Colin Hodgson helps introduce curling to northern Quebec’s Indigenous community
Earlier this month, a set of curling stones traveled 1,500 kilometers from Montreal to Chisasibi, an Indigenous community in northern Quebec. For the first time, this isolated town on the coast of James Bay was going to experience curling, with the help of a famous teacher.
Six-time Brier participant Colin Hodgson spearheaded the event through his work with a program called Classroom Champions, with the help of local organizer Trevor Monaghan.
“They gave me the opportunity to work with a Cree Nation community center and introduce curling to that community,” said Hodgson (Red River, Ont.), whose ancestors were Métis. “As an Indigenous athlete, this was a truly incredible opportunity to help create a truly unique event.”
With funding from Heritage Canada and some stones and equipment loaned by Curling Quebec, Hodgson called on Brian Chick of Toronto, former team leader for Canadian entries in several world curling events. The two men traveled to Chisasibi with Andrea Dion, a First Nations facilitator from Classroom Champions, and created two curling rinks at the town’s hockey rink.
“It wasn’t an easy task,” Hodgson said of the whole thing. “We only had a few weeks to put the program together, but luckily Alanna Routledge from Curling Quebec was willing to help us and made sure we had everything we needed.
“It was a great opportunity for us to introduce a new sport and generate some interest for the future,” added Monaghan, director of recreational programs for the Cree Nation of Chisasibi. “Having Colin and Brian here to introduce us to the sport was fantastic.”
Hodgson and Chick worked with local arena operators to insert hacks, draw houses (using Sharpie markers and bingo stamps) and soon had two playable sheets for curling – although a little shorter than the regulatory length.
“It ended up being a nice surface. The rocks slid really well, with a bit of curvature,” Hodgson said. “It was definitely enough to teach new curlers and eventually get them to play games.” »
Nearly 40 people attended the learn-to-curl sessions and returned for the games the next day. Monaghan had created personalized hoodies for all attendees and also provided breakfast and snacks. Participants ranged in age from six to 70 years old.
“It was really special to see people get so involved in something they had never done before. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hodgson said. “The Cree Nation people are incredible athletes and they caught on really quickly. Some of them looked like they’d been playing for years. They’d been playing in games and were really competitive. It was awesome.”
“We got coached, we learned how to play and we had fun,” Monaghan said. “The best part was that people of all ages could participate and entire families could do it together. A friend of mine was pleasantly surprised when he realized this was something he could do with his wife.
Even before the weekend ended, plans were in the works to bring curling back to Chisasibi, perhaps on a more permanent basis. City officials have been working to design a new community recreation facility as the city has outgrown existing buildings. They now want to include a curling rink in the new plans.
“We have secured funding for a new sports and cultural center, and it looks like curling is a great option for a social and recreational activity,” Monaghan said. “There might be a competitive aspect that comes from that afterwards.”
“This community really wants to create its own sporting champions and for them to be successful on a national level across the country,” Hodgson said. “I could see that happening too. . . the ability and competitiveness of the group was evident. With good facilities and supervision, this could certainly happen.
In addition to curling, out-of-towners were introduced to town officials and elders, enjoyed meals with locals and their families, and toured the local cultural and heritage museum. The area had two residential schools that operated until the 1970s, and much of the trauma from that era is still evident. There was a meeting of residential school survivors at the community center next to the arena while curling was taking place.
“It was a very emotional experience, but also very encouraging,” Hodgson said. “We are working towards reconciliation and working to move forward together. It’s hard not to feel motivated and hopeful when spending time with the amazing people in this community.
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