It’s a cold blustery morning in Edmonton, Alberta as local elementary school children board a bus for a trip to the downtown community arena next to Rogers Place and the home of the Edmonton Oilers. For many of the children, the bus ride from their school to the rink is an adventure in and of itself. Putting on the skates and helmets awaiting them — an even bigger adventure. For some, this is the first time they will have ever stepped on the ice. Thanks to a partnership between Skate AB|NT|NU, EverActive Schools, The City of Edmonton, and the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, many of these children are about to experience the joy of skating for the first time. This is the CanSkate@School program.
CanSkate@School started in 2018 with the sole purpose of providing children in grades 1-4 who come from inner city and under-served school communities, an opportunity to experience the joy of skating and learning to skate. Participants don’t even need to bring their own helmets or skates – as equipment is often a key barrier to entry, all the equipment required is housed at the arena waiting for them. In fact, most of the equipment is legacy funded equipment from the Skate Canada “Skate Bank” program from Canada 150, a gift that keeps on giving to this community.
Since it first started, over 4700 students have gone through the program with 90% of participants experiencing skating for the first time. These are impressive numbers considering the program had to pause for a year and half during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program also serves sledge skaters and adaptive skaters – ensuring that anyone who wants to, has the opportunity to attend by participating in specialized sessions called interaction sessions.
Each child’s class registers for the program through EverActive schools and gets three sessions that follow the CanSkate program, and which are led by Skate Canada certified coaches. It works just like a skating field trip – board the bus to the rink, skate, go back to school…and the kids seem to really love it.
When speaking with one parent whose child recently participated in the program, she shared that, “he loved it and had so much fun”. Tehmina’s son, Shuwaiz, is 11 years old, blind, and like many other families, faced a financial barrier to entry. This barrier was quickly removed because everything he needs to participate is provided through the program. After he was able to step on the ice for the first time, his mom said that: “he really enjoyed it and improved a lot by the third day.” Shuwaiz, like many other children, was able to have a new experience that might never had happened if it were not for the CanSkate@School program.
In its first year, the program served 732 kids – that’s 32 classes from seven schools and all of those were primarily grade two students (while geared towards grades 1-4, the program will accept students up to grade 9). To date, 4,700 kids have had the opportunity to skate that may never have otherwise stepped foot on the ice — and that’s just in one city. So, what does the future hold? Speaking with Leona Boyle, Administrative Coordinator and Lisa Hardy, Executive Director of Skate AB|NT|NU, the section is looking to expand the program offering to the City of Calgary soon.
The confluence of events that came together to create this program is nothing short of amazing. After the construction of Rogers Place Arena and the downtown community rink in 2016, it soon became apparent the rink was being under-utilized. The equipment from Canada 150 was still pretty much brand new and was able to provide the skates and helmets the skaters require to participate. Funding from the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Oilers Foundation, in conjunction with the coordination of logistics from EverActive schools and Skate AB|NT|NU’s expert coaches, all came together to build this unique program. It was a perfect skating storm that managed to remove some of the most basic barriers to entry and to serve some of the most under-served members of the Edmonton community.
Programs and opportunities like CanSkate@School continue to make strides towards ensuring this beloved Canadian pastime really does have the potential to be available to everyone.
*If you are interested in starting a CanSkate@School program in your area, please reach out to [email protected].