Canadian Multicultural Hockey League
The son of immigrants, Stanley Papulkas came up with the idea of a multicultural hockey league in the late seventies. In 1981 he started working for CFMT Multilingual Television (now OMNI) as an isolation director for live broadcasts of Canadian Italian Hockey League games. He approached the president of the League with a proposal to set up games between various communities, but the time wasn’t yet ripe for such an undertaking.
A few years later, in the mid eighties, the Macedonians and the Italians held what would become an annual charity hockey match between their respective all star teams. The games drew 3,000 fans, reinforcing Papulkas’ belief that he was onto something.
And then came the European Cup soccer championships in 2004, when Greece beat Portugal 1-0 and the celebration by the Greek fans began on the Danforth. That was to be expected, he said, but then something magical happened.“Not only did the Greeks celebrate, the Portuguese joined the Greeks on the Danforth and the Greeks in turn went to the Portuguese community to celebrate there. We were celebrating as Canadians!”
Papulkas decided then and there that he was no longer going to just talk about setting up a hockey league, he was going to make it happen.
A Finnish hockey team called The Finnishers was the first to agree to join the league.Next up was a Russian team called The Kremlins, followed soon after by teams from the Chinese, Japanese and Korean communities.
Even Papulkas admits he was surprised at the response. “We started out trying to get six teams, then it turned to eight, then ten, then twelve and then sixteen. I had to stop. We didn’t have enough ice or manpower to continue.”
As a test of the viability of the concept, an exhibition game was arranged between teams representing two great hockey rivalries. Over 100 screaming fans turned up at Chesswood Arena on March 12, 2005 to see the Kremlins challenge the Finnishers in the very first hockey game organized under the umbrella of the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships. The Russians won the match 3-1, fans, players and organizers left happy, and the rest, as they say, is history.
60% of residents in the Metro Toronto Area identify as belonging to a minority group and over 100 different languages are spoken. What unites many communities is a love of hockey and this is reflected in the interest the CMHL has generated.
Papulkas is proud to have a South Asian team in the tournament and the quality of players they have on their roster. He has received inquiries from a Guyanese team, a Lithuanian team and teams made up of Filipinos and Australians.
“The Jewish community really wanted to be part of the tournament in its first year” he says, “but declined because the final game was to be scheduled on a Friday afternoon.”
That team, along with the Irish team, are now the two strongest teams in the tournament.
Teams from the United States have even requested to participate in the championships, but the decision was made to keep it a Canadian event.
As part of its commitment to using Canada’s national winter sport to forge cultural unity both on an off the ice, the CMHL has developed a number of rules to encourage fair play and respect amongst players and fans, which in the long run, can lead to more positive cultural relations.
One man who has had a profound impact on the CMHL is Herbert H. Carnagie, a Toronto-born hockey player of Jamaican descent. As a semi-professional player with the Sherbrooke Saints, Mr. Carnagie was voted most valuable player three times. He went on to become a star hockey player with the Quebec Aces in the Quebec Senior Hockey League but his dream of playing for the NHL’s New York Rangers in the 1948-49 season were blocked by an unwritten rule against non-white players.
In 1954, he founded one of Canada’s first hockey schools, Future Aces, and through his work in training young hockey players, became a member of both the Order of Ontario and the country’s highest civilian award, the Order of Canada. His hockey career was recognized when he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. He died in Toronto in March 2012 at age 92.
In it’s inaugural year in 2005, the CMHL and Carnagie joined forces in keeping with its mission to “foster better relations.”
Carnegie said at the time, “at a time when we desperately need people to come together, to work together, the CMHL is setting an example of how nations can come together in a peaceful manner to have fun and demonstrate what being human is about.”
The Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships, held at the end of December, features over 40 teams representing various communities in the Greater Toronto Area vying for the newly established “Canadian Cup.”