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Canada’s Hockey Mom from Rural Ontario

Anyone connected with minor hockey knows that managing the local arena, like many public service jobs, provides long hours combined with a continually escalating roster of demands.

In many Ontario communities, where municipal amalgamations two decades ago eliminated many elected officials, the arena manager is the de facto mayor simply from his or her position of connecting with everyone across the community. The custodian of the local ice surface always possesses the relevant information on sports, politics, weather conditions or any other activities that provide discussions during the frigid rural Ontario winter months.

A short drive west from the four Waterloo Region Townships is the community of Seaforth. Technically, because of an amalgamation, the town is now part of Huron East, however anyone residing there is from Seaforth and not the new municipal creation from the Mike Harris administration.

About twenty years ago a local kid named Ryan O’Reilly regularly arrived before school at the Seaforth arena for some extra practice time. The facility manager, Graham Nesbitt, claims he never gave a second thought to going above his normal course of duties to support players with their hockey aspirations.

In 2019 Ryan returned to Seaforth with the Stanley Cup as captain of the St. Louis Blues. In that same year, Graham Nesbitt urgently required a kidney transplant.

Many residents of Seaforth and surrounding communities offered to assist and finally a suitable donor was secured. Nesbitt’s “lucky star” as he described her was Bonnie O’Reilly, mother of Ryan, the kid for whom Graham opened the arena doors many years previously.

Graham Nesbitt was, according to Bonnie O’Reilly, one of the many people who took the time to care about what her kids wanted and lifted them up. A transplant was an opportunity to simply let him know she appreciated his assistance in Ryan’s life and career.

The March 3, 2021 transplant surgery went well at London’s Health Sciences Centre, a reminder that Canadians have access to some of the best healthcare services in the world.

Canada’s Hockey Dad Walter Gretzky passed away on March 4. Bonnie O’Reilly is Canada’s Hockey Mom and Walter would have greatly admired her commitment to Seaforth and the people who reside there.



Written by Art Sinclair

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