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Update on Play On! Canada’s 2023 Season

We call on all Canadians who see the need for play, who love this sport, their community, and our country to reach out today.

For generations, street hockey has been a favourite cultural pastime for youth and communities that love to play. A social phenomenon, created by Indigenous peoples, woven into the fabric that holds Canada together from coast to coast.

Play On! Canada is the national not-for-profit organization that delivers inclusive, community building street sports events in all regions of Canada, and helps to preserve outdoor street play as part of Canadian heritage and culture.

Play On! Canada remains the largest national mass participation event in Canada’s history, holding the Guinness World Record, having hosted 179 events in 41 communities involving over two million Canadians. Our Board of Directors recognizes that the need for this program is greater now than ever before, and we remain steadfast in our desire to continue to deliver these events in communities coast to coast.

In the past, core funding and promotion for Play On! came from CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. However, after major changes in Canada’s sports media landscape, our organization has been seeking a new core funding partner to replace CBC ever since. Sportsnet has graciously replaced CBC as the program’s promotional and media partner through 2027.

Play On! Canada, which operated its first event in 2003, has always required external support to operate to ensure that registration fees remained low and affordable for as many Canadians from as many walks of life to participate. In recent years, external supports available via corporate sponsorship investments have decreased across Canada as brands increasingly utilize digital marketing instead of events to target consumers. While corporate Canada still supports national sports events, their commitments typically follow those made by governments.

In 2022, we committed to relaunch Play On! Canada after the widespread impacts of COVID-19 on the health and wellness of Canadians – to get Canadians outside once more and to enjoy street hockey in communities across Canada.

We were successful in obtaining one-year funding from a variety of sources – from the Government of Canada for programs in Ontario, from the Canada Summer Jobs program in some regions, and from the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The Government of Canada recognized Play On! Canada as one of its tourism recovery success stories. We express our gratitude to our federal and provincial partners.

2022’s Play On! Canada events demonstrated proof that there is high interest, demand, and need for this program across the country. By all measurable indicators, the events were a tremendous success and highly impactful in each community. All provinces and communities involved in the 2022 season have expressed interest in continuing to support the Play On! Canada project.

But in order for Play On! Canada to continue, we need multi-year funding from the Government of Canada and other provincial governments.

We have received hundreds of inquiries about what our 2023 plans are, and today our Board of Directors has released the following statement:

For an event such as Play On! Canada to continue to exist, the reality is that we require support from federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government. We have worked and are continuing to work with these key stakeholders as well as with the private sector including foundations to try and make this happen.

While Play On! Canada has received written support from more than 40 Mayors, several Senators, and more than 40 Members of Parliament from all parties and regions of Canada, we have unfortunately been deemed to not qualify for federal funding through specific federal ministries.

Our recent request for multi-year funding in the 2023 Federal Budget was unsuccessful, even though we were informed that the Play On! Canada project aligns with federal priorities overall.

Given the staffing needs, complex logistics, and the tens of thousands of hours required to plan each event, without funding the Play On! Canada events are not able to operate. In a nation as vast as Canada, it is simply impossible at this time to get the volume of planning and operational work done that must be done for the events to be delivered safely, coast to coast to coast, and to the standard expected by the people of Canada.

As such, there will not be any Play On! Canada events held in 2023.

As a Board of Directors, we have resolved to use the balance of 2023 to continue to seek funding and partnerships for events to be held in all provinces and, ideally, territories, beginning again in May 2024. This timeline will allow the organization to ensure that the events can be held when the communities want them, typically in spring / early summer, and also to ensure that cost of participation remains affordable so that every Canadian that wishes to participate may do so. The organization is also working diligently with industry partners towards that goal.

The Play On! Canada organization has already received 2024 commitments from the Provinces of British Columbia and Newfoundland, as well as from the municipalities of Dawson Creek, Surrey, Nanaimo, Lethbridge, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Mississauga, and Ottawa. Additional letters of interest have been received from other provinces and the municipalities of Victoria, Coquitlam, Langley, Kelowna, Kamloops, Red Deer, Fort McMurray, Grand Prairie, Regina, Winnipeg, Kenora, Windsor, London, Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph, Hamilton, Six Nations, Oshawa, Barrie, Sudbury, Vaughan, Brampton, Peterborough, Kingston, Laval, Yarmouth, Halifax, Moncton, and Summerside, for example.

Support for the project has already been communicated to the Government of Canada by industry partners Kids Help Phone, members of the Aboriginal Sport Circle, Hockey Diversity Alliance, Hockey4Youth Foundation, SheIs, and Hockey Canada. New discussions have recently been initiated with additional industry partners.

If you want to see Play On! Canada return in 2024, we call on all Canadians who see the need for play, who love this sport, their community, and our country to reach out today to:

  • The Minister of Finance, the Hon. Chrystia Freeland
  • The Minister of Sport, the Hon. Pascale St-Onge, and
  • To your local Member of Parliament

Our ask is simple - that the Government of Canada fund Play On! Canada on a multi-year basis starting later this year.

We simply cannot succeed without their support.

You can write to them at:

  1. Hon. Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P., Minister of Finance - chrystia.freeland@fin.gc.ca
  2. Hon. Pascale St-Onge, P.C., M.P., Minister of Sport - hon.pascale.st-onge@pch.gc.ca

We invite all who choose to write letters to ensure that they are sincere, respectful, thoughtful, and kind. You can find your Member of Parliament here.


Board of Directors

Play On! Canada