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Cariboo Hockey advocating Fort St. James for $250K outdoor arena upgrade

Project Play awards one Canadian community finances for recreational needs

Imagine what a community could do with $250,000?

For Fort St. James, they’re hoping to be selected out of hundreds of municipalities across Canada to win that kind of money to upgrade one of its iconic facilities in northern B.C.

The local First Nation band council, known as Nak’azdli Whut’en, has created a community rally page for the annual Kraft-Heinz Project Play competition, which rewards a quarter of a million dollars every year to renovate an ageing sports facility.

It has caught the attention of the new six-team Cariboo Hockey development system, based in Prince George, as the Ernie Sam Memorial Arena is the facility the District is hoping to upgrade should they win the nationwide vote.

The Cariboo Cougars played at the rink in Canada’s first-ever outdoor major midget hockey game on Jan. 20 this year.

“It’s about developing the youth in these communities,” said General Manager Trevor Sprague to PrinceGeorgeMatters ahead of the B.C. Hockey Winter Classic. “They’re excited about the game and practicing with our coaching staff and leadership group, but we’re also reaching out to the schools. School is very important; there’s always hockey, but school has got to be number one in their lives at their age. So I hope we really inspire youth in the north to continue to play hockey, the game we love to play here in Canada, and build the sport within the other rural communities of northern B.C.”

Cariboo Hockey also confirms with PrinceGeorgeMatters they'll also be returning to Fort St. James in the new year for a second go-round at the B.C. Outdoor Winter Classic, and this time, the Northern Capitals are joining the party.

On Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, the Cariboo Cougars will host the Vancouver North West Hawks at Ernie Sam Memorial Arena.

The Northern Capitals will face-off against the reigning provincial-champion Greater Vancouver Comets the next day, Sunday, Jan. 19, on the same ice surface.

Now, the arena itself is not up to Hockey Canada standards as zambonis and rink managers had to come with the Cariboo Cougars to help the Nak’azdli Whut’en band council in making sure it was prepped for 2019's contest.

As Tarina Honeywell writes on the community rally page, Fort St. James uses the facility for more than just hockey in the winter.

“Some of the ideas we have are basketball camps and maybe even bringing lacrosse to the town,” she said. “This building will help our community so much, first by giving our youth something to do other than getting into mischief, but it will also make the town more desirable. In June, one of our main job suppliers permanently closed its doors, so not only did we lose 200 jobs, but also a main donator. We are hoping that improvements to one of the town's complexes will entice new people and families to move to our small community.”

There are two days left to promote the submission as the Kraft-Heinz Project Play deadline is set for 11:59 p.m. on Sunday (Sept. 22).

Winners will be selected the week of Oct. 20, 2019.