It was party time in Sherbrooke’s Alfred-Élie Dufresne Park on Tuesday morning as a large gathering of VIPs turned out for the inauguration of the Province’s eighth “Bleu Blanc Bouge” community rink. Directors and members of the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation were joined by some of Sherbrooke’s city council, local MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault, and Canadiens alumni who grew up in the Eastern Townships or played hockey in the area as they unveiled the gift they intend to be an agent of change in one of the city’s poorer neighbourhoods.
“This eighth Bleu Blanc Bouge community outdoor rink is part of our ongoing commitment to providing underprivileged kids with quality infrastructure to get physically active and enjoy various sports,” said Canadiens owner, president and CEO Geoff Molson. “We are very pleased to make this possible.”
Molson pointed out that 93 per cent of Canadian youth are lacking in physical activity and said that in Quebec one in three children gives up practicing a sport at the beginning of adolescence.
“Children coming from underprivileged households are three times more likely to never take up a sport at all,” the Canadiens owner added, explaining that the whole point of building the multipurpose community rinks in less privileged neighbourhoods is to help turn the tide of inactivity around. He highlighted the fact that the $1.4 million investment per rink includes a donation of 100 pairs of skates , helmets, and hockey sticks to help the resource offer free and accessible programming to all. “More than 85,000 young people have used the rinks since the program began in 2009.”
Like the rinks already in place on the Island of Montreal, in Longueil and in Laval, the Sherbrooke rink is regulation NHL size and has a refrigerated ice surface to help guarantee good, lasting ice conditions for the open-air surface. Outside of the skating season, which will run from November to March, the rink will be available for sports like soccer, basketball, and ball hockey, among others.
“Community rinks like these give kids the chance to be more active and to develop confidence, teamwork, and Leadership skills through organized sport. We’re proud to partner with the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation on the Bleu Blanc Bouge initiative to get more kids into the game,” said Landon French, president of the Canadian Tire jumpstart charities, a major partner of the project. “Every child should have a chance to play hockey or learn-to-skate regardless of their family’s financial situation.”
As a part of the inauguration, Sherbrooke Mayor Bernard Sévigny was presented with a Canadiens jersey marked with the number eight to commemorate Sherbrooke’s place as the eighth of the Bleu Blanc Bouge rinks. Sévigny called the initiative a marvellous gift to the city and committed to taking great care of the rink which, having now been built, falls under municipal care and management.
The children from Sherbrooke’s Laroque elementary school were then invited to share the ice with alumni of the Montreal Canadiens for the first ever free skate on the new rink.