The Wally Bernard Memorial Youth Hockey Tournament organizers cancelled the event after meeting with chief and council of Membertou First Nation.
Hockey Nova Scotia said in a release that all Hockey Nova Scotia-sanctioned events would be cancelled effective March 13 until further notice in response to concerns about COVID-19. However, organizers of the Wally Bernard tournament held off cancelling the games and said they were sanctioned by the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Hockey Association. But after community leadership expressed concerns, the tournament was cancelled and will be rescheduled for some time in September.
"I personally feel that we were taking proper steps to keeping everyone safe," said Michael Isadore, co-ordinator of the youth hockey tournament. "It's disappointing but we will try to get a tournament together in September."
Isadore helped organize the tournament with his brother J.R. Isadore and did so to honour their grandfather Wallace Bernard, for whom the hockey tournament is named.
“I guess we go by how we think he would handle the tournament and the morals and values he instils in us,” said Michael Isadore.
This is the tournament's 47th year and the brothers say it began as a way to give Mi’kmaq youth a chance to play hockey and take pride in their community. Wally Bernard, along with Joe B. Marshall and Russell Marshall, laid the groundwork for the native hockey tournament in the 1970s.
Close to 900 players on 46 teams from across Atlantic Canada were expected to play in the tournament.
The Isadore brothers say they had been taking measures to limit the risks; players were told not to shake hands, extra hand sanitizer was provided by the Emergency Management Office and a paramedic was scheduled to be on hand.
Michael Isadore said they're still working on the details, but teams and players can expect a full refund, and anyone who bought weekend passes should receive a refund after providing their names and weekend passes to the Membertou band office.
The tournament is supposed to be a way to honour and celebrate the Mi'kmaq youth hockey players in the region.
"To me it's about community and nation building and pride in our nation," said J.R. Isadore.
Both brothers say they were really proud to provide a platform for Mi'kmaq hockey players and are disappointed the event is cancelled. They said hockey opportunities aren't always available for Mi'kmaq hockey players outside of their own communities.
Something Allister (Buster) Matthews remembers well. The 63-year-old is from Membertou and has volunteered at the youth tournament for 27 years. He remembers when it all started.
"I was at the first one in 1974, where I actually played," said Matthews.
He said the tournament was a great way to get Mi'kmaq youth to play hockey and stay active. Matthews remembers the four teams that kicked off the tournament and remembers playing against Pictou Landing First Nation.
He hopes everyone stays safe and hopes the kids take pride in being native because that’s why the tournament started.
“It means so much because it brings the native communities together and it done this for so many years,” said Matthews.
Oscar Baker III is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position being funded by the federal government. He lives in Sydney.