A hockey rink in one of Toronto's densest multicultural communities is in the running against nine others across the country for a renovation worth $100,000 as part of Kraft annual Hockeyville's competition.
Angela James Arena, in Flemingdon Park, is one of just two Ontario arenas to make the cut along with Rotary Park Rink in Brockville. But while hockey has deep roots in many parts of Canada, Flemingdon Park's rink — which serves about 50,000 people — is a hub in a community where many are new to Canada.
Muhammad Yunus, a hockey coach at the arena's ProAction Hockey League for children aged 8-12, is the force behind the effort.
Like many who use the arena, Yunus is a first-generation Canadian. Born in Toronto to a mother who immigrated from India, he was raised in his father's home country, South Africa, which oddly enough is where he learned to skate.
"I always knew being Canadian that hockey was something that I should know about," Yunus told Metro Morning.
"I always make fun of my Canadian friends, 'I grew up in Africa where there's no ice and I learned to skate. So there's no reason as a Canadian that you shouldn't know how to skate.'"
Yunus explains that the arena is in dire need of repairs because of everything from heating problems to a leaky roof.
"All the parents have to stand in a little enclosed area that's the only heated area in the entire arena," Yunus said.
That means kids can't hear their parents cheering them on when they're on the ice.
But while the building has its issues, Torontonians from all different backgrounds lace up their skates there, Yunus said.
"There's from Guyana to Ghana — anyplace in the world you name, there's kids who come from there, Tanzania, Slovakia," he said.
"This arena and the programs that we have at this arena show that if you give people the chance, they will take it and they want to be part of the culture."
Mayor John Tory echoed those comments during a visit to the arena Monday.
"Flemingdon Park, I can think of nowhere better where people from all over the world come and play our game here. It's been a great uniter of this community," Tory said.
"It isn't just another arena, it isn't just another community. It is a community that is something to be seen and admired around the country as an example," he said.
Community 'somewhat ignored'
But while Tory held up the Flemingdon Park community as a model for Canada, the community hasn't always received the attention it deserves, Coun. Jon Burnside said Monday.
"I used to work here as a police officer in the nineties and I saw the challenges between the police and the community," he said.
"I also knew from my experience working here that there are really a lot of good people and I felt that the community had been somewhat ignored," Burnside said.
Yunus hopes Torontonians will help to change that by voting for the city's arena online. Today is the last day to cast a vote to get the arena into the contest's top two spots, after which a winner will be picked on March 21.
"This arena and the programs that we have at this arena show that if you give people the chance, they will take it and they want to be part of the culture," Yunus said. "They want to be part of Canada as well."
In addition to winning money for renovations, the arena also wins the chance to host an NHL preseason game.