Classic Fun – Isle aux Morts’ annual Winter Classic hockey weekend

This month, February 16-17, all of Isle aux Morts will turn out for the annual Winter Classic hockey weekend.

Foster Hewitt’s familiar sign-on crackles over the airways. It’s Saturday night, “Hockey Night in Canada,” and all across Newfoundland and Labrador, fans are crowding around radios and TVs to follow the play-by-play.
Our long, cold winters lend themselves well to the greatest game you can name. Outdoor shinny on frozen ponds and harbours has been a popular winter pastime for generations. More than one youngster with a borrowed stick has coasted down the ice dreaming of Maple Leaf Gardens. He shoots, he scores!
Vic Lawrence recalls winters growing up in Isle aux Morts, a town on the southwest coast not far from Port aux Basques. In the 1960s and ’70s, the fish plant was in full swing and the town was thriving.
“It was busy and there was a lot to do,” he says. “In the wintertime, one of the things we did was play hockey on the pond. We used to play with skates on, but when kids our age showed up and wanted to play, everybody’d take their skates off and we all played with our boots on.”
Isle aux Morts had a population of about 1,200 in the 1980s, and then the tough 1990s saw about half its residents relocate. Most folks who live in the community now commute on a rotational basis for work elsewhere in Canada. Despite these changes, one constant remains – the town’s unwavering love for hockey. Vic is one of the organizers of the annual Isle aux Morts Winter Classic – a hockey tourney that invites the community to come together for some traditional shinny fun, no skates required.
“The first year we had it was back in 2014,” he says. “I live in Halifax now; I don’t live there any more. I decided to try to get together with the boys and see if we could have a game on the pond like we used to do when we grew up.”
Vic’s plan was a sure shot. That first weekend brought together 36 people on Laurie’s Pond. Now the Winter Classic is a highly anticipated tradition.
“We don’t use skates or anything, we just use boots so anybody can play,” Vic says. “Eight years we’ve been doing it now and it’s grown every year, and it’s gotten bigger and bigger. Now we do a Friday with the kids and Saturday is adults, both men and women.”
This year’s Winter Classic is being held February 16 and 17. Isle aux Morters living away will make an effort to come home for it. “People come from everywhere, too,” Vic says. “A lot come from St. John’s and the Halifax area, and we have people come from Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta. The people that come from far away usually come for a week or more then.” In a long frosty winter, the event is something to look forward to and everybody gets involved, giving the event a festival flair.
Friday is the kids’ hockey day, with snacks and prizes provided. That evening, Barry’s Lounge hosts Draft Night where adult teams are chosen and the Honorary Captain is introduced, followed by live music and dancing. Games start bright and early on Saturday, and teams look great in their matching jerseys. It’s all for fun and no one keeps score. For safety reasons, the event has been moved from the pond to the Marine Slipway. (Remember, never walk on ice that is less than 10 cm thick.)
And no downhome event is complete without a good scoff. For lunch, the Seniors Club serves up pea soup. “Then we have a load of guys from town and they show up with a ton of moose burger meat,” Vic chuckles. “One guy makes a ton of moose burgers and we barbecue them on the pond. And that’s all free for the
taking. Another guy, he makes up a load of fish cakes, same thing, and they’re available for anybody.”
The Winter Classic is also a great fundraiser for several community groups. Prize draws and hockey pools raise thousands of dollars for the Holy Spirit Church Fund, the Volunteer Fire Department, the Seniors Club and the Community Centre.
“Everybody comes out; it’s the whole community,” Vic says. “Even the old folks will come out and watch, and sit down and have a moose burger or a fish cake. We have a warming tent there with a little stove in it, so then when it gets cold you can go in and warm up. We have outdoor fires, too, so a lot of folks come down and sit and watch, and they love it. Everybody’s wearing a smile all weekend long.”

Isle aux Morts has seen many changes over the years. But each February the Winter Classic brings the town together again like the old days: out on the pond, where the love of hockey and the joy of togetherness take centre ice.

*Vic Lawrence Photo
Picture of Downhome Magazine
Downhome Magazine

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