GTHL, Whitefish River First Nation Exchange a remarkable experience for all

On February 3-5, the Scarborough Hockey Association’s Under-11 Select Team visited Whitefish River First Nation for the second leg of the Greater Toronto Hockey League and Whitefish River First Nation home-and-home exchange. The visit came following the first leg in November 2022 which featured youth from Whitefish River First Nation coming to Toronto.

The exchange program strived to provide opportunities for 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 had not previously played organized hockey, the exchange aimed to provide introductory skill development opportunities (both on and off the ice) in order to encourage further participation in the game of hockey, while fostering new learning experiences and relationships.

“The Whitefish River First Nation community were incredibly generous hosts and did a great job of combining fun activities for all the kids with introducing the Scarborough team to some of their traditions, culture, and language,” Mike Purdy, GTHL Director, said of the weekend. “It was a truly impactful experience that all of us – players, parents, and organizers – will likely remember for the rest of our lives. I hope the GTHL is able to partner with other First Nations in the future in order to provide similar opportunities to more players and their families.”

Upon arriving in Whitefish River, the U11 Scarborough Ice Raiders and their parents/guardians were warmly welcomed at the Community Centre. After a light lunch, the bus filled up with both Ice Raiders and Whitefish River participants for the drive to Manitowaning for a skill development session with former NHL Coach of the Year and Co-Founder of the 3 Nolans, Ted Nolan, and sons, retired NHL players and co-founders, Brandon and Jordan Nolan.

On the coldest day of the winter to date, Ted, Brandon, and Jordan got all participants moving with several drills before finishing things off with a shootout competition and scrimmage.

The opening day of the second leg concluded with dinner, a language session, and games. 

Picture perfect was used often to sum up Saturday’s agenda, with the 3 Nolans starting things off with a second skill development session – this time on the outdoor rink with snowfall as the backdrop.

From the outdoor rink to Horseshoe Bay, participants were then treated to an afternoon of sledding, ice fishing, and snowshoeing, complete with a bonfire, marshmallows, and hot dogs. 

All participants warmed up with Indian Tacos for dinner before heading over to the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre to experience a Pow wow – a special opportunity provided by a gracious invitation from the community.

Before heading home on Sunday, participants were given the chance to learn how locals ‘get the net’ – pulling a fishing net back in from underneath ice. The trip wrapped up with a traditional fish fry at the local school, a game of manhunt, and all participants receiving certificates for their part in a special learning experience for all.

“Here in Whitefish River, we are tired but content in the knowledge that all the hard work paid off as many in the community were able to come together and create a positive experience that will hopefully have lasting impacts, both here and with the Scarborough/GTHL group,” Steve Whitaker, Principal of Shawanosowe School, shared following the exchange. “Though from a distance it may seem like a relatively minor event, I believe that those of us who were directly involved felt the power of the moment, and the potential it could have for eliciting real change.”

“I am happy to experience the warmth of the smiles from the children here in the school who participated over the weekend. They have been coming in today, many wearing their new [Scarborough Hockey Association] toques, trying to outcompete each other with stories of how tired they were yesterday and how early they went to bed (the opposite of the bedtime stories they usually tell!), all the while clearly feeling a sense of achievement and a recognition that they have been part of something special,” Whitaker continued. “It truly is remarkable. We are so grateful for the GTHL having taken the lead on getting this initiative started. Looking forward to seeing what’s next!”

To view all the photos from the second leg of the GTHL X Whitefish River First Nation Exchange, click here.


  • Steve Whitaker (Principal, Shawanosowe School, Whitefish River First Nation)
  • Crystal McGregor (Health and Social Services, Whitefish River First Nation)
  • Edward Paibomsai (Family Services Worker, Whitefish River First Nation)
  • Josh Carpenter (Central Regional Coordinator, Indigenous Sports and Wellness Ontario)
  • Scott Oakman (Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, GTHL)
  • Stephanie Hyde (Hockey Development and Community Outreach Coordinator, GTHL)
  • Brian Kyla-Lassila (Senior Manager, Membership Services; GTHL)
  • Michael Purdy (Director, GTHL)

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