Just before I got to Fort Smith, a fire broke out in town, burning down the skating arena. This place not only served as the only place to play hockey in town, it was also home ice for kids from all over the Northwest Territories, even as far away as Inuvik. Even though it serves such a large area, the arena was still pretty low in funding and a full reconstruction wasn’t in the budget.
Then, a dreamy idea came to one of the devoted coaches: over the past few years, this thing called the Kraft Celebration Tour has gone about donating $25,000 to several communities across Canada to help fund community based projects. If you nominate your community and your proposal gets accepted, your community is faced off against another somewhere across the country in a round of online voting where residents show their support for the project.
Getting approved was the easy part, since Kraft also does a Hockeyville challenge in the winters; they’ve got a soft spot for the sport. The hard part was the voting challenge. We were up against Whitehorse: the capital of the Yukon and a place with 10x the population of Fort Smith. We were going to have to take serious action to even stand a chance at winning and fortunately, the town was ready to pull together: they set up voting stations at Aurora College and had teams of people sign up all throughout the voting period to sit down and do nothing but vote for 2 hour blocks. Getting into the spirit of things myself, I sat down with a movie on my laptop and the voting page in another window and got down to business. With each vote, you have to prove you’re not a robot by typing in some words on the screen. I voted so many times; I saw a whole evolution of passwords:
In the end, the voting paid off and we tallied 253,022 votes – about 100 per person and demolished Whitehorse (they only had around 40,000)!
After about a month, the Tour made its way to Smith to present the town with a cheque and have reporters Jennifer Hedger and Darren Dutchyshen do a live TSN broadcast from in front of the Rapids of the Drowned. A stage was set and peanut butter and Cheez Whiz sponsors gave away bags and foam cheese hats – it was a pretty big deal!
I loaded up on free swag and autographs from Jennifer and Darren, something I realized I’m quite awkward at doing – what are you supposed to say to someone who you can talk to for about 20seconds and is signing something for you? With that, my conversation was pretty much limited to the spelling of my name.
When everything was said (or not said) and done, it was great to see Fort Smith come together in such an amazing way. Helping out with the voting and coming out to the broadcast, I really felt like a legitimate part of the community (notice the whole “referring to Fort Smith as “we”” thing). Cheering for the town during the broadcast, I left genuine pride for the community and everyone in it! WHOO FORT SMITH!!