Some international students in Sault Ste. Marie will be getting their first taste of ice-skating this winter.
A credit union in the northern Ontario city has teamed up with a local arena to offer skating lessons for those who are new to Canada and like trying out a new skill.
"Skating is such a huge part of Canadian culture and our winters and it's only natural for those visiting Canada or staying in Canada to want to experience this," said Kirstin Dias, co-ordinator of the Motivate 2 Skate program.
Your Neighbourhood Credit Union (YNCU) offers the program.
"Our skating lessons give them the ability to learn without being in children's skating lessons or in a crowded arena trying to learn on their own," she added.
The lessons are proving popular. Dias said the first day they were offered, 25 international students from Sault College and Algoma University signed up.
Dias said before the pandemic YNCU offered the Motivate 2 Skate program to young children. But as places started to open back up, YNCU wondered how it could make the program better.
"It wasn't focusing on the need — which is people who don't actually know how to skate or have the means or ability to take skating lessons," Dias said.
Two groups emerged: children who may not have the financial means for skating, and new Canadians or international students.
Dias said many skating lessons are for children and adults who can't yet skate may feel embarrassed to be part of a children's skating lessons.
"There weren't specifically adult lessons."
'No judgment' zone
The Motivate 2 Skate program in Sault Ste. Marie now has adult skating lessons for new Canadians or international students every Friday until December.
The first adult lesson was held on Oct. 28 with volunteers from YNCU and the Soo Pee Wee Arena. Participants are required to supply their own skates and optional equipment like a helmet, knee pads, gloves and skate guards.
"It was so great. Honestly, it was nice to have this 'no judgment' zone where they could come and learn how to skate," Dias said
"We really wanted to create an experience that made them feel really safe and welcomed and excited."
More confident on skates
"This program will help people feel more confident on skates," said Chad Bouchard, manager of the Pee Wee Arena, and lead instructor for the program, in a press release.
"We get countless requests for adult skating lessons at the Pee Wee, but this partnership with YNCU finally made it happen," he added.
"Programs like this are important to ensure everyone feels welcome in our community," said Lara Stilin, chief financial officer at YNCU and a volunteer with the program.
"Motivate 2 Skate gives those new to Canada a chance to experience a favourite winter pastime," she added.
The application form for the children's skating session will be made available closer to the end of November, with the session likely taking place during the Christmas break.