By Lawrence Belanger
Local Journalism Initiative
On Dec. 31, a few dozen friends got together at Bishop’s University’s John H. Price Sports and Recreation Centre to play a hockey match in honour of their fallen friend, former Lennoxville and Sherbrooke firefighter Eric MacKeage. Organized by Francois Gilbert and MacKeage’s son Ryan, Saturday’s hockey match, dinner, and dance raised money to benefit the Canadian Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation. “We wanted to have some sort of memorial we’d organize in his memory because he touched the community so much,” explained Gilbert on game day.
For decades, MacKeage and his friends would get together on New Year’s Eve to play a friendly game of hockey and grab a few beers at the Lion. Towards the end of his life, Gilbert explained how MacKeage developed a disease that attacked his immune system. With some success from transplants, he began to turn the annual event into a fundraiser for the hospital where he was being treated in Montreal, and the friends started talking about expanding it into a dinner and New Year’s Eve event until the global health crisis intervened.
“I had mentioned to Eric back in the day that it would be cool because there was nothing going on in Lennoxville on New Year’s Eve, why don’t we turn this hockey game into a fun evening you know?” explained Gilbert, a close friend and former firefighter himself. The idea was “let’s find a band and let’s do something you know, and we had talked about it but because of his sickness and the pandemic we never got around to it.”