Today's discussion:

Fewer kids than ever are playing hockey. What does this mean for Canada’s national identity?

The loss of hockey isn't merely about lost recreation. It represents the loss of something core to how we think about the country and our relationship to one another.

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Gordon Hubbert

This is to be expected for two reasons. (1) Trudeau’s policies have destroyed families discretionary income.
(2) Hockey equipment manufacturers are charging obscene prices for equipment.
Combined these to factors have greatly reduced the sport to a rich mans game.

15th November 2023 at 10:25 am
Ian Gray

Add in simple demographics with Canadians from European cultures having fewer and fewer children and now many of the first and second generation people coming from cultures with no identity with ice hockey or particular interest in it.
The decline will continue.

15th November 2023 at 5:42 pm
Dave Collins

Well written article, and it covered the major issues. My grandson plays hockey at the rep level, and my son is involved in coaching and team management as well, so I get a pretty good feel for it. The costs for house league registration are high, and rep team is absolutely staggering. Gear has changed significantly , and is not cheap. Fortunately, there are good markets to buy and sell used equipment, which, especially at the minor hockey levels, can often be used for several kids, over a few years, which helps defray the costs, Ice time, as the author said, is very expensive, and also, in many areas, hard to come by. Gone are the days, when I was a kid, that we had lots of local outdoor rinks, and lots of pickup games, which allowed a lot of kids to easily access the game. Add to that, in today’s economy, with high inflation, etc., too many families are struggling just to pay housing, food, gas, heating, etc., and hockey becomes a luxury they cannot afford. With respect to immigrants, and other non white communities, with all due respect, in most cases, I would suggest that they, and their parents, just weren’t brought up playing hockey. Some want to assimilate into the Canadian way of life, and get their kids involved in “Canadian” sports, but many just have no interest, and are not going to be attracted to a sport that is expensive to get into and outside their culture.

15th November 2023 at 8:05 am
Maclean Graydon

The author did a great job of summarizing the major issues. I would concur with the costs being prohibitive. Houseleague can be reasonable if you buy used equipment or exchange as your kid grows, but once they show any aptitude for the sport, they will be pushed or drawn into trying out for select teams and then rep teams. Once you hit that rep level you are into thousands and thousands of dollars per kid. My wife and I routinely ask each other “how do some families afford this?“ Each of my kids has three or four tournaments per season and each tournament costs an extra thousand dollars or more once you pay for hotels and meals and gas. This is in addition to the already high base cost that as the author mentioned mostly goes to paying for ice time. Youth hockey is fundamental to many communities in Canada and it is worth the time and money to help it prosper.

15th November 2023 at 7:42 am
The Hub Staff

Thank you for contributing to Hub Forum, Maclean. Andrew Evans’ comment that hockey is a sport closely embedded in our cultural fabric based on Ken Dryden’s quote shows the importance of ensuring the sport is accessible.

15th November 2023 at 11:23 am
Vivien Jonathan

When my son (who is now 42), played hockey – he was a goalie. Thank goodness for the Goalie Swop shop in town at that time. We figured he wore the value of a small car on his body each year. Some years we had to replace the goalie equipment twice. We still managed to afford hockey for him and his younger brother. There were out of town tournaments and travel costs all over the city. Yes we budgeted as neither of us were making huge salaries L
These days it is far harder for parents. What with the increase in annual fees and then the escalating cost of equipment etc. Costs of running the rinks have skyrocketed. The rinks take a lot of energy to maintain, and buildings have to be heated. Even if local governments subsidize sports and recreation facilities- that cost is simply added to municipal taxes and entrance fees.
The taxes: This Liberal government is taxing us all to death. The Carbon tax is a pyramid tax: I thought Pyramid scams were illegal. Think about it: The gas/oil is taxed on the energy used to actually produce it! Then again on every level of the costs: from growing our food, the mining and refining all raw items used in manufacturing, the distribution raw material to manufacturing centers, the cost of packaging the manufactured goods, then again on the distribution of the manufactured goods and produce from source to retail outlets, then again on gas for us to get out and buy what we need. It does not stop there, we pay carbon tax to heat our homes on top of all the carbon tax charged on the energy to produce and refine the gas/oil and distribute it.
We all should be screaming to AXE the carbon tax. The problem is that all of our basic costs today are being taxed by all levels. Hence the Government Pyramid scheme. And the resultant inflation.
We should call the Carbon tax what it is: A Liberal Government Pyramid Scheme!

15th November 2023 at 10:58 am
Rory McAlpine

I hate to be going off topic but since the dawn of time there have been federal excise taxes, federal GST, prov sales tax and prov fuel tax on fossil fuels sold and used in Canada at every stage of production and distribution of goods. But that was never a “pyramid scam”? So now we add a carbon levy (which so far is a small amount relative to all the other taxes) and, oh, we don’t effectively apply it to “large industrial emitters” under the Output Based Pricing System, we return $billions to many businesses in green technology grants, we exempt on-farm fuel use, we set up offset credit protocols so many business can directly profit from GHG mitigation activities and, at the consumer level, we rebate back about 90% of all carbon levies paid. And if carbon levies are a “pyramid scam” then what about all the minimum wage laws, costs on business to meet employment standards, payroll taxes, CPP/OAS/EI deductions, etc that governments mandate on all the labour that goes into the production of all good and services at every stage? We can and should have a good debate about policy effectiveness of all govt tax measures (individually and in aggregate) whether applied to income, production or consumption. But let’s start by getting our facts straight.

