By Sue Tiffin
Published Oct. 17 2017
It rained – sometimes poured – but that didn’t stop hordes of hockey fans and former NHL players from representing Haliburton at the much-hyped Rogers Hometown Hockey event in Head Lake Park on Oct. 14 and 15.
“It’s the largest turnout that I have seen at one time for any event in our community over the past six years that I’ve been here” said Amanda Virtanen director of tourism who said estimates suggested 3000 people attended the live broadcast of the Haliburton-themed show that aired during a Boston Bruins vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights game on Sportsnet on Sunday night.
The event schedule throughout the weekend of activity was busy with several live music performances by Carl Dixon and Cassidy Glecoff with Northbourne performances by hockey-themed circus performer and juggler Paz autograph signings by NHL players Ron Stackhouse Walt McKechnie Bernie Nicholls and Cody Hodgson and ball hockey rinks and video games but Virtanen said the reaction from young hockey fans was most resounding.
“I think the highlights were the kids – they all seemed to love it” she said.
A parade of champions featuring local minor hockey players led by McKechnie and Stackhouse brought a crowd to the front window of the studio trailer on Sunday night where co-hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone led a pre-game show featuring hockey highlights of Haliburton. Kids – and some adults too – flocked to the camera scanning the crowd to cheer and hope for a chance of being seen on television.
Fans were thrilled when Slone announced she’d be back to Haliburton and MacLean signed autographs and posed for photos. He wore a “Haliburton dinner jacket” a plaid jacket with custom “haute couture” cuffs and collar added given to him by McKechnie.
“When I was talking to Tara Slone she was asking about places to stay during the summer so I gave her a couple of names and she said she’ll be booking it for next summer” said Autumn Wilson Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce manager and event volunteer co-ordinator. “She absolutely loved it here.”
One event organizer noted that MacLean really knew his stuff even beyond Haliburton’s hockey history to the history of Thomas Chandler Haliburton himself and that Slone had noted they had so much footage of interviews and area hockey history they might not have time to show it all.
“The Rogers crew said we were one of the most welcoming communities they’ve been to and the only community that had so much signage welcoming them before they even got to the site” said Wilson. “The whole crew was absolutely blown away by us and how smooth everything went.”
Retired NHL player Cody Hodgson who started playing hockey as a kid in Haliburton took his time greeting fans signing autographs and posing for pictures even during rain. He said it was the second weekend in a row he had been in the area visiting from his home in Tennessee and that despite the rain he thought there had been a good turnout.
“People here love their hockey” he said between autographs.
A torrential downpour of rain kept big crowds away on Sunday afternoon when strong winds blew some tents down and knocked over the ball hockey rink at the site of the event. The rain let up long enough for interested participants – many wearing hockey jerseys – to gather for the main broadcast event.
“Is it always this warm here?” joked MacLean to the crowd who drank free hot chocolate distributed at one of the booths while drizzling rain began again.
Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey had called the weekend’s activities an unprecedented event for Haliburton’s tourism reach.
Haliburton was the second stop on the Rogers Hometown Hockey 24-stop coast-to-coast tour in the show’s fourth season and one of the smallest communities to be included in the history of the show.