N.S. family who lost son to cancer honours him with annual hockey tournament

Proceeds go towards buying gas and grocery cards for families of sick children, many of whom are staying at Ronald McDonald House in Halifax.

Money raised buys gas, grocery cards for families at Halifax's Ronald McDonald House

Oliver Graham was three he died of cancer on June 5, 2010. (Kaitlin Graham)

Oliver Graham was just three when he died of cancer, but his legacy lives on through an annual hockey tournament in his name.

Money raised at the tournament helps buy gas and grocery cards for families with sick children at Halifax's IWK Health Centre, many of whom are staying at Ronald McDonald House.

Ronald McDonald House Canada runs a home just steps from the children's hospital — with 18 private bedrooms, a full kitchen, laundry facilities, a playroom, and other facilities — where families from out of town can stay while their child is seeking treatment. 

That's where Oliver's father, Drew, and brother, Jax, stayed on and off after the boy was first hospitalized as at 18 months old. His mother, Kaitlin, primarily stayed at the hospital.

The house allowed the family to stay together, "and that was so important to us," Kaitlin Graham told the CBC's Information Morning. 

Families pay just $11.50 per night to stay, but the Grahams found paying for things like gas and food was still a burden when caring for a very sick child.

Oliver lost his battle with cancer on June 5, 2010 — 21 months after his initial diagnosis — and his family decided to give back.

The tournament trophy reflects Oliver's love of trains. (Kaitlin Graham)

Two-day event

A hockey tournament made sense, Kaitlin Graham said, because the sport was an important outlet for Drew when his son was sick. "He would go out with the guys he worked with at Michelin," she said. "That would be his release."

The first tournament — the Oliver Hudson Graham Memorial Cancer Sucks Cup — was relatively small. But eight years later, it has grown into a two-day event at the local rink in Trenton, N.S.

This year's tournament runs is on Dec. 21, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The family is also hosting a free skate for families on Dec. 22 from 7 to 9 p.m.

A van full of donated new, unwrapped toys. (Kaitlin Graham)

Team slogan

Graham said their team name is Oliver's Express, because "Oliver's first love, beside his family, were trains." 

The team jerseys always have a different quote on the back. This year, it reads: "Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help someone else." 

"That's what we try to do with this tournament," Graham said.

Aside from assisting the families staying at Ronald McDonald House, some of the tournament's proceeds will also go to the families of sick children who are staying on the oncology floor at the IWK, as well as a support fund for oncology patients that helps families cover costs associated with their child's treatment.

Tournament organizers are also accepting donations of new, unwrapped toys suitable for children ages 0-16.

About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu is a journalist based in Halifax. She aims to tell stories that people want to share around the dinner table each night. If you have a snackable story idea to share, please drop her a line at nina.corfu@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC's Information Morning