KIRKLAND LAKE, ONT. — It is a scene that could grace the back of the five-dollar bill. Youngsters are playing hockey outdoors, the sounds so familiar – skates scraping over ice, sticks striking pucks, a barking dog – that they even include the winter call of the Canadian mother, once so common now so rare.
“Steeeeeeee-vennnn! Dinnnnnner-timmme!” But it is not real.
It is, instead, a diorama represented what once was, the roots of a game so important to this small Northern Ontario community that Kirkland Lake even has its own impressive Hall of Fame – Hockey Heritage North – that celebrates what Foster Hewitt once called “The town that made the NHL famous.”
It is registration week in Kirkland Lake, Ont., that time of year when the town’s youngsters sign up for a sport that once defined Kirkland Lake every bit as much as the gold the various mines pulled from the quartz and faults of this dense northern bush.
The Timbits are on the ice at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex, locally known as “The Joe.” All three age groups are on at once. There are four– and five-year-olds together, six-year-olds and seven-year-olds – making a grand total of 30 hockey players learning to skate and turn without crashing into the boards.
That number, 30, is precisely the number of NHLers listed on a bronze monument downtown where the old rink once stood and where championships were regularly won.
There are actually more than 40 local players who went on to play at high levels, and as the 30 Timbits skate and fall about the ice surface, they do so under the gaze of giants in Kirkland Lake hockey history and giants, as well, in the murals that surround The Joe.