MYNORTHWEST HISTORY

The world’s largest hockey stick must find a new home

Dec 8, 2023, 5:09 PM

Image: The world's largest hockey stick was recently seen at the top the Cowichan Valley Recreation...

The world's largest hockey stick was recently seen at the top the Cowichan Valley Recreation Centre on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Cowichan Valley Regional District)

(Photo courtesy of Cowichan Valley Regional District)

On Vancouver Island in British Columbia, a community that has been home for nearly 40 years to “the world’s largest hockey stick” is getting ready to say goodbye to its iconic roadside treasure. News of the giant piece of athletic gear facing an existential threat was first reported earlier this week by Justin McElroy of CBC Vancouver.

Duncan is on Vancouver Island in the Cowichan Valley, along the highway between Victoria and Nanaimo. Since 1988, the community has been home to the world’s largest hockey stick, as certified by Guinness World Records. But now, the stick must find a new home.

The hockey stick was originally commissioned for EXPO ’86, the world’s fair held in Vancouver 37 years ago. It was part of the Canada Pavilion and is, in fact, pretty big.

Just how big? According to Guinness: “62.48 m (205 feet) long, weighs 28.12 metric tons (62,000 pounds).” It’s made from Douglas fir and steel. Cowichan beat out other B.C. communities for the honor of becoming home to the big stick. It’s mounted to the roof and front wall of the Cowichan Community Centre, which has an ice rink inside, of course, where a lot of hockey is played. It makes for a very distinctive public building, and is something of a landmark for the town.

Tom Duncan is a city councilor in the town that shares his surname.

“Originally, the Duncan family came over from Scotland and settled in this area, and I’m also from Scotland, I came over in 1967,” Duncan told KIRO Newsradio on Thursday. “And so when people say, ‘Is the town named after you?,’ I say ‘Well, we’re all the same clan.'”

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Duncan is also chair of the Cowichan Valley Recreation Commission. He described how most people encounter the distinctive landmark.

“As you were driving through Duncan now, you would see this huge hockey stick,” Duncan said. “So (it’s) a bit of a tourist attraction. We had it set up also so that you could stand at a certain spot and then make a pose and look like you were holding up the biggest hockey stick in the world.”

“And no charge to pop by, stop in and see some information on the inside of the building,” Duncan continued. “And (we have) some souvenirs available, like ‘small big sticks,’ and coffee cups and things like that, that had the logo on there.”

All of that sounds great, and community members and tourists have enjoyed the landmark and all the trappings for more than 35 years. However, earlier this year it was discovered that weather – and a woodpecker or two – have damaged the wooden structure, and the giant hockey stick needs major repairs, perhaps costing well over $1 million, to ensure its preservation and to keep the public safe.

Tom Duncan says his group commissioned a survey of residents over the summer. Results showed that 70% of respondents said, essentially, ‘don’t spend the money on the hockey stick when there are other more high-priority needs including human services and recreation.’

As a result, the government now plans to auction off the hockey stick to the highest bidder, and hopes are that it will be gone and tucked into a new home somewhere by sometime in 2024.

Once that happens, what will the Cowichan Valley Recreation Centre look like without the enormous hockey stick attached?

“It’s just gonna look like a lot of those other box-type buildings in that era,” Duncan admits. “It was a lot of ‘just make sure that you had good amenities on the inside,’ then there wasn’t a lot of money spent on architecture on the outside.”

Image: The world's largest hockey stick is a relic of EXPO '86 that was installed on a community center in Duncan, British Columbia, in 1988. Duncan is located on Vancouver Island.

The world’s largest hockey stick is a relic of EXPO ’86 that was installed on a community center in Duncan, British Columbia, in 1988. Duncan is located on Vancouver Island. (Photo courtesy of Cowichan Valley Regional District)

And when that dark day comes and the hockey stick is actually removed from the Recreation Centre and hauled away to some museum or collector or other community center somewhere, how will Tom Duncan feel to be one of the people holding political office in Duncan when the city loses an iconic piece of its identity?

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Duncan says that’s the reality of politics, sometimes you’re viewed positively, sometimes you’re viewed negatively, and this decision is all about the money.

“I think what I’m doing as chair of the commission, with the input of the residents that have responded to the survey and with the input of the other directors, is we’ve done what we feel is prudent and fiscally responsible for the Cowichan Valley region.”

“They’re just not into spending the money on this type of tourist attraction at this time,” Duncan said.

While Duncan personally appreciates the giant hockey stick, he says there’s a lot more to the community than what’s mounted to the exterior wall of the Recreation Center.

“It isn’t the only attraction that we have in town,” Duncan said. “Duncan is actually the ‘City of Totems,’ we have one of the largest totem collections on the island, actually one of the largest in the world, that’s what I’ve been told.”

As committed to removing the hockey stick as Tom Duncan now sounds, it does seem as if there’s still time for a philanthropic “angel” to step in and save the hockey stick and, likely save Duncan – both the city of that name and perhaps the city councilor, too.

One such person mentioned by Tom Duncan is Jimmy Pattison, a wealthy British Columbia entrepreneur who helped make EXPO ’86 a success. Pattison, who’s now in his nineties, sounds like the “go-to rich guy” for community projects in British Columbia, not unlike the late Paul Allen used to be for Seattle and Puget Sound.

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Tom Duncan said Thursday there’s been no word from Pattison or his people so far regarding the giant hockey stick.

“We haven’t heard from Mr. Pattison,” Duncan said. “I mentioned him a couple of times in interviews and we haven’t reached out to him, but I’m sure that his staff is aware of the hockey stick.”

In the meantime, Tom Duncan was asked if he had heard any bad hockey puns to describe the situation. He was all too happy to oblige.

“‘The puck stops here’ is a good one,” Duncan said. “You know, ‘we’ve been into overtime to try and find a solution.'”

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