With the dinner time temperature at -27 C and falling on a mid-January night, and a blizzard in the forecast, the village of Arviat, Nunavut, isn’t exactly the first place that springs to mind when you think of basketball or soccer.
But with all that snow and ice, it would seem like a natural fit for Canada’s national game — hockey.
When Cloverdale sports ambassador Rick Gill returns to two villages in Nunavut next month, he hopes to bring along some spare hockey equipment so kids there can play.
Located high above the Arctic Circle, the communities of Arviat and Baker Lake are worlds away from the well-equipped gyms, sports fields and hockey rinks of Surrey.
“We’re trying to outfit about 20 kids right now,” said Gill, the Canadian director of Hoops 4 Hope, a charity that uses basketball and other sports to help impoverished youth in South Africa — where he once played pro basketball — and Inuit communities in Canada’s Far North.
In Africa, the program trains local coaches, builds courts, and runs practices and tournaments for children in communities hit by poverty, crime and HIV-AIDS.
Gill and Hoops 4 Hope and Soccer 4 Hope program founder, New Yorker Mark Crandall, return first to Arviat on Feb. 15.
Recently, a hockey coach in one of the two communities reached out to Gill, asking if he can collect some donated hockey equipment and bring it with him when he returns next month.
There are no roads north from the mega malls and department stores of Winnipeg to Arviat, perched on the icy edge of Hudson’s Bay, or Baker Lake, which is a remote community further inland. Supplies and visitors like Gill must be flown in, usually in a prop plane from Winnipeg.
Gill, who grew up in North Delta, has been to Nunavut twice each year for the past two years with Hoops 4 Hope and Hoops4Soccer, running two-week camps for kids.
“The kids there really enjoy sport,” says Gill, “and they’re enthusiastic. They’re like kids anywhere in the world; they just want to play.”
This year, the charity is setting up sustainable community programs that will continue on, and hopefully expand to other towns.
“Initially we were just going up to introduce the program and do two-week camps to see if people liked it,” he said, explaining the idea’s grown from there. Last January, he decided he wanted to create a sustainable program “so the program keeps running after we leave.”
Gill organized a Vancouver-area drive for sports equipment several years ago to help youth in South Africa.
If you can help track down gently-used hockey equipment for kids aged five to 14, or help with shipping expenses and storage until Feb. 15, please contact Gill by email at TheGills711@hotmail.com.
All kinds of equipment is needed, including skates, helmets, neck guards, gloves, and padding.
“I’m just going to take a couple of hockey bags [filled with donations] along,” he said, adding Excellent Ice in Surrey and Langley’s Sports Replay are also accepting donations but people should contact him first before dropping off equipment at those stores.