There were more than a few moist eyes when the Mimico Canadiens of Mimico, Ont., departed Rankin Inlet after their 10-day stay in the community this past week.
The Mimico youths and their parents and chaperones were in Rankin for the second half of the Northern Exchange program, which is mainly funded by Experiences Canada through Heritage Canada.
Mimico hockey dad and coach Lee Barker said his first impression of Rankin Inlet centred on the tremendous hospitality of the community.
He said everyone in the Mimico party felt like they were at home from the moment they arrived at the Rankin airport.
“The community itself is beautiful – the inuksuk, big sky and vistas – everyone in our group couldn’t stop talking about the beauty of the place, but that comes second to the beauty of the people and how warm they were to us,” said Barker.
“We played a little hockey in Mimico and we played a little hockey here – we’re hockey teams and that’s what we do – and I’m quite impressed with the level of hockey that’s played in Rankin.
“And I’m impressed by how passionate – what seems to be the whole community – everyone is over the game; players, parents, fans; everyone here just seems to love the game.
“This hamlet has produced an NHL player and he’s probably not going to be the last.”
The exchange program is much more than two groups of young players from different parts of the country playing a few games of hockey against each other.
The youths involved in the program are exposed to a new culture, and they get the chance to live 10 days in an environment totally outside their element.
Barter said the kids range in age between 10 and 14, and, because the older kids are much-more media savvy; they’ve been talking ever since they came back from Toronto about four months ago; using their phones and the Internet to talk to each other.
He said when the Mimico and Rankin youths saw each other at the Rankin airport, it was like they only saw each other the day before.
“The families have done such a great job making everyone feel welcome that, if there was any home sickness, it was quickly long gone.
“Many of our kids have never experienced the outdoor life of having hunting-and-fishing skills, – part of the richness of growing up in Rankin Inlet is that you gain all these practical skills – but navigating a subway platform is something a child in Rankin may not know how to do as easily as a kid from Toronto.
“It’s really been fun teaching each other.
“The high cost of living here makes us aware of what we waste and how efficient we have to be in waste not, want not, and those are good lessons for our kids to learn.”
Barter said neither community would have been able to make their trip without the funding from Experiences Canada.
He said the organization also gave them a lot of great insight and advice on how to structure their trip.
“It’s a pretty unique and special charity, and I’m very happy it exists and we had the opportunity to participate in it.
“If any other communities want to do it, then they definitely should.
“If I have a piece of advice to offer, it’s to find, and reach out to, a twin community you want to work with and apply together.
“That will increase your odds of being approved.”