Still Standing

Small-town Canadian athletes who made it to the world stage

You don’t have to come from a major city to make it to the major leagues

You don’t have to come from a major city to make it to the major leagues

Flyers captain Claude Giroux is the biggest thing to come out of the small town of Hearst, Ont. (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Sometimes the lessons you learn in a small town can help you when you hit the big time. Lessons like hard work, grit, and the many uses of a four-wheeler. Here are five stand-out sports stars from small towns across Canada. 

Claude Giroux (hockey), Hearst, Ont. 

The town of Hearst, Ont. has produced three NHL players. Two of them have been named Claude. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

In 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux was the second-highest scoring player in hockey. He's developed a reputation as a fiery competitor and one of the hardest workers in hockey. He learned those skills playing minor hockey in the Northern Ontario town of Hearst, where he lived until he turned 14.

Here are a couple of facts about Claude Giroux and Hearst:
1) When Hearst got a Junior A team — the Hearst Lumberjacks — in 2017, they modelled their mascot after Giroux.

2) Hearst has produced three NHLers. Two of them have been named Claude. Claude Larose played for Montreal, Minnesota, and St. Louis in the 1960s and '70s. The town's arena is named after him. (Hearst's lone non-Claude to make the NHL was heavyweight Rumun Ndur, who scrapped his way across the league in the late '90s.)

Melissa Lotholz, (bobsleigh), Barrhead, Alta. 

Growing up on a farm has laid a good foundation for sport and life for the first time Olympian and two-time bobsleigh World Championship silver medallist. 3:25

Melissa Lotholz grew up on a farm outside of the town of Barrhead, in central Alberta. She ran track and field in high school, and later for the University of Alberta, before transitioning to bobsleigh in 2014. 

When she first decided to take up bobsleigh, she did dryland practice on her parents' farm by taking the quad out of the barn, putting it in neutral, and pushing it. Lotholz has won two world championship silver medals, so obviously all that quad-pushing worked.

Ryan Dempster (baseball), Gibsons, B.C.

Ryan Dempster said he planned to become a "ninja" after retiring from baseball. He retired in 2016. No word on how ninja school is going as of yet. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ryan Dempster is one of Canada's big baseball success stories, appearing in two All-Star games and winning a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2013. He once told reporters that he planned to become a ninja once he could no longer play baseball.

Dempster retired in 2016. There's been no word as to how the ninja training is going, but he has been putting on baseball clinics for young players in his hometown of Gibsons, on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast. He was also recently inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Laurie Blouin (snowboard), Stoneham-et-Tewksbury, Que.

After taking a hard fall in training on Friday, the 21-year-old from Stoneham, Que. scored 76.33 points on her second run to win a silver medal in women's snowboard slopestyle. 2:07

If you want proof that small-town gals are tough, look no further than snowboarder Laurie Blouin. During the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics, Blouin took a nasty spill during a training run and had to be taken off the hill in a stretcher. Three days later, she was competing in the final, with a black eye, fighting off 48 km/hr cross winds to win a silver medal.

Scott Moir (figure skating), Ilderton, Ont.

How Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir say 'thank you' to their fans 1:01

Scott Moir didn't grow up dreaming of being a figure skater. He wanted to play hockey. He started figure skating to improve his footwork. The following year, his coach — who, in true small town, everyone's-related-to-everyone fashion, was also his aunt — paired him with Tessa Virtue, and the rest was Olympic history. 

Ilderton threw a parade for Virtue and Moir in the summer of 2018, and people from all over Southwestern Ontario came to cheer them on because, in the words of one parade attendee from Tillsonburg, "Small towns have to stick together. When you have Olympic athletes like this, they're these girls' idols. Hard work pays off and small-town dreams can come alive."