For 10-year-old Atom hockey player Tavia Harris, participating in the all-girls M-Power Hockey summer camp in 2017 was a strong learning experience.
“That was around the time I just started playing hockey. We figured it would be a good experience for me,” Harris said. “It was really fun. We had a lot of ice time and it was just fun playing with a lot of different girls.”
The week-long camp was run by M-Power Hockey founder Mandy Cronin. The Toronto-based hockey school launched its first-ever overnight summer camp in Haliburton in 2017, renting Hockey Haven facilities and using Hockey Haven’s booked ice time at A.J. LaRue Arena.
Cronin said she was drawn to the locale due to its outdoor recreation. Besides hockey skills, the camp also sought to offer campers leadership development, Cronin said.
“I started this business so I could make sure all these young girls would have access to all of us females who now can play professional female hockey,” Cronin said. “A lot of lack of confidence in young girls. My goal is to have more of these camps where we can have young girls come and their mutual connection is hockey.”
The camp in Haliburton succeeded in 2017, Cronin said, attracting approximately 30 attendees.
“Everybody loved the camp, rave reviews, couldn’t wait for the next summer,” Cronin said.
But next summer never came for the camp.
Cronin said there was a split with Hockey Haven. Efforts to secure facilities and ice-time through Hockey Haven did not work out.
Hockey Haven owner Troy Binnie said M-Power wanted to run a camp program different from Hockey Haven’s. He said outside groups that use Hockey Haven’s camp facilities are expected to use its camp programming but can be independent with on-ice activity.
“I like Mandy, I have no problems with her, but I’m running a business,” Binnie said. “I’m also running a brand and our brand is Haliburton Hockey Haven.”
M-Power Hockey instead made arrangements to use Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre for camping in 2018.
However, when it came to ice-time at A.J. LaRue Arena, which Hockey Haven had booked for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the summer, Binnie said he could not give the time up.
“We use the ice every day,” he said. “Our programs are running all day long … so I’m not going to give up my ice-time.”
Without Hockey Haven, Cronin reached out to Dysart et al to secure summer daytime ice. She said those efforts proved unsuccessful, due to Hockey Haven having daytime ice booked throughout July and August.
“Very disheartening that going all the way up the ranks in this municipality and nobody can negotiate to get us just two hours of ice a day for our girls,” Cronin said.
However, the municipality did offer evening ice-time. After weeks of back-and-forth, Cronin said she was provided with an evening ice slot, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said summer ice would not even be in place at A.J. LaRue Arena were it not for Hockey Haven’s usage. With respect to M-Power Hockey, Roberts noted they were offered some ice time.
“They were offered ice time last year and didn’t take it,” Roberts said in an email.
But Cronin said the evening ice slot was problematic as it would impact the camp’s night activities, as well as being difficult logistically due to the drive from Bark Lake.
Ultimately, Cronin said she had to cancel the 2018 camp due to how long the process took to secure the ice, with prospective campers already signing up for other camps.
Haliburton cottager Christine Jurusik sent two daughters to M-Power Hockey camp in 2017. She said they loved it and were devastated when they found out they could not go back in 2018.
She said girls sleepaway camp is an “entirely different experience” than a co-ed camp and can help teenage girls more easily be themselves.
“I’m saddened to think the people who make the decisions about appropriating ice-time wouldn’t reserve a portion of the ice-time exclusively for girls hockey,” Jurusik said. “Traditionally, girls hockey has taken a second seat to boys hockey with ice-time.”
Binnie said Hockey Haven attracts about 70 girls to its programs each year, offers female instructors and also has girls teams use its facilities. The camp reportedly had a growing enrolment of 650 campers total in 2016.
Binnie said Hockey Haven has not really considered a girls-only hockey camp program like M-Power Hockey ran in 2017.
“There’s a need for those (camps) that are just girls. We’re just not really set up for it,” Binnie said. “You shut down a week, then the boys don’t get to play … how would you do a good balance? The only way you can do a proper balance, I think, is to keep it co-ed and the options are open for anybody.”
Trying to get ice-time for summer 2019 has also proven difficult, Cronin said. She said she first asked the municipality about getting that ice in February 2019, without response, to try to avoid a repeat of 2018’s cancellation.
In an e-mailed comment, Roberts said because of their contract, Hockey Haven still had daytime summer ice booked.
When Cronin reached out to the municipality again in September 2019, she said she was told no ice was available – not even evening ice.
At a Sept. 24 council meeting, Dysart et al council voted to proceed with a new contract for Hockey Haven, which extended their ice-time to include both daytime and evenings in 2019.
Elizabeth Foote, Harris’s mother, said it is a struggle to get fair play for girls hockey in the County of Haliburton. She added ice-time should be allotted for M-Power Hockey’s camp.
“This is just disheartening in 2019,” Foote said. “We’re supposed to be beyond that. We’re supposed to include everybody.”