Posted : 2013-01-29 19:11
Updated : 2013-01-29 19:11

Hockey game to honor Canadian vets

"Imjin Gardens" was the scene of an ice hockey game between teams of the Royal Canadian Artillery officers and "Van Doos" officers on March 1, 1952.
The ice rink on the frozen Imjin River was named after Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. / Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

By Alan Green

Canadian troops sent to the Korean War found some respite from the fighting through playing ice hockey on the frozen Imjin River, a short distance from the frontline. Many of the troops were surprised to find Korea's climate to be similar to that of their home nation with rivers freezing over during the cold winters, enabling them to play their favorite sport.

Regimental teams competed in ice hockey matches at the "Imjin Gardens" named after Toronto's hockey shrine Maple Leaf Gardens, watched by hundreds of men, accompanied by the sound of nearby gunfire.

On Feb. 3, a commemorative ceremony followed by a demonstration hockey game will be held at 9:30 a.m. in front of Seoul City Hall as part of the final day of the skating season in Seoul Plaza rink. The game will feature members of the Geckos Glaciers, one of the top expat hockey teams in Asia, as well as Canadian military personnel. The teams will wear the colors of two of the Canadian regimental teams that faced off on the ice of the Imjin River in 1952, almost 61 years ago to the day.

The event has been organized by the Canadian Embassy in collaboration with the City of Seoul, the Korea Ice Hockey Association, Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs and sponsor Canada Year in Korea in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice and the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Canada.

Members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment play ice hockey at "Imjin Gardens" on Feb. 4, 1952. / Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

As well as inviting Canadian Korean War veterans, double Olympic gold medalist Catriona LeMay Doan will also be present as a special guest referee. The Canadian speed skater topped the podium in the 500 meters in 1998 and 2002.

A week later, another exhibition game will be played on Ottawa's Rideau Canal during the Canadian capital's annual Winterlude festival. Korean-born Conservative Sen. Yonah Martin has been credited with organizing the event that will also involve members of the Canadian military, MPs and two players from the Glaciers will also fly out to participate.

The Geckos Glaciers, sponsored by Geckos Terrace in Itaewon have been playing hockey in Korea for 15 years. They are the current holders of the Imjin River Cup Memorial Trophy, which was first competed for in 2001.

Following the Seoul game, the Canadian Embassy along with Seoul City has also arranged for members of Canada Ball Hockey in Korea (CBHK) to teach Korean children hockey skills. CBHK is preparing for its 10th season, now with around 130 members and 10 teams.

The Canadian Embassy will also present a small exhibition of photographs made available by Library and Archives Canada. These photographs demonstrate the enthusiasm for the game that the troops carried with them to Korea.

Canada sent almost 27,000 troops to Korea and suffered 1,158 casualties of which 516 died. The rink on the Imjin River provided not only a temporary escape from the war but also a reminder of home. What started as an area ringed off with sandbags, later became a boarded arena.

There were even heated dressing rooms and a canteen that served coffee and donuts to men trucked in from the front line for a reminder of home and the Imjin Gardens sign that stood by the rink was complete with a maple leaf and Canada insignia.

The Seoul Plaza Ice Rink is in front of City Hall. To get there by subway, take line 1 or 2 to City Hall Station.

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