There is a large cluster of intimidating signs on the left hand side of the road as you travel into Old Masset, a village on Graham Island in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.
The 15 signs, colourfully painted on old sheets of plywood, are in opposition of proposed pipeline projects that the community feels would bring many environmental, economic, social and cultural risks.
Haida Gwaii says no; Please put our environment first; No tanker coast; Think green; Don’t spoil our coast; Protect 1st nations food & security.
“When this community gets behind something,” explained RCMP Constable Calvin Aird, “it gets behind it with everything it has.”
On September 10th, the Vancouver Canucks were the benefactors of this passion as the team finished its Canucks meet the North tour with an afternoon dedicated to thanking the community for its unbridled support.
After three days of no-cell-phone-reception, internet-and-TV-free, no-distractions-from-anyone-anywhere pure team bonding during a fishing trip to the West Coast Fishing Club in Haida Gwaii, the players arrived in Masset, via helicopter, as zen as Buddhists. Once they heard the ‘Go Canucks Go’ chants from the rabid crowd of more than 2,000 fans upon arriving at Old Masset Community Hall, it was clear they had to change gears immediately.
It was time to get crazy.
The Canucks made one stop before kicking off the barbeque; they were officially welcomed to Canada’s most remote archipelago at the Tluuxaadaay Nayy House (canoe people house) by local dignitaries and a traditional Haida ceremony.
The 30-minute welcome was highlighted by the 10-minute ceremony, featuring five men and seven women performing a traditional song and dance, complete with intricate instruments, costumes and masks.
A two-minute bus ride later and the Canucks were face-to-face with a throng of fans filled with excitement similar to what flowed down Granville Street during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2011.
As U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name played, the players were introduced and festivities kicked off.
Divide and conquer was the mission.
The Canucks were split into teams and separated between four stations: go-kart racing, table hockey, floor hockey and serving food. Regardless of assignment, each player gave it their all and genuinely made an effort to get to know fans so far away from Vancouver, they can see Alaska.
Vince Brown, a 30-year-old resident of Old Masset, painted his face red and black for the good times, but after playing Tom Sestito at table hockey, his face was a mess. He was soaked, yet not because of why you might think.
It rains an average of 250 days a year in Masset, which mathematically speaking, is a heckuva lotta water. The odds of getting back-to-back glorious days, as we did, is next to unheard of, and made it quite ironic that Rihanna’s song Umbrella played on the outdoor speakers early on in the afternoon.
Brown’s face paint was running from sweat as he put in a tough shift against the Canucks tough guy.
“I don’t even really know what to say,” Brown smiled, panting. “I just played table hockey against Tom Sestito and I’m about to get lunch from Jannik Hansen and Alex Edler. This is not a regular Tuesday in Masset.”
The curious thing about Masset, as an elder named Wayne told me, is that the community, for the most part, is indifferent about hockey.
There’s no rink in Masset or Old Masset and never has been. It’s more of a basketball place, because that’s at least a sport the kids can play. Yet, on this magnificent afternoon, every school kid within busing distance and practically everyone with a pulse who knew of the team’s visit, was out with the Canucks.
“I can’t explain it,” said Wayne. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening and doesn’t mean I don’t love it. This community loves the Vancouver Canucks, I guess I never thought they loved them this much.”
As I left Wayne, he bumped into Ryan Kesler and was quick to shake hands with the Canucks forward. The two exchanged pleasantries like long lost friends before the resident of Old Masset shuffled back over to me.
“I get it now,” he grinned. “That was really exciting for me and I don’t even know which Canucks player that was!”
When the celebrations came to an end, right before excitement turned to memories, the players were called onto the stage outside the community hall one final time. Each Canucks player, the coaching staff, and team staff member was presented with a custom-made, hand-carved paddle by the local First Nations people, to “help the team on its journey to the Stanley Cup.”
Paddles in hand, the Canucks began the trip back to Vancouver with training camp awaiting the next day.
As the bus drove past the collection of anti-tanker signs leaving Old Masset, a new sign, painted on cardboard in green and blue, was smack-dab in the middle – Go Canucks Go.
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