Participation in winter sports could help newcomers adjust to life in Canada, research finds

By: Alisa Samuel

Published on: December 1st, 2023

In February of 2010, the Winter Olympic Games were hosted in Vancouver, British Columbia. Over the span of two weeks, thousands of athletes from countries around the world gathered in the city and its surrounding regions to compete for medals in winter sporting events—sports that are played on ice or snow, such as figure skating, curling, ice hockey, and snowboarding.  

Contiki, a popular youth tour company, calls Canada the perfect winter sports destination for its mountain peaks and flat prairies, but also for its mostly cold climate: “The average temperature in winter ranges across Canada from -5°C to -35°C, varying across the country […] A great time of the year to visit ski resorts in Canada is between December to March to ensure the best conditions.” 

After garnering billions of television views worldwide, selling out venues across a wide variety of terrains, and showcasing some of Team Canada’s most excellent gold medal-winning performances, the success of the Vancouver Games proves just how central the practice of winter sports is to Canadian culture and national identity.  

Could participating in winter sports help newcomers to Canada integrate themselves into their new society? Simon Barrick, an associate professor of Sport and Physical Activity Leadership at Cape Breton University, in Nova Scotia argues that, yes, introducing newcomers to winter sports could in fact support their integration into Canadian society.  

In a study recently published in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Barrick observed and interviewed all-aged newcomers from a group of 200 as they participated in the WinSport Newcomer Programme (WNP) between January and April 2018. WNP is an introductory winter sports program that newcomers to Canada enroll in to develop their social skills and personal interests. Enrollees play ice skating, downhill skiing, and snowboarding while under the guidance of settlement councillors.  

Referencing a teen participant who made new friends in the programme, several participants felt a sense of belonging despite initial fears of potentially encountering racism. The study findings show that they expanded their social networks to include connections “with fellow programme participants and instructors,” that is, established Canadians who they wouldn’t otherwise meet and interact with.  

Many newcomers to Canada come from countries where winter sports aren’t a mainstream concept or common leisure activity. According to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, India was the number one source country of new immigrants to Canada in 2022. Majority of India experiences a humid tropical climate.  

Newcomer parents in the study were also a little unsure about how to morally support their children with this experience of engaging in winter sport, as they haven’t had the prior chance to do it themselves. The newness of learning to play on the ice and in the snow, however, largely intrigued study participants—so much so that, in some cases, they valued winter sport not just for its social benefits but also as a possible hobby.  

Exploring winter sports without the programme and its support structure, however, proves to be challenging. Barriers to further exploration include time restraints, lack of transportation, language difficulties, and cost. Practicing hockey, as an example, is highly expensive though the sport is arguably the most popular in Canada. Global News reported in 2014 that the average cost for a recreational player was around $5,500 per season.  

Barricks therefore concluded that sports administrators, policy makers, and funders need to make winter sports more accessible to newcomers for their social development and cultural wellbeing, by designing more programmes like WNP.  

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