'Little leader' campaigns for hockey rink in small northern town

Nine-year-old Zandar Koe of Fort McPherson, N.W.T, wasn't about to let the closure of the community's hockey arena wreck the season.

Nine-year-old Zandar Koe put on a suit and made a presentation at the hamlet council meeting

Zandar Koe and friends are hoping the community will ensure they have a suitable outdoor rink for hockey this winter. (Submitted by William Koe)

When nine year-old Zandar Koe found out there might not be an ice rink in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., suitable for organized hockey this year, he decided to do something about it.

He started a petition and wrote a letter to the hamlet asking for help.

Zandar said he's been playing hockey since he was four, and was sad to find out the the Charlie "Geejam" Snowshoe Arena with an indoor ice rink is closed this season due to structural problems with the building.

There is a pond close to the hamlet that people use for skating, but it's not properly maintained.

"Hockey is my sport," Zandar said.

The Gwich'in boy said he loves "playing a hockey game and having fun with my friends." He doesn't want that to stop in Fort McPherson.

Zandar drafted a letter, got about three pages of signatures of support from both adults and kids, and attended a hamlet council meeting Wednesday.

Zandar Koe, right, makes his case before hamlet council with Zody Kay, left. (Submitted by Marion Koe)

The initiative was his own idea — his mother, Marion Koe, said she didn't even know about the letter until his school called her asking for permission for him to attend the council meeting that evening.

He presented his letter with fellow nine-year-old Zody Kay, and said he was "excited" when council and attendees clapped for him.

In Zandar's letter, he also mentioned that the ice rink is a big part of an annual New Year's Eve tradition in the community. A public skate is held after midnight until about 5 a.m. It's a popular tradition which youth look forward to every year.

He told council that "it was going to be boring" without the public skate.

Proud grandfather, and mayor

One person who was particularly impressed was the mayor of Fort McPherson, William Koe. William also happens to be Zandar's grandfather.

Zandar Koe with grandfather William Koe in Fort McPherson. (Submitted by William Koe)

"He had his little suit on, I was really proud of him. I thought he was Wayne Gretzky or something," said William. "He's going to be a little leader, I can tell."

William said that earlier that day, he had informed residents on community radio that there was going to be no ice arena this year.  He said he was hoping community members would show up to the meeting to figure out what to do about having an area for people to skate and play hockey.

He said there are too many problems in their current complex, which is about 36 years old. The hamlet is working to secure funding to get a new building built for the community.

In the meantime, recreational activities like floor hockey, soccer, volleyball, basketball and hockey will need an interim home.

William said there was a good turnout at the meeting and "from that letter, his statement and the reactions, we decided we have to find a place for them. A place that will keep them occupied for the winter."

He said it's going to be a community effort but they are planning on getting the pond ice rink cleaned and flooded with water to level it out so it's safe for people to skate on.

The outdoor hockey rink in Fort McPherson will be improved and maintained for the winter while the arena is closed down. (William Firth/CBC)

They also want to add some lights so that people can skate safely during the dark and add some benches to make it a proper outdoor rink.

Fort McPherson residents are regulars in hockey tournaments both in the Beaufort Delta region, and in the Yukon.

He said it's important for the hamlet to continue holding the Annual Trapper Blake tournament, and have a place for kids to practice hockey especially with the Arctic Winter Games just about four months away.

"You can imagine the importance of hockey in Fort McPherson, and all the young kids love playing hockey. They all have their equipment and [are] ready to go, but there'll be no arena," William said.

The mayor said he hopes to seeing parents and community members working together in the next couple of weeks to have the outdoor rink set up.

As for Zandar, he said he hopes people will help, so he and his friends "get to play more hockey everyday."