In South Porcupine, Ontario, Burt St. Amour is a well-known name and familiar face at the Carlo Cattarello Arena, known locally as ‘The Barn.’ Since 2008, he has been the administrator for the Barn Recreational League and Oldtimers Leagues and the arena manager for 40 years.
The CARHA Hockey Achievement Award recognizes individuals who have committed and donated their time to the hockey community. Burt was nominated by Owen Rigg, Referee in Chief of the Barn Referees Association. We had the pleasure of speaking with Burt and Owen about the nomination, hockey in South Porcupine, playing through the pandemic, and the importance of volunteering.
Burt St. Amour
Burt described the recognition as a humbling experience and, as a true community-minded individual, credits his team for the achievement.
“It’s great to be nominated and very much appreciated. It’s not only me when I think of being nominated for these awards it’s a whole team effort.” That team he refers to includes Referee in Chief (Owen), all the officials, and team reps.
His outstanding contribution to adult recreational hockey and his impact on the community through volunteerism, which Owen detailed in his nomination letter, has contributed to developing the largest Adult Recreational League in Northern Ontario.
“The Barn Recreational League and Oldtimers Leagues joined the CARHA program to provide insurance and administrative structure to these Adult Recreational Leagues,” wrote Owen. “This was needed to establish the Leagues into a properly run programs and change some of the direction the leagues were heading. At that time, the Leagues had 8 teams participating in the Recreational League and 4 teams participating in Oldtimers. In 2009, the Leagues had a reputation of being “dirty” and rather violent. For many individuals that would not participate in the league, this was a known barrier for participation. Over the course of 3 to 5 seasons, under Burt’s leadership we put into place better structure and guidance with the use of resources provided by CARHA to clean up the play during the season. This has led to a major reduction of suspensions during the seasons that preceded the 2009 season. This has changed the reputation of the Barn Recreational and Oldtimers Leagues in South Porcupine.”
The league has been going for about 45 years under various names. When Burt took over in the role of administrator in 2008, he set out to make hockey accessible to more people and has grown the game in South Porcupine and Timmins. Hockey plays an integral role in the community, as Burt points out:
“Having this men’s league is very beneficial to the town and also to the arena. We have a population of about 45,000 in the city of Timmins, and we run the biggest league in town for adult recreation.”
The Rec League has grown to 16 teams, with approximately 300 participants, and the Oldtimers League to eight teams with approximately 150 participants.
“We have a very high division of hockey, says Owen. “We always joke about that it doesn’t matter where you play hockey in the universe, all things point back to the Barn Rec League.”
They have guys who played in the AHL or OHL who have come back and play. There are also the guys who are there to “get their sweat on” or socialize with friends, and they have the divisions to support all levels of rec hockey.
“It’s such a community hub out here in South Porcupine and Timmins in general. I think one of the cool things about it is how much support Burt gets from the community and a lot of the companies that individuals play in the league, and they also always contribute to helping with whatever Burt needs on a regular basis.”
The arena is a private facility operating as a non-profit. It’s Burt’s job as arena manager to keep the lights on and doors open. The players depend on him not only for a league to play in, but also to have a place to play out of. In a typical season, they play 24 to 26 games per week, which accounts for more than half the allocation of ice time at the arena. That’s unheard of in this area where most places only have one night of hockey.
As league administrator, Burt’s role includes advertising to play, communicating when registration opens, game schedules, and putting scores on the website. Operating Northern Ontario’s largest Adult Recreational League, he could not do it all alone, and it rests on a team of volunteers to ensure a successful season. At the beginning of the season, a call goes out to team reps to submit a team.
“Believe me, those team reps are very important for the survival of this league because at the end of the day without these team reps who collect the money for you, sign the papers, whatever you have to do, we give them big kudos because without them there’s no way we’d be able to survive. You can’t do it all yourself… They step up, and they do the job.”
Playing On During the Pandemic
Burt’s efforts and achievements through the 2020/21 season demonstrated his outstanding leadership and dedication. With COVID threatening the hockey season, he spent the summer preparing and working with the local health unit and CARHA Hockey to put protocols in place to play.
“That’s what’s kind of special about this year and part of the reason I put the nomination in because Burt did a ton of work during the summer that I wasn’t aware about,” said Owen. “For him to get the approvals to be able to make it a go was pretty special because there wasn’t anything going around in Northern Ontario.”
Owen expanded on that in his nomination:
“Burt has worked tirelessly this year to get the season off the ground when many other operators have cancelled across the country. Burt worked with the local health unit in Timmins to understand the rules and instituted all the precautions and contact tracing programs necessary to provide safe sport for all our participants and league officials. It cannot go unnoticed the incredible amount of effort it has been to make this season a reality.”
The season ran nonstop other than the provincial lockdowns. They were fortunate to be in an area with few cases and with strict protocols in place, and through Burt’s hard work to keep the leagues running safely, they had the opportunity to play, which they knew was important for everyone’s mental health. The two jokingly referred to it as a broken-up season, referencing that their season ran until Christmas, then paused for a month and a half due to provincial lockdown. They did everything they could to get the season in – condensing schedules and adding games during the week. All in addition to implementing strict protocols to maintain the health and safety of the players and the community. There was undoubtedly an adjustment with this being a very social league, but everyone stepped up to do their part.
