE Team Up Foundation have been involved with 37 facility improvement projects to date.
“The impact that is being created through our programs is tremendous,” MLSE Team Up Foundation executive director Michael Bartlett said. “We’re now starting to see the measurable impact on youth lives. We’re not just providing a nicer place to play. Kids are spending more time playing with their friends, rather than being caught up in other activities.”
A crowd of 850 is expected at this year’s gala fundraiser, with the HCF contributing 50 per cent of the money raised to the Regent Park Rink Project, with the remaining funds to be used in support of youth hockey development projects across the country.
And while no one is suggesting the private sector replace the role of government to deliver services in sports and recreation, it’s partnerships like the one between the HCF and the MLSE Team Up Foundation that can help augment services to the benefit of all Canadian youth.
“We’re filling that gap and giving kids a safer and better place to play,” Bartlett said.
You can find more information on the MLSE Team Up Foundation at www.mlseteamupfoundation.org.