In the Beginning
Electric wheelchair hockey was born back in 1975, when a group of teachers and social workers from Bloorview Children’s Hospital, The Villa Hospital, and Sunnyview School, got together to play a series of exhibition hockey games with the residents from all three facilities. It was not an organized league per say, but they got together a couple of times per year to challenge one another.
In 1979, Robb Carmichael registered as a volunteer at Bloorview. He was invited to help out with an exhibition hockey game that had been arranged between Bloorview and Sunnyview. A recreational hockey player himself, Robb coached his first game of wheelchair hockey. At that time it was a mixed group of kids in manual wheelchairs as well as electric wheelchairs. Having enjoyed the experience, he began to organize more frequent wheelchair hockey games.
Establishment of the CEWHA
Over the next couple of years Robb came to understand the challenge that people in electric wheelchairs had in competing with those people in manual chairs, who had significantly more upper body strength and/or mobility. In 1980, he met Albert Rossi who was assisting his niece and nephew to play hockey in a game that Robb had organized. Another young man, Jon Wagner, was also there helping his brother Tom. Following the game, Robb met with Albert and Jon to share his vision that he had been developing for the past couple of months. He proposed that they formally establish a league, set a more frequent schedule, and limit the play to those people with limited upper body strength and/or mobility – people who would typically use electric wheelchairs.
Toronto Division – 1980
Four teams were established the first year, and they began to play their games every second Friday night at Bloorview. The Villa Hospital, West Toronto, and two teams made up of Bloorview residents comprised the league they called The Metropolitan Toronto Wheelchair Hockey League. Two years later, they grew to six teams and the league was really beginning to take shape. At around that same time in 1983, Albert asked two friends of his to volunteer on a regular basis as referees. Dallas Nairne and Drew Cleland, active coaches and Board members, joined the league and generously gave of their time each Friday night.
Sharing the Vision – 1984
As things progressed it was evident that a tremendous amount of value had been realized by the participants and volunteers associated with the league. Robb in particular was very excited about what was happening. In 1984 he proposed another vision to his colleagues. He suggested that there must be thousands of people with disabilities, right across the country, who could significantly benefit from similar programs. So was born the vision that still lives today. Robb proposed that they legally register their hockey league as a federal charity, for the purpose of establishing a division of their hockey league in every major city across Canada. Two years later, in 1986, the Canadian Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association was officially granted charitable status. The five founding members became the Board of Directors.
Calgary Division – 1990
The Toronto Division continued to grow and by 1989 there were seven teams from Toronto and one from Kitchener that made up the league. The CEWHA had heard of a similar organization that was playing wheelchair hockey in Calgary. After several discussions and meetings, Bruce Bostrom President of the Calgary Wheelchair Hockey League agreed to formally merge his league with the CEWHA. Thus in 1990, the Calgary Division of the CEWHA was born. It was agreed that the league would host an annual National Championship and that sites of the games would alternate between cities. The first championship was held in Calgary, Alberta in May of 1992. Ten select players and their attendants from Toronto were flown to Calgary at the league’s expense, for the tournament. This first championship was sponsored by The Investors Group and a Toronto company Allied International Credit. (AIC) donated the trophy, which was appropriately named The Allied Cup. The Toronto Selects won that first tournament which was held at Calgary’s Olympic Park.
Hockey Hall of Fame – Recognition – 1993
The league continued to prosper and in 1993 was officially recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame. A ceremony was held just prior to the official opening of the Hall. Today the Allied Cup is on permanent display along with other CEWHA memorabilia.
South Western Ontario Division – 1993
Word began to spread throughout the disabled community and a parent in London, Ontario, whose son had heard about the hockey league, approached The CEWHA. Caroline Dancel was interested in starting a division in South Western Ontario. After numerous discussions and meetings an agreement was reached to have two teams from London commence play as the third division of the CEWHA.
Vancouver Island – Victoria Division – 1998
As word of the CEWHA continued to spread some people in Victoria who were interested in forming a division there contacted us. Caroline Dancel and Deirdre Farrell, from our South Western Ontario Division, went to Victoria to assist them in getting started. They quickly became the 4th division of the CEWHA.
Hamilton Division – 2000
In 1992 one of the longtime players in the Toronto Division relocated to Hamilton and began to organize a local division. He was able to recruit enough players for two teams as well as some interested volunteers. Because there were only two local teams, there grew a strong desire for more competition, so they decided to send a team to Toronto on a regular basis to compete as part of the Toronto Division. Unfortunately, there were not enough players and volunteer support to sustain this program long term and this division no longer exists.
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