Scott of the Frozen North! Print E-mail
Written by George Bunner   
Sunday, 31 January 2010

In 2008 Scott Haines and his wife Elise visited the UK to see the Aviva Sportshall UK Final and other programmes such as the AAA Tom Pink Relays in action. He was accompanied by John Craig CEO Athletics Ontario and his wife Gael and they returned to Canada deeply impressed and full of enthusiasm.

While most of England is thankful that the recent cold snap is over it is interesting to hear of one track coach in Canada who actually wants it to get colder! Scott Haines from Sioux Lookout in Canada is depending on sub zero temperatures to strengthen the ice road system so that he can visit his students.

This time of year is known as the ‘freeze up’ and the ice has to get to a certain thickness before it can be used by road vehicles to cross the many lakes. Before then only skidoos can make the crossing and that’s a tough way to travel. Currently it is around 20 inches thick and that’s fine for SUVs but the big trucks need to have more. Scott says with a smile “So long as I see other vehicles using the ice it puts my mind at ease!”

The ice road begins

Scott is head coach of Athletic Ontario’s most Northern track club and he has made it his personal mission to work with First Nations and remote communities. In a province that has over 8 times the land area of England he is no stranger to challenging circumstances and over the past two years he has used, planes, skidoos, an old school bus, boats and even a canoe to visit some of the most inaccessible places where visitors are a rarity and athletics coaches virtually unheard off.

Elsie travels in the back with the kit

Anyone who has met him knows he does it all with a smile and he exudes passion for his job. An ex school teacher Scott took a full time coaching position over a year ago and when faced with delivering the project on a tight budget he says “It’s more budget than we ever had before”, adding with a chuckle “which was nearly nothing”. When asked about the challenging situations he responds “Hey we’re used to it up here I’m not worried because this is my dream job and I love getting to see all these places. I love meeting the people working with the kids and the program and its equipment are ideal for our needs”. The programme he is referring to is none other than our homegrown Sportshall programme started in England by George Bunner back in 1976.

Speed bouncing in Pikangikum

In 2008 Scott visited England as a guest at the Aviva Sportshall UK Final to learn more about this and other British grass roots programmes, his goal being to develop and deliver the concept back in his home region. Since then Scott has joined forces with 3 x Canadian Olympic High Jumper Milton Ottey who is the operations manager for the IFTA Sport Services company based in Toronto. Milt has also visited Aviva Sportshall events in the UK and is working closely with Eveque Canada to develop the concept in the Ontario schools system. Each year over 20,000 children participate and that number is growing all the time.

Classroom doubles as a gym

Most of the Ontario population is based in the South so Milt has as many as four event teams on the road at any one time but it is the organizations goal to service the whole province and that’s no easy task. Compared to the UK, the distances are vast. It is a 22 hour drive from Toronto to Scott’s base in Sioux Lookout and then many of the communities are designated “Fly in” so there are no roads apart from a 3 month period in the winter. Scott knows that he must make full use of this opportunity so until the weather warms up he will be out there traveling the ice roads with a van full off Sporsthall equipment. He knows it is worth the effort because he is seeing some great natural talent and the long-term goal is to see one of these First Nations children make the Canadian National Team. He is not the only one who believes this goal is achievable, Athletics Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion are both are supporting the project and as Scott says, “I know the talent is there, it would be such a confidence boost for all the young people in our remote communities.”

So when you’re next thinking of skipping training because it’s too cold spare a though for our Canadian friends in Northern Ontario where the average winter temperature is below -20C and the lowest recorded temperature stands at an incredible -58C!

Gravel road north of Red Lake


This project is supported by: Eveque Canada Inc, Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion, Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Athletics Ontario.

If you are interested to find out more, regular news updates are posted on IFTA Canada is currently field-testing a virtual competition using the Aviva Agility Challenge format that it hopes will bring these communities closer together. If this project is successful, there may be the possibility to partner with some English Schools.


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