U13 ‘A’ George Bell Titans visit to Whitefish River First Nation a successful learning experience

On February 9-11, the Under-13 ‘A’ George Bell Titans made the trip up to Whitefish River First Nation for the second leg of the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) and Whitefish River First Nation home-and-home exchange. The visit came following the first leg in October 2023 which featured youth from Whitefish River First Nation coming to Toronto.

In its second season, 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. 

“The openness and enthusiasm expressed by the George Bell group from the outset of this year’s project [is part of the standout moments for me],” Steve Whitaker, Principal of Shawanosowe School of Whitefish River First Nation, shared. “Their clear desire to learn and connect in a respectful way throughout the program really set the tone for this year’s event.”

Before officially arriving in Whitefish River First Nation, the Titans pulled in to the Espanola Regional Recreation Complex to take to the ice with the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s (NOJHL) Espanola Paper Kings for a practice. Prior to hitting the ice, the Titans were treated to jerseys along with an introduction to the Seven Grandfathers Challenge, challenging the participants to act with love, respect, bravery, truth, honesty, humility, and wisdom throughout the weekend’s festivities, and beyond.

“The willingness of the non-hockey playing Whitefish River First Nation kids to persevere with the challenge of skating and learning hockey [was another significant moment for me],” Whitaker continued. “As their former gym teacher, I know that sticking with physical challenges can be difficult for them, but there is something special about this exchange that drives their excitement and motivation.”

Day two started at McGregor Bay as the participants were taught how to set the net. From there, the group headed over to Horseshoe Bay for a rotation of outdoor stations of tree tapping, shelter building, and fire starting. After lots of time outside, it was back to the ice with the Espanola Paper Kings for the second practice of the weekend. 

The day wrapped up with a traditional dinner of Indian Tacos and a celebration of the Lunar New Year, including crafts and special desserts courtesy of family from the Titans.  

On Sunday morning, it was back to McGregor Bay to learn how to get the net. Following the lesson of both fishing and the tradition of respecting nature, the group was treated to a fish fillet demonstration ahead of a special fish lunch. To cap off the weekend, awards were handed out for the accomplishment of completing the exchange as well as the giving of gifts with the Titans especially excited to share the medicine pouches made for the Whitefish River youth.

“The experience resonating most with me is the pure joy expressed by community members at being able to share knowledge with so many keenly interested people, particularly youth,” Whitaker concluded of the weekend in Whitefish River. “The net setters in particular expressed both to the group and to me, how they view the relearning of how to live with the earth, rather than continuing to merely take from it, is essential for people from all backgrounds if we are to begin creating a better future.”

“The experience of that knowledge-sharing this past weekend was a joyful occasion for both the sharers and the recipients, and one that I truly hope can be repeated with increasing frequency in the years to come.”

To view the complete G Gallery of the 2024 visit to Whitefish River First Nation, click here.

For more on the GTHL X Whitefish River First Nation Exchange, 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 Leagues territory while promoting an environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all participants.  


  • Steve Whitaker (Principal, Shawanosowe School, 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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