We’ve come across some of the most welcoming and generous people during our travels through Canada. Many of the Canadian friends we now have were made in the strangest of places.

When we were sitting in Tim Horton’s (Canada’s version of Starbucks) at Niagara Falls and were approached by a man asking if ‘that truck out the front is yours?’ – as so many people before him had done – who knew we’d make another great friend.

His name was David and he invited us to get to know more about Canadian culture by watching an ice hockey training session that very night. We were delighted with the offer to see ice hockey in action and understand more about the country’s passion for it.

The First Shift

The First Shift is a non-profit organisation that helps newly emigrated and disadvantaged kid try out ice-hockey for the first time. Unlike other sports, the equipment needed for ice hockey can be pretty pricey and the opportunities for newcomers to give the game a go is rare.

Thats why David was so proud and happy to be volunteering his time to coach these kids. And how cute they were!! We couldn’t help but giggle as the tots (aged 5 and up) struggled to keep standing in their skates.

The program is just another fantastic example of how Canada accepts and includes immigrants with open arms. Almost a quarter of the country’s entire population are immigrants who were born abroad – and to see them being so welcomed and included in multiple ways is fantastic.

The kids

The best part of the evening was, by far, watching the cute kids struggling to stay afoot. When the gate was opened for the group to enter the ice-rink our feelings were mixed – we couldn’t help feeling sorry for the kids falling all over the place, but out instinct to laugh took over.

Out of the 50 kids who entered the rink I’d say about 5 of them were able to stay standing. It was like watching human ten pin bowling without the ball.

The majority of the kids were only stepping out on ice for the second time in their lives (they’d had a one hour training session the week before). But no matter how many times they fell, each one got up again determined to master the art of skating.

And slowly but surely we saw an improvement! Despite the cold, sweat dripped from foreheads and determined looks were fixed on the children’s faces. Within the hour they were skating, albeit a bit wobbly, and some were even jumping on the ice!

Hockey culture

Ice hockey in Canada is like soccer in Brazil – its the centre of not only the sporting world but of everyday society too. Professional players are national icons, televised games stop the country in its tracks and kids train religiously every day of the week.

Hockey brings the nation together, and we saw this first hand as friends and family watched on during the First Shift training session. We were even invited out for dinner afterwards with David and the other trainers!

We spent a very Canadian night at a local pub, eating Poutine (the national dish) and talking about Canadian culture and politics. We had an absolutely fantastic time and really felt like we achieved our goal of living like locals.

This is exactly what travel is about for us – making new friends, finding good news stories in this world of negative media, trying different food and understanding a new culture from a local perspective!

Thanks so much for this amazing experience David!!