All it takes is a look at the 2015 NHL draft to see that there is a continuing shift in the number of
Canadians making the grade. Only 40 percent of the 2015 first-rounder’s were Canadian and by the end
of the 7 th round of the draft Canadian made up 37 and a half percent of those drafted.
Part of the reason is declining participation in hockey by Canadian boys—this in part because there are
fewer kids, but also due to factors like the cost of equipping and enrolling a child in hockey—compared
to sports like soccer. Hockey participation in Canada has actually increased since 2010 to about 640,000
participants but this number is down about 200,000 from Canada’s peak participation. The one
encouraging trend is that nearly 90,000 women and girls now play hockey.
Since 2010, participation in organized hockey at the 25 ice pads managed by the City of Hamilton’s
Recreation Department have decreased by 17 percent. There are now 8,500 boys and girls playing
hockey compared to 13,400 playing soccer. Putting it another way, the percentage of kids in Hamilton
aged 5-19 playing hockey is about half what it was in the 1990’s.
These trends pose challenges to Bryan Orzoio and the recreation staff, as they attempt to match
facilities to demand. There is still steady demand for ice time in Glenbrook, Flamborough and Ancaster,
but arenas in the lower city are grossly underutilized to the point where hockey programs have been
discontinued at arenas like Eastwood and Parkdale, and in the case of Scott Park where the arena was
demolished. Says Orzoio, “In 2000 we couldn’t meet the demand for ice time but now our supply of ice
in prime time (weekdays 6-11PM) is running at about 70 percent capacity.” The department is trying to
offset the drop in hockey registration by providing learn-to- skate programs for a lower city population
that has, increasingly, a decidedly immigrant make-up. The big challenge, says Bryan is trying to keep
youngsters physically active in a world of I-pods and other sedentary distractions. Part of the solution is
to provide facilities for less structured activities such as skate parks and pump tracks for bikes like the
one recently opened in Gage Park. Baseball is still big in Hamilton with more than 4,400 participants
playing on some 262 ball diamonds across the city.
In keeping with shifting demographics, demand for senior’s recreation facilities is growing steadily. In
fact, overall usage of city recreation facilities is up. On any given day there are roughly 13,000 people
using one of the city’s pools, arenas, rec centres or playing fields. Use of recreational facilities including
pools for activities like aqua-fit are up 9 percent, which means there were more than 4.8 million
participants at city pools and rec centres outside of organized team sports. Pickle ball—a version of
tennis geared to active seniors is becoming popular.
Looking ahead Brian Ozorio sees signs that things are improving. The decrease in the number of children
in the population is levelling off. And there are individual successes like the grass roots soccer program
that was started as a legacy of the Pan Am Games and supported by a $250,000 grant from
ArcelorMittal Dofasco. Initially it started off with 200 children enrolled but this year the number of
participants is up to 500…and of them, Bryan says proudly… “109 are Syrian refugee kids”