15th November 2023 at 7:55 pm

It’s not enough that a portion of the municipal taxes I pay goes towards infrastructure for a sport that my family and I do not play and spend little time watching on TV, or that some of the taxes I pay to my province funds the construction of arenas in cities with NHL franchises. Now, someone or some group wants to wrap a flag around the declining enrollment of kids in hockey by pressing Ottawa to jump into the fray and complete this tax trifecta. And, no less, all for the sake of bolstering our sagging national unity fortunes – much of which Ottawa is responsible for in the first place.

Samuel Johnson’s line about patriotism being the last refuge of a scoundrel is apropos. Let the users continue paying for their kids’ ice time and, in return, I’ll be happy to continue shouldering the burden of the steep prices I pay each year for lift tickets at my favorite ski hills without picking their pockets.

15th November 2023 at 8:59 am
Kara Vallinga

Cost was a factor when my four, twenty-something, children were young, and not only for hockey. Figure skating, while half the price of hockey, was also very expensive. In my rural community, a separate local league was formed at less than half the cost both in dollars and family commitment. The commitment factor must not be ignored. I can’t speak for larger communities, but in my community “hockey families” (those with children in either house or rep leagues) had very different attitudes about the sport and those who were not “hockey families”. Gone was the love of a winter sport that used to be part of the Canadian fabric (think pond or street hockey), and it was replaced by a, at best, cliquish “hockey and everyone else” attitude. Sadly, that attitude doesn’t appear to be going away.
Perhaps, what has really been lost is a love of sport, rather than one particular sport. There are other sports that Canadians enjoy and excell at (soccer or canoeing…?) Or maybe we misunderstood our love of hockey? Perhaps loving hockey had more to do with participating in a game that helped people overcome winter than the game itself. Spending time at the rink became the winter activity that trumped all the rest. Can you recall the last time you played crokinole? How about the first time?

15th November 2023 at 8:20 am
Lorne Matheson

Other than the Covid years, the decline in participation is only relevant in contrast to the overall population growth. That rise, at the risk of sounding racist, is not coming from a growing numbers of white boys in small towns – hockey’s traditional hotbed. But there is far more at work. Risk aversion and the weird need for parents to professionalize youth sports. Western society decided that if it saves one life it’s worth it and equipment sky rocketed. Someone sued someone and now liability insurance shuts down scout troops. Our local house league has four on ice officials and the kids show up in team jackets with matching gear bags so the parents can be proud. Ten year olds have $200 sticks – it’s like buying a Ferrari for your kid’s first car. Then companies like Scotiabank decided hockey was sexist and racist and only they had the solutions. The proportion of Canadian NHLers who are black is slightly higher than the proportion of Canadians who are black, but when a player claims he was cut because of the colour of his skin it explodes through the media and black parents don’t bother putting their kids in hockey. And we no longer get immigrants from Sweden, Finland, or Russia who grew up with snow and ice. The sport in Canada is at a crossroads and rather than focus on the good things that brought us to the pinnacle of international sport, we beat ourselves up and keep adjusting our game to accommodate those who are less likely to participate. Dang I sound like an old guy!

15th November 2023 at 2:39 pm
Ian Gray

I fail to see how stating the obvious could be considered “racist”, a word used far too much and often out of context.
Your point is valid. Canada is going through a significant culture change.

15th November 2023 at 5:48 pm
Judy Ballantyne

I liked the article. It was clear, well argued and well-written. And I appreciated the graphs that started the y axis at zero rather than a greater value that exacerbates the slopes. But I did have some thoughts.

Has anyone looked at the influence of birthrates for these values? That is, is the population of hockey-age children declining enough to account for the general decline (as opposed to the pandemic decline) in enrolment?

Is the decline related to Covid resolving at the same rate as in other areas where people are gradually going back to previous patterns – or not?

Has the proportion of children playing hockey in rural or small town areas where ponds and outdoor rinks might be more common and affordable changed?

Has there been a decline in street hockey? In other words, is the highly organized system being abandoned, not the game?

And what of the enrolment of girls in hockey – up or down?

More generally, if hockey is being abandoned, is something else – like soccer – taking its place, and if so why – eg. costs, gender neutrality, no 5 am or 9 pm rink times?

Is it possible that somewhere in Canada hockey is returning to its roots as a wintertime children’s game, accessible to all (boys), in a world where children have free time to play on their own terms, not those of harried parents and systems in which they have no voice or ability to learn about social and practical issues?

