George Bell Hockey Association, Whitefish River First Nation come together for first leg of exchange program

On October 27-29, the Under-13 ‘A’ George Bell Titans welcomed participants from Whitefish River First Nation to Toronto. The weekend served as the first leg of the 2023-24 season’s Whitefish River First Nation and Greater Toronto Hockey League home-and-home exchange. 

The youth from Whitefish River First Nation arrived at George Bell Arena on Friday afternoon. Greeting them were the U13 ‘A’ George Bell Titans, with each player sharing one of their personal jerseys with a buddy. After introductions and icebreakers, the participants took to the ice for a session filled with skill development, fun, and a few games.  

Following the ice session, the groups shared a Portuguese dinner together before heading back to their homes and the hotel ahead of a busy Saturday.  

Saturday began with a trip downtown on the subway, a first for many of the Whitefish River First Nation participants. The first stop was at MLSE LaunchPad where after lunch, the players got the opportunity to rotate through rock climbing, floor hockey, and other game stations full of activity and laughter. 


“I think the whole tone of the weekend reflected a deep understanding of what the initiative is about: coming together in a spirit of mutual understanding and reconciliation, with hockey as the vehicle for doing so,” Steve Whitaker, Principal of Shawanosowe School, shared, adding that he can remember of a number of instances where a GTHL player deliberately reached out to assist and include one of the Whitefish River First Nation players. “Students have expressed their sense of achievement at having become better skaters and their enjoyment at having been able to visit so many new and interesting places.” 

From MLSE LaunchPad, the participants made their way to the University of Toronto. Time on campus started with an educational visit to the First Nations House, through to mini tours of academic opportunities that exist for the future, and capped off with a University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey game at Varsity Arena.  

Prior to taking in the game, special guests from both the men’s and women’s Varsity Blues hockey teams joined the exchange for dinner. GTHL alumnus Owen Robinson was among a few men’s Varsity Blues players who spoke about the importance of academics alongside athletics, while women’s players Sophie Grawbarger, Kaitlyn McKnight, Emma Potter, and Avery Lee shared their career journeys thus far.  


“As an educator, I am thrilled that their hearts and minds have been opened to some new possibilities around their future in education, and the First Nations House provided an unscripted, yet meaningful opportunity for an introduction to Anishinaabek culture that participants will experience more of in February,” Whitaker concluded. 

The third and final day of the Toronto leg finished off with a second on-ice session and the participants offering a, “see you later” to their new friends.   

The second leg of the 2023-24 Whitefish River First Nation X GTHL exchange will take place in February, with the U13 ‘A’ George Bell Titans travelling to Whitefish River.  

The exchange program strives to provide opportunities to GTHL and First Nations players, parents, and other participants to develop relationships, fellowship, and a cultural understanding through a shared passion for the game of hockey. For younger recreational-level players and players who have not previously played hockey, the exchange aims to provide introductory skill development opportunities (both on and off the ice) to encourage further participation in the game of hockey, while fostering new learning experiences and relationships. 

To view all the photos from the weekend, click here. 

To learn more about the Whitefish River First Nation X GTHL exchange program, click here. 

About Whitefish River First Nation  

A community of approximately 1,200 citizens of the Anishinabek Nation located on the shores of Georgian Bay and the North Shore Channel, gatekeepers to Manitoulin Island, Ontario. The main village of Birch Island has approximately 440 members. Whitefish River First Nation is a progressive and active community that encourages, supports, and promotes local development, education, community wellness, and economic development as keys to their success.   

About the Greater Toronto Hockey League   

Founded in 1911, the GTHL is a non-profit organization and the largest minor hockey league in the world. The GTHL registers more than 40,000 annual participants in Markham, Mississauga, Toronto, and Vaughan. The purpose of the GTHL is to govern organized hockey for youth within its jurisdiction, and to foster participation that reflects the cultural demographic of the League’s territory while promoting an environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all participants.   


  • Steve Whitaker (Principal, Shawanosowe School, Whitefish River First Nation)  
  • Stephen Nahwegahbow (Education Manager, Whitefish River First Nation)  
  • Stephanie Hyde (Manager, Hockey Development and Community Outreach, GTHL)  
  • Michael Purdy (Director, GTHL)  
  • John Bell (General Manager, George Bell Hockey Association)   
  • Anver Emon (Co-Manager, U13 ‘A’ George Bell team) 

For more information, please contact:  
Stephanie Coratti | Senior Manager, Communications & Marketing  

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