In the Beginning
Electric wheelchair hockey was born back in 1975, when a group of teachers and social workers from Bloorview Children’s Hospital, The Villa Hospital, and Sunnyview School, got together to play a series of exhibition hockey games with the residents from all three facilities. It was not an organized league per say, but they got together a couple of times per year to challenge one another.
In 1979, Robb Carmichael registered as a volunteer at Bloorview. He was invited to help out with an exhibition hockey game that had been arranged between Bloorview and Sunnyview. A recreational hockey player himself, Robb coached his first game of wheelchair hockey. At that time it was a mixed group of kids in manual wheelchairs as well as electric wheelchairs. Having enjoyed the experience, he began to organize more frequent wheelchair hockey games.
Establishment of the CEWHA
Over the next couple of years Robb came to understand the challenge that people in electric wheelchairs had in competing with those people in manual chairs, who had significantly more upper body strength and/or mobility. In 1980, he met Albert Rossi who was assisting his niece and nephew to play hockey in a game that Robb had organized. Another young man, Jon Wagner, was also there helping his brother Tom. Following the game, Robb met with Albert and Jon to share his vision that he had been developing for the past couple of months. He proposed that they formally establish a league, set a more frequent schedule, and limit the play to those people with limited upper body strength and/or mobility – people who would typically use electric wheelchairs.
Toronto Division – 1980
Four teams were established the first year, and they began to play their games every second Friday night at Bloorview. The Villa Hospital, West Toronto, and two teams made up of Bloorview residents comprised the league they called The Metropolitan Toronto Wheelchair Hockey League. Two years later, they grew to six teams and the league was really beginning to take shape. At around that same time in 1983, Albert asked two friends of his to volunteer on a regular basis as referees. Dallas Nairne and Drew Cleland, active coaches and Board members, joined the league and generously gave of their time each Friday night.
Sharing the Vision – 1984
As things progressed it was evident that a tremendous amount of value had been realized by the participants and volunteers associated with the league. Robb in particular was very excited about what was happening. In 1984 he proposed another vision to his colleagues. He suggested that there must be thousands of people with disabilities, right across the country, who could significantly benefit from similar programs. So was born the vision that still lives today. Robb proposed that they legally register their hockey league as a federal charity, for the purpose of establishing a division of their hockey league in every major city across Canada. Two years later, in 1986, the Canadian Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association was officially granted charitable status. The five founding members became the Board of Directors.
Hockey Hall of Fame – Recognition – 1993
The league continued to prosper and in 1993 was officially recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame. A ceremony was held just prior to the official opening of the Hall. The Allied Cup spent a number of years on permanent display along with other CEWHA memorabilia.
Tournaments – 2000s
Toronto has had the privilege of participating in many tournaments over the years under a couple different names, most recently Toronto Rock. They have taken part in North American championships, Canadian championships, as well as the Worlds in 2001. Not only does Toronto partake in these events, but they often do well.
Over the years the numbers of players in the league has fluctuated, thus the number of teams too. In the mid-2000s the Toronto Division reached its peak of 10 teams and roughly 90 players. The Division now has 4 teams and roughly 40 players. The league looks to the future optimistically with hopes of growth each year.