The gymnasium of the Anahim Lake School was packed last week as community members turned out to honour one of their own: superstar NHL goalie Carey Price.
In town to promote his new role as First Nations Ambassador for the Breakfast Club of Canada, Price was excitedly received by his biggest fans: the Ulkatcho community.
Price’s remarkable story is well known by now. Of both Ulkatcho and Nuxalk descent, Price was raised on the ice of Anahim Lake, which was little more than backyard creeks and outdoor rinks, with his goalie father always by his side.
“It was just me and my dad a lot of the time,” Price said. “We would spend hours out on the creeks, in the cold.”
At age nine his dad decided he should join a team, so they made the nearly 700-kilometre round trip to Williams Lake a few times a week. It got so taxing that Price’s father Jerry, who had his pilot’s license, bought a small plane and the commute was cut to a more reasonable 45 minutes.
By 16, he had played 28 games with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans, based in Kennewick, Washington. At 20, Price was playing in front of 21,000 demanding fans at the Montreal Canadiens’ Bell Centre. Hailed as the ‘best goalie in the world,’ this year he won a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics and led the Canadiens to a stellar showing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, earning the moniker ‘Jesus Price.’
Joined by representatives from Air Canada, the Breakfast Club of Canada, and the Ulkatcho, Nuxalk, and Tsilhqot’in Nations, the afternoon began with the announcement that the Breakfast Club of Canada, in partnership with Air Canada, the Ulkatcho First Nation and the school district, would be providing a breakfast program for the local schools indefinitely.
“We have more than 154 programs in First Nations communities across Canada and we are feeding 150,000 kids a day through this program,” said Daniel Germain, President and Founder of the Breakfast Club of Canada. “We will be here as long as you need us.”
Performances from Marie-Jones’ Anahim and Bella Coola dancers were followed by a casual lunch and plenty of photo ops. The Nuxalk dancers and singers then performed the sacred ‘kusyut’ mask dances, all of which were performed by youth.
Faye Edgar and Chief Rhonda Schooner recalled Price’s Nuxalk ancestry (Price’s great-grandfather was Chief Domas Squinas, a Nuxalkmc from the Wolf Clan at Stuie) and honoured him with gifts of a cedar hat (bearing the Montreal Canadiens insignia) and a smudge bowl. Price’s mother, Lynda, grandmother Teresa and wife Angela were also presented with gifts.
Known for his laid-back and humble demeanor, Price was emotional when he was asked to address the crowd, answering questions on everything from his favourite memories about growing up in Anahim to his advice for local youth.
He recalled a ‘peaceful’ upbringing in Anahim Lake, saying his parents sheltered him from much of the troubles that a city life could bring.
“I had a lot of good friends here,” he said. “It was quiet, we fished in the creeks and rode horses. I’m proud to have grown up here.”
When reflecting on his past year he said his marriage last August was a milestone in his life, and that he thought about Anahim as he was playing that final gold medal game in Sochi. He also encouraged the community to stay positive.
“Throughout life there will be a lot of disappointments,” he said. “We have to be able to manage our disappointments, people go through a lot of hardships. Support from your family and friends is really important.”
When asked what message he had for the kids in the community, Price said he could relate. “I’ve been in your shoes and I really just have one message for you,” said Price. “I know what it’s like to grow up in a remote place. If you get an opportunity, make the most of it. It doesn’t have to be hockey, just use your best qualities. Do your best and opportunities will materialize from there.”