Dozens of kids and their parents turned Elmira’s Porchlight Drive into a road hockey venue Sunday, making it the site of a protest in favour of that classic Canadian pastime.
The impromptu rally followed an incident last week in which police shut down a game of road hockey, enforcing a Woolwich Township bylaw prohibiting such activities on a public street.
Sunday’s event was spearheaded by Kristen Schulz, who said she was inspired after an incident witnessed by her partner, Vince Valeriote, while taking their son for a walk.
“Basically my partner Vince was walking by and saw a police officer telling the kids to clean up their nets and come off the road because there was a complaint,” said Schulz. “So the kids were obviously very, very upset – we didn’t like that. The kids are outside playing – they’re not inside on screens – and then we’re kicking them off the road.
“So we wanted to have a hockey game to raise awareness about this bylaw, and changing it. It was just supposed to be a small game but it just kind of blew up.”
The number of people of all ages that came out to the event far exceeded Schulz’s expectations. Kurtis Goodwin and Brody Waters of the Elmira Sugar Kings joined in the road hockey games lined up and down the street, from Killdeer Road to Barnswallow Drive. Hot chocolate, coffee and fire pits were provided to attendees on the rather chilly Sunday.
Schulz even received a special events permit from the township to put on the event.
The prohibition specifically listing rules for games and sports on the road falls under Part IV 2 (a) of the township’s traffic and parking bylaw. It states: “Unless allowed under a permit by the region or a local municipality, no person shall play or take part in any game or sport upon a highway.”
The current bylaw has been in place since 2006, though it took the neighbourhood complaint to shine a light on it.
“It’s important to know that bylaws are generally enforced on a complaint-made basis,” said Elmira Coun. Scott McMillan. “This one had been on the books for a while, and we never had a problem with it because there had never been a complaint. Now that there has been a complaint, and we see the consequences on it, we think it’s a good time and the proper thing to do to really evaluate how it works in practice.
“There are probably more than a few bylaws in every municipality that look a little bit different on paper than they do in practice.”
The bylaw is similar to those in many other municipalities, including the three other rural townships in the region, Wellesley, Wilmot and North Dumfries. In Wellesley, for example, the traffic and parking bylaw states:
“Unless allowed under a permit granted by the Region or a local municipality, no person shall play or take part in any game or sport upon a highway and no person upon roller skates, roller blades, skateboards or riding in or by means of any coaster, toy vehicles or similar devices shall go upon a highway except for the purpose of crossing the roadway and when so crossing such person shall have the rights and be subject to the obligations of a pedestrian.”
Rather than banning road hockey, such bylaws require that anyone interested in playing get the appropriate permit from the township – meaning no spontaneous games.
“In terms of the bylaw itself, I’m not sure if we have any comment on it. The text is what it is,” said Jeff Smith, deputy clerk at the Township of Woolwich. “If anyone has any concerns with the way our bylaws are written, they’re welcome to bring those to council.”
That’s exactly what Schulz is planning, noting she’ll take her concerns to Woolwich council on April 16.
“For us, we just want to amend the bylaw,” said Schulz. “It’s for basketball and street hockey on streets under 50 [km/h] we’re hoping, or 50 and under. Just to amend it somehow, that even if you complain, you can’t kick the kids off of their game, off the streets.
“Obviously, we want to raise awareness about safe street hockey, and respecting everybody around and the property and the people around, too.”
“I think council will hear the delegation and let them speak, and we’ll have some questions for staff, and we’ll try to work with our staff to make sure our bylaws are still doing what we need them to do, but also not at the same time, discouraging kids from playing outside,” said McMillan, of the April 16 meeting.
Community members have been adding to their message online with the hashtag #letthemplay.