A Canadian winter is never complete without a toboggan ride, a snowshoe walk in deep snow, a skate outdoors—or, better yet, a full-on game of hockey played on a frozen pond. In northern New Brunswick, the villagers of Plaster Rock have put new life into the great Canadian tradition of outdoor hockey. And, come February, teams from Canada, the United States and Europe travel to its phenomenally successful World Pond Hockey Championship tournament.
Only in its eighth year, the tournament has grown from a modest event featuring 40 teams (mostly from Canada’s Maritime provinces and the neighbouring state of Maine) to a meeting of more than 120 teams, all competing on side-by-side rinks on the cleared ice of Roulston Lake—named after one of the founders of the village of Plaster Rock who arrived here in the 1880s—and featuring, for the first time, a ladies division.
Even the National Hockey League has recognized the fantastic popular appeal of the World Pond Hockey Championship tournament’s return to the roots of the game; it now mounts an annual Winter Classic played outside to the cheers of tens of thousands of fans.
The numbers in Plaster Rock are fewer, but the thrills are greater. Spectators get to participate not just in the game, but in the resilience and imagination of a rural New Brunswick community, known for its friendliness, that has completely reinvented itself.
Plaster Rock takes its name from the plaster made from the gypsum of a neighbouring hillside. The village sits picturesquely on the Tobique River, previously a place for bootleggers to peddle liquor. It became a lumber town in 1918 though the mill is shut now, and drink—well, you can buy it in a store, so no fortunes to be made there anymore. Lesser communities might have despaired; not so Plaster Rock.
If you want to experience Canada at its bracing winter finest, book your accommodation early. Register as a team and put your skates on, or just come to watch. Either way, you’ll find yourself connected to the land and to people in a manner you won’t ever forget.