“Every time a week went by, we put a checkmark on the calendar and said we survived another week,” Burt shared.
“It sure opened my eyes, but we had a lot of support from the local health.”
The Oldtimers League successfully completed, while the Rec League ended a week and a half before their intended end date of April 10 due to the province’s lockdown measures. Owen credits the team reps for the adjustments they made and for ensuring teams followed the rules to continue to play.
“Just to get to the point where we almost finished the season was still pretty incredible, and a lot of recognition goes to Burt for pulling it off. To see our league be as successful as it was and not have any cases of COVID from it is really indicative of the fact that all the protocols were followed. Everyone worked hard, everyone did the cleaning. I’ve never seen the arena so clean, it was amazing to see. It really worked well, and we should be proud of that aspect of it.”
A positive they saw out of the challenging season was getting all the names on game sheets. Contact tracing mandated this, which also made Owen’s job easier when following up on game infractions. It has helped make the league more professional and something they plan to continue asking teams to provide.
The Value of Volunteering
It was those who Burt saw dedicating their time to the community who’ve made a lasting impression on him through their volunteer efforts, influencing him to give back.
“When I came through the system, when I was a hockey player or whatever, there were always people who were volunteering their time to help me through the system. So I always said, well these people could help, I should pay it back. I’ve seen people all through the years, whether it’s minor hockey or adult leagues, these people all volunteered to look after it, so I guess it’s my time to step up to the plate and do the same. Especially with a small community facility like we have, you have to be one-on-one with the people, and that’s what we do, and that’s why I still volunteer.”
When asked whether a specific person stood out for him, he recalls Carlo Cattarello, the first unofficial rec director in South Porcupine. He shares fond memories of the man who the arena is named after.
“You always hear the stories when Carlo was around he’d have baseball bats, baseball gloves, hockey sticks, skates on his porch and kids used to go there and grab whatever they needed and use it for a couple of days then bring it back. You don’t see that today. It was unofficial because he wasn’t a paid recreational director, and in those days, that was something special. He coached hockey and looked after teams. Very well respected.”
“That’s the kind of guy I’d like to say that I look after. I’d like to be the same way he was.”
Burt started as a rink rat at ten years old. When he was 19, he was hired as a labourer and shortly after assumed the role of manager of the facility, which he has held for 40 years. Hockey has been a constant all his life. During that time, he has been part of minor hockey – president of minor hockey; ball hockey in summer, a league called sponge puck hockey. Being involved in many leagues kind of ‘groomed’ him for the position as administrator, which puts him in a unique position as he’s also the arena manager. When he can’t be found at the rink, he’s on call 24/7
What’s the best part of what he does?
“I always said that I never worked a day in my life. When I go to the rink, I’ve always wanted to go there. So looking after this league or other leagues is almost like part of a job. But the best part is probably seeing guys coming there in the night. They’re playing hockey with their friends. It’s a social outing.”
It’s the place to go in town, Owen explains. “There’s really nothing else happening in this community when it comes to men’s hockey.”
In addition to running the area’s largest recreational league and overseeing the heavy schedule, Burt is also involved in running one or two tournaments each year and supporting community fundraisers through the arena. As a staple in the community, The Barn participates in numerous events, as well as a women’s hockey tournament each year.
Hockey Brings People Together
Hockey and The Barn bring this community together, and it comes as no surprise that it’s how Burt and Owen met. They’ve known each other for over 20 years, going back to when Burt coached Owen for about four years before high school.
“I always remember him opening the arena up for us at six in the morning so we could go for a skate before school, and those opportunities didn’t come for a lot of people because of ice allocation, and rental times and he was always great taking care of us.”
Owen shared a story from the minor hockey world that has always stuck with him. After five weekends of tournaments, coach Burt tried to get the team some rest before the National Silver Stick Championship by pulling out of their upcoming tournament in Valley East, a suburb of Sudbury. When that wasn’t possible, he told the conveners to schedule all their games on Saturday so they could travel there and back in one day. They ended up playing six or seven games in one day and making the Sunday finals, scrambling for rooms to stay the night.
“The people at that tournament were just amazed at how they could pull this off and how the guys could continue to win hockey games, but we were on the ice so much because of Burt letting us on in the morning, and we played hundreds of games in a season. I always remember that as a kid growing up and going to the tournament and running the tables in two days and beating all these teams in two days and bringing home the trophy… we went with ten guys, it wasn’t even a full team that weekend.”
“I always said we were going to make it fun; it was fun,” Burt chimed in.
Now they’re back working closely together. Owen has been refereeing for 15 years and returned to South Porcupine in 2009 after finishing school. With these two in charge, the leagues are in great hands.
As Burt reminded us, “I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve been doing this for forty years, and it’s been a great time!”
Congratulations to Burt on this well-deserved honour!