Hockey equipment drive now in 10th year of supplying gear to Indigenous communities

Thursday, March 14th, 2024 9:42am


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The Indigenous Hockey Equipment Drive has delivered thousands of bags of equipment to Indigenous communities, primarily in Ontario, during the past decade.
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

While there are others who organize initiatives to outfit young players in Indigenous communities with hockey gear, Graham McWaters is unique because of the sheer magnitude of his volunteerism.

McWaters, who lives in Richmond Hill, Ont., spearheads the Indigenous Hockey Equipment Drive. It started off small in 2015, when one of his sons was playing minor hockey.

Back then, McWaters gathered 20 sticks and eight bags of equipment and sent them to Beausoleil First Nation, located near the communities of Midland and Penetanguishene in Ontario.

Now in its 10th year of operations, McWaters’ equipment drive has expanded to the point where about 1,000 bags of equipment per year is being distributed to upwards of 35 Indigenous communities throughout the province.

Though not Indigenous himself, McWaters’ wife Angie and their two sons, Ryan and Matthew are members of Odanak, an Abenaki First Nation in Quebec.

Angie has assisted McWaters with planning for the equipment collection through various minor hockey associations in Toronto and surrounding areas.

“Every year it would double,” he said. “Then triple. And now we’re doing 1,000 bags a year. Now it’s so big it’s like a part-time job. And one I never expected to do.”

Fortunately, McWaters is semi-retired and does have time on his hands to continue with his passion.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not doing something for it,” he said.

Though it takes extensive planning, McWaters manages to get trucking companies, as well as railways and airlines, on board with his initiatives to deliver gathered equipment for free.

“I’m a sales and marketing guy,” McWaters said. “I call them up and tell them what I do. People can’t wait to help us.”

Four years ago, Angie and Graham joined forces with Their Opportunity, a charity based in Oshawa, Ont. Its mission is to deliver and subsidize local sports for development and community engagement programming.

McWaters’ hockey equipment drives have recently expanded outside of Ontario. This past November the drive delivered 100 bags of equipment and 200 sticks to the Indigenous community of Behchoko in the Northwest Territories, located an hour northwest of Yellowknife.

This delivery, which consisted of 17 skids of equipment, travelled more than 4,500 kilometres by train and truck to reach its destination.

And just last month three Indigenous communities in Manitoba were beneficiaries of some equipment, including Minegoziibe Anishinabe, formerly Pine Creek First Nation, which received a truckload of supplies.

That delivery was made possible with the assistance of former National Hockey League player Reggie Leach through the Shoot To Score hockey program owned by his son Jamie.

“This donation is more than just equipment; it represents hope, opportunity, and the chance for our youth to pursue their dreams on the ice, equipped with the best gear possible,” said Harley Chartrand, a councillor for Minegoziibe Anishinabe, in a social media post.

“Your act of generosity beautifully reflects the spirit of community, the love of hockey, and the power of collaboration,” he wrote.

McWaters said he is keen to continue providing equipment to not only Indigenous communities in Ontario but to some outside the province as well.

There are current plans to make deliveries to remote communities in Quebec, as well as Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay in Nunavut.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.