Watson Lake residents and businesses have been rallying in recent weeks to ensure that a peewee hockey tournament scheduled to take place in February won’t be derailed by the exorbitant prices being charged by one hotel that same weekend.
As the News reported in November, Andrea’s Hotel in Watson Lake was quoting a rate of $500 per night for Feb. 22 to 24 — the same dates that the town was to host the peewee tournament portion of Hockey Yukon’s 2019 Divisional Yukon Cups.
While the story prompted some social media users to call for the tournament moved elsewhere, it also spurred some locals to double down on efforts to ensure that visiting teams would have places to stay, according to Watson Lake Minor Hockey Association secretary-treasurer Kayla McMillan.
“The amount of support that the community has shown has been unbelievable,” McMillan said in an interview Jan. 10.
Although alternatives to hotels had always been available — for example, the recreation centre has enough space for about 70 people to participate in “indoor camping” — McMillan said that the elementary and high schools have now also offered up their gyms for camping, and some residents are opening their homes for billeting.
Local businesses have pitched in too, with a local caterer volunteering to do a free pancake breakfast for all players, coaches and families that go the “indoor camping” route.
“It’s just been really great to see how much people have really rallied to support the association and make sure that we still get to host the tournament and that the kids have a great time,” she said.
“… Everybody here is so welcoming and so wonderful and, yeah, I think it’s really great that the community did whatever they can to ensure that people still come.”
McMillan added that it was important for many community members to show that the approach Andrea’s Hotel had taken – reportedly in protest of municipal taxes – was not an “accurate reflection” of how most other residents felt.
(The News has previously made multiple attempts to speak with the owners of Andrea’s Hotel. While the News received a fax that appeared to be written by one of the owners, they have never responded to the News’ requests for a phone interview.)
The challenge now, McMillan said, was getting the word out to hockey parents in Whitehorse and the communities that accommodations will be available tournament weekend at affordable prices, if not for free.
With the help of Watson Lake native Lael Lund, a communications strategist and hockey parent now living in Whitehorse, the Watson Lake Minor Hockey Association sent out a memo on Jan. 8 in hopes of raising awareness about indoor camping, billeting and rental options.
In an interview Jan. 10, Lund said she jumped at the chance to help show that her hometown “does want to have these events and is a welcoming place.”
“People are pretty mortified about what happened (with Andrea’s Hotel),” she said.
“I think that fired up a lot of people and … that unwelcoming message is not shared whatsoever by the community members and I guess I could just see how hard they were working to try to reverse that.”
(A News reporter called Andrea’s Hotel Jan. 10 and, without identifying herself as a reporter, asked if the hotel had any availability the weekend of Feb. 22. A woman who picked up the phone said the hotel was fully booked for the weekend; neither Lund or McMillan said they were aware of any parents that had agreed to pay the $500-per-night rate.)
Hockey Yukon president Travis Ritchie said in an interview Jan. 10 that he was pleased that it appeared to be guaranteed that all visiting teams and families will have a “comfy and warm place to stay” in Watson Lake tournament weekend.
So far, he said, five teams from Whitehorse have confirmed they will be travelling to Watson Lake, while teams from Mayo, Dawson City and Haines Junction are figuring out whether they will each have enough players to send their own teams, or if players will join together to form a mixed team.
While there had been talk early on about the possibility of relocating the tournament should the accommodation situation not be resolved, Ritchie added, that’s no longer on the table.
“(It’s) a positive outcome and … it sounds like things are on the right track to having a successful event,” he said.
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com