KENSINGTON – A sport may have brought two communities together, but the Kensington, P.E.I.-Bedford, Que., Peewee Friendship Hockey Exchange is about so much more.
No one understands this better than Michel (Farmer) Paquette, a longtime organizer in Bedford who is participating in his 30th exchange this year and is coaching in his 28th.
“Everybody has a personal experience from this exchange,” said Paquette in an interview with the Journal Pioneer following an entertaining 5-5 tie between the Kensington and Bedford peewee teams at Community Gardens on Saturday night.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better game,” said Paquette. “Two even teams and a 5-5 tie, it was a perfect finish for the 50th year.”
Paquette has had four sons participate in the exchange, along with numerous nephews. This year, two of his grandchildren – Emaly Ann Paquette and Kristopher Paquette – are playing with Bedford, which will host the second half of the exchange in February.
Paquette said one of the highlights of the exchange each year is the life lessons the players learn, especially through billeting.
“When they go into the (billet’s) home it can be hard communicating if one player speaks English and one speaks French, but they learn to socialize,” offered Paquette. “What they gain out of it is a lot of memories.”
Over the years, two specific highlights stick out for Paquette.
One is when the peewee teams get the opportunity to play at the Montreal Canadiens’ practice facility in Brossard, Que.
“For the kids, it’s special,” said Paquette, who added he has “met some great people” through the exchange.
The other memory that stands out is an emotional one. He recalled when Quebec was hit hard by an ice storm in 1998. Ron Gill, who was managing the Kensington Club at the time and was a key organizer of the exchange, spearheaded fundraisers in Kensington that raised in excess of $10,000 for Bedford.
When the cheque was presented during the on-ice ceremony at Community Gardens, every member of the Bedford senior team taking part that year skated over to Gill, shook his hand and gave him a sincere thank you.
“That just shows the relationship of the communities,” said Paquette. “One was down, and the other stepped up.”
Paquette praised the efforts of the exchange’s original organizers in both communities. He also recalled an emotional conversation with Eric Jones, an original and longtime exchange supporter from Bedford.
“When Eric was on his death bed he told me, ‘Farmer, you have to keep the exchange going as long as you can,’” said Paquette. “His goal was to keep it going for 50 years.”
Bedford team captain Andy Coupal added, “I just hope it keeps going, and goes on for another 50 years.”