Opeongo Heritage Cup celebrating cultural roots since 2006

I think there are a lot of really interesting things, like this event, happening in small towns … things that really turn sport on its head and make it about community development in different ways.

That is what Kyle Rich, PhD, Associate Professor at Brock University, told The Current about why he is conducting a study entitled “Heritage and Community at Canada’s Multicultural Hockey Tournament.” The study adds the Opeongo Heritage Cup Tournament to his national research project about the role of sport in community development. During a recent visit to Madawaska Valley, Rich said he had been aware of the tournament for some years and looks forward to attending the 2019 event to meet as many people as possible so that he can understand the social outcomes it produces for our community. At the March 19 MV Council meeting, Acting Mayor David Shulist asked everyone to welcome Rich and share their experiences of the event with him.

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From left: Barry Conway, Stephanie Plebon, Kyle Rich, David Shulist

When “Commissioner” David Shulist (aka Johnny Kashub) founded the Opeongo Heritage Cup in 2006 his concept was to use hockey to promote local culture and heritage. He aimed to bring communities together, increase awareness of cultural roots and pride in our rich heritage. He summed it up with the tagline:

Proud to be Canadian and proud of our cultural roots. Hockey is our vehicle and diversity is our fuel.

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Photos from past Heritage Cup tournaments courtesy Johnny Kashub

History of the Opeongo Heritage Cup

The inspiration for this event came from the fusion of Johnny Kashub’s two passions:

  • his love for hockey which he played on ponds, outdoor rinks and arenas since the age of five
  • his love for his Kashubian heritage and his ancestors’ homeland of Kashubia in Europe

He created the Opeongo Heritage Cup, an annual event held on the last weekend of March. The name “Opeongo” was chosen to pay respect to the first pioneers who came up the Opeongo Line to settle and build the communities of the Madawaska and Bonnechere Valleys. Four heritage teams are represented in the tournament: Kashubian Nation, Irish Nation, German Nation and Algonquin Nation. There are three divisions:

  • Open division in which both men and women play for the Opeongo Heritage Cup
  • Women’s division for the Opeongo Heritage Trophy
  • Gentleman’s division, a friendly competition between the Kashubian Griffins and the Irish

In order to qualify to play, a player must be a descendant of the first European settlers: Kashubian, Irish and German pioneers who came up the Opeongo Line dating back to the 1850s. The Algonquins are the First Nation community in the region. All players celebrate their local ancestral roots.

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Spectators at previous Heritage Cup events Photos: Johnny Kashub 

In 2006, Johnny Kashub asked four local heritage groups to run the event: Wilno Heritage Society, Combermere Heritage Society, Killaloe Heritage Society and Zurakowski Park Committee. All profits from the tournament are divided among these heritage groups and used for their heritage projects. When the four heritage groups took a break in 2018, the Barry’s Bay and Area Minor Hockey Association (BBAMHA) stepped up to hold the Reunion Cup on the last weekend of March. All four heritage groups forming the Heritage Committee acknowledged BBAMHA’s great skills in running the Reunion Cup last year.

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Bill Green and David Shulist (“Commissioner” Johnny Kashub)

Thirteen years later, Shulist is still the ambassador for this multicultural community hockey event which has become an annual homecoming for friends and family members. This year, Shulist and Bill Green, President of BBAMHA, have formed a partnership intended to benefit a particular element of the community: young hockey players. Shulist said the Heritage Committee welcomed BBAMHA with open arms and also asked BBAMHA to take part by running the bar this year. He said everyone is excited to have BBAMHA on board and they will add a great presence to the event. Shulist said the partnership is a great fit because it is the youth who are the future and will keep the annual Opeongo Heritage Cup tournament alive for many years to come.

At the 2019 Opeongo Heritage Cup, BBAMHA will host its very own heritage hockey event called “Heritage Minor Hockey Night” on Thursday evening to showcase local youth hockey as the players will play for their heritages. All proceeds from this March 28 event will go to the BBAMHA. As before, the proceeds from the weekend event (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) will go to the four heritage groups who have run the Opeongo Heritage Cup since 2006.

Click HERE for the 2019 schedule for the Opeongo Heritage Cup Tournament.

The last word goes to Johnny Kashub:

Multiculturalism is the cornerstone of Canada and hockey is our game.

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