Great Canadians: Hope Classic

For the past 20 years, the Hope Classic has raised funds to fight breast cancer—and it’s raised community spirit, too!

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Diane and Syd of Hope Classic
Courtesy: Jayson Childs

Curling for a Cure

“Nice shot, Syd!” Diane calls down the sheet to Sydney, who just smiles, waves to her skip and steps to the side to await her next throw. As she waits, she watches as women are yelling encouragement to their brushers on the other sheets. They are all smiling and laughing. The sound of brooms against the ice and rocks crashing together in the house are mixed with the heavy bass rhythm from the DJ in the dining area. Despite the friendly on-ice competition and fun-loving nature present in the club, everyone is here for a very serious cause.

Diane and Sydney are two of more than 250 women from across northwestern Ontario who have gathered together at the Fort William Curling Club on a cold, snowy weekend in Thunder Bay at the Bearskin Airlines Hope Classic to raise money to fight breast cancer.

This February will mark the 21st year of not only raising money but also providing the women in attendance with a relaxed, fun and supportive environment to share laughter, stories and tears. For all those involved, the event is about renewing long-lasting friendships or creating new ones, all while supporting one another in the fight against breast cancer.

The idea for the event began in 1996, when Linda Buchan, who had undergone breast cancer treatment, was approached about starting a women’s bonspiel to raise money for the Breast Cancer Support Group. Linda contacted Cliff Friesen, the co-owner of Bearskin Airlines, about supporting the idea. Cliff, whose daughter had also just undergone breast cancer surgery and treatment, was very supportive, enabling the first annual Bearskin Airlines Hope Classic to take place at the Fort William Curling Club in 1997. Linda passed away on Dec. 11, 2002, just before the seventh annual Hope Classic event, and although it was extremely difficult for the organizing committee, they all agreed to carry on with Linda’s dream. The event has grown into one of the most popular women’s bonspiels in Thunder Bay, and now Sydney—Linda’s granddaughter—along with the organizing committee and women from across northwestern Ontario, continue to make a difference and honour Linda’s memory.

As she comes into the club, Sydney walks into a sea of pink. Pink wigs, signs, decorations and clothing are everywhere. This event is special because you don’t have to be an experienced curler to participate. This is only Sydney’s third year as a participant. Sure, there are teams that have been curling for years, but the majority of women come to support the cause, not to compete. Everyone is invited to participate; experience is not required. Someone will help you out, or, in some cases, help you up. Participants come to support their family, friends and communities. All of the money raised at the “Hope” stays in Thunder Bay to support the specialized care at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

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Hope Classic participants Nikki and Dorion
Courtesy: Jayson Childs

Since that first event in 1997, the women who have participated in the event have been supported by friends, relatives, acquaintances and businesses in their effort to raise money. The women at the event, and all those who support them, are passionate about it because so many of them know someone—a friend or family member—who has been affected by breast cancer.

And so on the first weekend in February 2017, the women of northwestern Ontario will once again gather at the Fort William Curling Club to support one another and those fighting breast cancer. The generosity of their various communities never fails to amaze and inspire.

At the 2016 Hope Classic, Sydney was a member of the team that acquired the most pledges, which helped put the organizing committee in a position to present a $180,000 cheque to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation to support breast cancer screening and assessment at the Linda Buchan Centre, named in honour of the founder of the event.

Over the last 20 years, the Hope Classic has raised $2.87 million, ensuring that women in northwestern Ontario have access to exceptional screening, assessment and support services close to home and family.

Planning is well under way to ensure that the 21st annual event from Feb. 3 to 5, 2017, continues the tradition of fun and support for all those in attendance. This year’s goal is to reunite, share some inspiring stories and hopefully raise enough money to reach the $3 million mark! Good luck to all the teams and volunteers!

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