A Nanaimo resident is helping to bring hockey from one island to another.
Donovan Tait is a Nanaimo RCMP sergeant, and in his spare time, he’s a scout and advisor with the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Team.
Tait has been involved with the organization behind the scenes for a number of years, but only recently has the executive decided to publicize its efforts. A Jamaican U20 team will participate in a hockey tournament in Nova Scotia next month and Tait will be part of the contingent.
“I’m very excited to be going to Nova Scotia and cheering them on, for sure, and [doing] anything I can do to help,” he said. “It’s 30 years too late for me to play, but I can certainly help.”
Tait was born in Canada and grew up on Vancouver Island, but lived in Jamaica as a child, has Jamaican heritage and travels there at least once a year.
“My mom and dad, it was very important to them that me and my brother and sister really knew Jamaica and were always connected there,” he said.
Tait is taking on a few different tasks with the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation, including publicity. He was in Jamaica last month and found himself on a radio show talking to a caller about a Zamboni.
“When it gets to Jamaica, it’s going to be the Jam-boni,” came the reply.
Jamaicans like to have a laugh, Tait said, but the hockey team isn’t meant to be a joke or a gimmick to sell T-shirts – the group is earnest in its efforts. While he was in Jamaica, Tait met with the federal minister of sport and with the vice-president of the country’s Olympic committee. Jamaica has been granted associate-member status with the International Ice Hockey Federation, though it can’t become a full member until there is an ice rink in the country, a league and youth programs. Tait has had discussions with various groups and thinks it will take private investment to build an arena; he suggested a partnership with a resort might be realistic.
“If we were to build a rink, I think there’d be a lineup of kids wanting to try and compete on an Olympic stage,” Tait said.
For now, the hockey team is mostly comprised of Canadian kids who have Jamaican heritage.
“It’s very important to the common Jamaican that this team does have some credibility being Jamaican. [The] Canadian kids, they need to establish their Jamaican citizenship and the people in Jamaica are very sensitive to that,” Tait said. “They’re seeing kids wearing a Jamaica jersey and playing hockey … but they really want to know that these kids have a connection to the island.”
Next month’s event in Nova Scotia isn’t just a showcase, but is meant to celebrate diversity in sport. The tournament is a Canada 150 project and will recall the Coloured Hockey League that operated in the Maritimes from 1895-1930. Graeme Townshend, who was the NHL’s first Jamaican-born player, is coach of the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Team and Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player is, like Tait, an advisor with the federation.
Tait said it will be meaningful to see the team take the ice next month. His parents are “fiercely proud” of where they come from and Tait is “completely passionate” about Jamaican hockey.
“We love this country and we are Canadians no matter what,” he said. “But to say I can help build a national team in the country where my parents were born … I will continue to do it for free and off the side of my desk for a long time.”