As for hockey being the socio-cultural marker of Canada, why should it not change as the country changes? Immigration aside (and the article covered that well), we are no longer a country where people must find local ways to deal with winter, and where the radio – and Hockey Night in Canada – was a huge part of family life. We have so many more ways to fill our time now! And we have greater access to other social and cultural opportunities. If we change, what might our new marker be?

Lots to think about!

15th November 2023 at 1:59 pm
Dorothy Prickett

I lived in England during the second world war and remember that when the boys were demobbed when it was over there was a huge shortage of places to live. The my Yorkshire town got busy building whole subdivisions of prefab bungalow housing. Unfortunately they were built with asbestos which they did not realize at the time was toxic but I do not see why we cannot build a pile of prefab houses now for people. We have lots of materials today that could be used. They were not very big but my brother and family brought up several children there very happily eventually moving onto a home built of brick. I see that they are changing the zoning now in some areas so that four houses can be built on one lot instead of just one. With the cost of building these days it will be cheaper to built more than one house on a lot and in stead of million dollar spacious homes, people will be satisfied with a small space they can afford. I just realized I am speaking about a completely different subject but it is one that everyone is interested in -the high cost of housing, being buying or renting.

15th November 2023 at 2:40 pm
Bill steenstra

We subsidize battery plants, large corporations, either in Canada or overseas. We support United Nations in initiatives in global hunger and other programs, but don’t have any money left in the kitty to support the low income people with kids that have to buy $300 skates $150 hockey sticks And more. I believe there’s something wrong in this picture.

15th November 2023 at 1:43 pm

Great article, though I think there’s also something to be said about the diminishing access to hockey broadcasts in Canada (which could also be addressed through government action). For example, various countries (e.g., the UK, Argentina, Belgium) have had listed broadcast policies in place for decades now, and there’s a strong case to be made that Canada could/should do something similar to protect access to hockey broadcasts. Hockey4Youth is also a great non-profit organization that’s been working to alleviate cost barriers for racialized, newcomer, and working-class youth to play the game recreationally.

15th November 2023 at 11:57 am

The cost of Hockey these days is ridiculous. Your average family can not afford to spend the money required. When I was a kid Hockey was played against local teams from another school, area or maybe small town. Now teams are expected to go on weekend trips to other cities or countries. For kids to play Hockey? I have seen the money wasted by families to go play Hockey where food, lodging, travel and fees add up in the thousands. Hockey for kids should be played local.

15th November 2023 at 11:53 am
Toby Hemingway

Cost is definitely an issue and I see it around the area I live in – some cities subsidize recreational sports by providing cheap/at-cost access to facilities like arenas, courts, fields, pools, etc. and participation is booming because a whole season costs a couple hundred dollars. But there’s also a cumulative effect, the kids who grew-up here playing hockey/swimming/etc. are raising their kids here now and volunteering to keep the tradition going (and some have impressive pedigrees that got their start from within the community).

New communities need to be built around community facilities – parks, pools, fields, courts, arenas, etc. all need to be part of the plan.

There is also a COVID effect though, a lot of team sports were shutdown but a lot of individual sports were allowed to continue. We discovered new sports during COVID because we couldn’t play hockey and we still do those sports so of course our time is split now.

15th November 2023 at 10:02 am
Gordon Divitt

Ok costs etc are a deterrent to families getting involved in hockey but let’s try a thought experiment. Recruit the majority of your future families from the Indian sub continent where many people would struggle to get ice in their drinks and see how many are motivated to arise before the sun in February to stand in a very cold arena Just saying

15th November 2023 at 9:59 am
Chloe Gloop

I suspect Indians are just like Canadians: they’ll do anything for their kids and no cold dark February morning will stand in their way if hockey is what their kid enjoys!

And besides hockey, they get to appreciate Tim Hortons drive-through coffee at 5am and greasy post-game team breakfasts – that’s the Canadian trifecta!

15th November 2023 at 10:14 am
Rory McAlpine

In the $62 billion stimulus package following 2008-09 financial collapse Jim Flaherty paid for new roofs on hockey rinks all across the country (oh, and one famous gazebo) while other advanced countries poured it into green infrastructure that has since boosted their productivity and standards of living. I love recreational hockey more than most but please keep higher levels of govt out of it. And by the way, maybe more kids in Ontario would stick with hockey if the Leafs could deliver a championship occasionally. Just saying.

15th November 2023 at 8:20 pm
Linda Ritchie

Fewer kids are playing because the cost to play has gone through the roof!

15th November 2023 at 12:49 pm
Diane Isbister

People don’t take time to do things with their kids any more like parents did in the past instead they give them phones and laptops to keep them occupied and out of their hair..SO SAD….

15th November 2023 at 12:10 pm
Richard Courtemanche

The prohibitive costs in this economy and government corruption should make soccer more enviable. Our national identity with the federal Liberals and psychopath Trudeau is being murdered in more ways than just hockey. The nation isn’t morally healthy and worsening. Forgive my pessimism.

15th November 2023 at 11:45 am
Paul Haliburton

The graphs displayed in this article don’t illustrate the complete picture. Hockey was in decline when my three sons, now in their forties, played the game.

15th November 2023 at 10:20 am