TOQUE TUESDAY: Hockey for homelessness in Surrey

Annual event fights for attention with more widely known Groundhog Day

Surrey Firefighters Charitable Society executive director Todd Schierling, right, makes a glorious save during Toque Tuesday festivities at Surrey City Hall Plaza.

Surrey Firefighters Charitable Society executive director Todd Schierling, right, makes a glorious save during Toque Tuesday festivities at Surrey City Hall Plaza.

Don’t wish Tim Baillie a Happy Groundhog Day.

Sure, he’ll respond polite and all. But he won’t like it.

Five years ago, the retired Surrey firefighter invented the city’s Toque Tuesday event. Ever since he’s presided as its “Supreme Commander,” every second Tuesday of February, rain or shine.

Baillie is all about drawing attention to the plight of Canada’s homeless.

The rodent, not so much.

Organizers of Whalley’s Toque Tuesday use a national pastime – hockey – to create more awareness about the national shame of homelessness, especially during these cold winter months. What better way to draw attention to the plight of homeless people in Canada than to call a street hockey game?

Asked how long will he continue to be “Supreme Commander,” wearing that same goofy red toque he wears every year, Baillie ponders a while.

“God knows. You know what? I’ll make a deal. When people no longer call the first Tuesday, or February 2nd like this year, Groundhog Day and instead they call it Toque Tuesday – Y’know, I’m driving here this morning and all I hear on the radio is ‘It’s Groundhog Day, it’s Groundhog Day’ – this is an international day of awareness for homelessness, and that’s what this whole thing is about is making sure people at least one day of the year recognize the seriousness of homelessness. Even though we’re having fun in a very Canadian way.”

The first three years, it was held at the rink at Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre in Whalley. The past two, it’s been at the city hall plaza, where Baillie and other organizers set up a big red inflatable rink thing. Surrey firefighters usually run a hot-dog barbeque with donations going to help fight homelessness and players and spectators (not the homeless though) are encouraged to bring toques, winter shoes, winter coats and warm socks to give to people living on the street.

So what’s changed in five years of Toque Tuesday?

“What I hope and what I’m seeing is some people are starting to become aware that there’s a lot of mental health things, addiction issues, all kinds of different things that feed into homelessness. Surrey’s coming along, they’re paying a little more attention,” Baillie said.

“I believe when all three levels of government co-operate, we’ll make some better grounds against homelessness, because it’s going to take all levels of government, businesses, unions and NGOs – non-governmental organizations – to finally get a handle on this thing.”

This year the ILWU longshoremen’s union 502 brought a pile of donations.

Local politicians traditionally come to play a game or two. Regulars are MLAs Sue Hammell, Bruce Ralston, Gordon Hogg, Amrik Virk, and this time out Surrey city councillors Bruce Hayne and Vera LeFranc also smacked a ball around.

“All of the MPs, I contacted them but they’re all rookies and they’re all sitting in the House so next year I’ll chase them harder,” Baillie said. “Vera there, she’s throwing the elbows. The worst one though is Deputy Fire Chief Karen Fry – she’s nasty. She’s hackin’ and slashin’ with the best of them, there.”

Bruce Hayne takes a break from the rink. Is his team winning?

“Two to one, two to one,” he puffs. “Great charity and great fun. This is my third or fourth year. This is a can’t-miss event. This is great for the community, great for the city, great activation of the plaza, and again, it’s a great charity.”

Among the teams playing this year were the City Slickers, Chicks with Sticks and some Surrey librarians calling themselves the Dewey Decimators also picked up sticks.

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