Field hockey, as the world knows it now, was first introduced to Canada in the late 1800s in British Columbia. The first recorded match took place in 1896, featuring a group of women who would later form the Vancouver Ladies Club, and as history has it, the game wouldn’t be prevalent in the eastern provinces until decades later.
Formed in 1954, the Toronto Field Hockey Club (TFHC) is the longest-standing club in Ontario and boasts a rich history of cup titles, international competition and founders who first sparked a local interest. Today, the club is run by an exceptional group of volunteers, led by President and Head Coach Peter D’Cruz.
While a student at the University of British Columbia, D’Cruz played in Vancouver and was formerly involved at Field Hockey Canada as the Men’s U21 Head Coach and Men’s National Team Committee member. He gained international experience playing in Perth, Australia and was inspired by the power of community-based clubs abroad and also at local levels.
D’Cruz, who first got involved with TFHC in the 1990s, had played competitively for another club before it folded. At the same time, he was coaching provincial men’s and women’s teams and had no intention to quit. It was important that he be a part of a club environment and keep his competitive field hockey spirit alive, which prompted his move and the start of something wonderful.
“You look at West Vancouver FHC or the Vancouver Hawks, and the clubs in Australia, they make it all about community even the clubs in arguably the most competitive hockey place in the world in Perth,” D’Cruz said. “I didn’t just want to coach; I wanted to try and replicate in Toronto what I had experienced. And I was charged by the fact that there were no other men’s clubs left to play for.”
After 50 years as a men’s-only club, D’Cruz then went on to start a junior girls division with a goal to open the club to anybody and everybody. TFHC took on the role of assisting the Toronto high school league programs, as well as established an adult recreational program to create space for those out of high school and college, without the commitment to a league.
“If we hadn’t started our rec program, the men’s side could have been in a lot of trouble, which is what happened to some of the nearby clubs,” D’Cruz explained. “We then carried the momentum over to an indoor adult program and it’s helped sustain field hockey in the downtown Toronto area.
“In our adult program, we make sure that everybody gets to touch the ball and that it’s a positive experience for all. One motto is ‘Share the enjoyment of playing field hockey at TFHC in a safe, supportive, respectful, learning environment,’ and that comes from the culture we have.”
Sixty-seven years later, the statement holds true despite the pandemic’s effect on the sport and participation numbers. Once restrictions begin to lift, the TFHC plans to rebuild with players, new and returning, and a dedicated group of volunteers all looking to return to the field.
The Halton Field Hockey Club (HFHC) has made a name for itself over the years as a club that provides year-round programs to youth, juniors and seniors at both recreational and competitive levels. Founded in 1973, the group started as Oakville Women’s Field Hockey and is now led by club President Sara Restani, who first discovered the sport through her babysitter.
Restani has been involved with the club since 2000 as a player and then volunteer, and, like D’Cruz, found comfort in the community that HFHC was built on. She found herself passionate about helping the club reach its objectives and even started coaching after her kids began to play. Fast forward to 2020 and Restani is named the Field Hockey Canada Female Grassroots Coach of the Year, to nobody’s surprise but her own. One could go as far as describing this as her calling.
“Early on, I’ve decided that this is my piece — that clubs and the grassroots were going to be the corner of sport that I can have the biggest impact on,” Restani said. “It’s so easy to put up your hand to volunteer and you can give as much or as little time as you can or want to.”
Through her role on the HFHC board, Restani is grateful for opportunities to represent the group and develop local connections that can ultimately bring high reward. There’s often a need to be humble in understanding field hockey’s limited place in the sport landscape, but conversely, a desire to fight for much more.
She explained, “There are certainly challenges being such a small sport, but it can also be really fun because you meet people you normally wouldn’t talk to and you can get others excited about it.”
The key to Halton’s success? Having numerous coaches and assistants step up every year to volunteer.
“There are studies out there…and to have successful Olympic teams and high-performance athletes, you need a certain number of athletes coming up behind them so the pool is broad,” Restani said. “Everybody needs to start somewhere, and even though a Team Canada athlete may not necessarily have started with our club, they’ve had a touchpoint with another grassroots community club in some way.”
“I continue to put myself forward because for me, our club is going to grow at the grassroots level and grassroots fundamentally is about volunteerism. And at that level is where I find my voice is strongest.”
Understanding that volunteers simply ‘do it for the love of the sport’ is not something that’s taken lightly: the impact of volunteerism goes beyond just clearing a field, and translates into seamless operations and higher player satisfaction. The results aren’t usually able to be reaped immediately, which makes it all the more special.
With COVID-19 measures in place and the imminent future of outdoor sports up in the air in Ontario, the challenge is keeping community members engaged at the same rate they were pre-lockdown. For Halton, part of this means consistent communication between the club and individual roles, and fortunately, there seems to be increased support from the public.
“We’ve had a lot of our high school students, ones who have been eager to get volunteer hours and looking for something to do, putting up their hand more and asking what they can do,” said Restani. “We’ve had parents who support the idea of their kids being active again and if it means handing out shirts, they’ll do it. So that’s been really encouraging.”
On the other hand, D’Cruz remains hopeful that programs will bounce back and be sustained by future generations with the drive to get back on the field. Reflecting on those who came before him and junior players working their way up, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
“There’s always going to be someone in the community who volunteers and picks up from where you’ve left things,” D’Cruz said. “It’s the structure of these organizations and it’ll always grow and be this self-perpetuating system.
“The next people will just keep things running because of existing legacy and relationships. It’s all about the different generations within the sport.”
No matter where you play or however long you stay, one thing remains the same at the heart of every club: the people.
Happy National Volunteer Week! We thank all volunteers for your hard work and hope for a quick, safe return to hockey.