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The international travels of Ailish Forfar

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Learn about the Markham Thunder rookie’s adventures in hockey, journalism, and service.

Ailish with 2018 Winter Paralympics mascot Bandabi the Black Bear.
Photo courtesy of Ailish Forfar

Ailish Forfar’s interests have led her, quite literally, around the world.

While in college at Ryerson, she went on services trips with other athletes and covered the 2018 Winter Paralympics from South Korea. As a rookie on the Markham Thunder, she’s played hockey in China, while also completing her journalism degree and coaching at Ryerson as an assistant.

“Hockey has been basically the platform for me to have all the things I’ve had,” Forfar told The Ice Garden. “Whether it’s a great education, good friends, life experiences, travel, that’s all because of hockey.”

Now, she is ready to pay it forward and bring attention to Canada by promoting the CWHL, as well as a local health crisis impacting children in Ontario.

Ryerson Rams Care

Forfar started her college career at Dartmouth University. While at the Ivy League college in New Hampshire, she played hockey and joined a sorority. When she transferred to Ryerson in Toronto in 2016, she found herself having to recreate her social life.

Forfar applied for the Ryerson Rams Humanitarian Trip to satisfy her passion for service, as well as meet athletes at her new university. In 2017, Forfar traveled to Cambodia as a participant and, by the next year, helped lead the third-ever Ryerson Rams trip.

Samsung in South Korea

Last winter, Forfar’s passion for hockey and communications united when she was selected as one of three Samsung super-fan bloggers to cover the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in South Korea. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) partnered with the Samsung to recruit a 25-member team of athletes, team officials, and super-fan competition winners to cover the 2018 Winter Paralympics.

Ailish trying on traditional clothing at the Korean Cultural Experience Center during her tour of the Olympic Villages.
Courtesy of Ailish Forfar

Forfar heard about the program from one of her professors at Ryerson. “I saw the application online and I thought, ‘Well why not?’”

What followed was an rigorous application process. “It was about two months of applying,” said Forfar with a hint of fatigue in her voice as she recalled the numerous steps. She had less than two weeks to get her affairs in order before leaving for PyeongChang. “I didn’t have much preparation, and I had to miss two weeks of school, but the whole application was really cool and it was a great experience, and I had an absolute blast!”

CWHL Ambassador

The Ice Garden spoke to Forfar just before her latest trip to China with the Markham Thunder, with whom she pre-signed ahead of the season. On the ice, the 2018 Clarkson Cup champions split the series with the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays. In addition to collecting key points in the standings, Forfar collected footage for a new women’s hockey show she will host.

Markham Thunder players (L to R) Victoria Bach, Ailish Forfar, Kelly Gribbons, and Kristen Richards sightsee in China.
Courtesy of Ailish Forfar

CWHL All Access is a collaboration among Ryerson journalism students that offers a look inside the league through studio interview and player features. Again, Forfar’s passion for travel, journalism, and hockey are blended in what she hopes will be a unique opportunity to grow the game.

“I definitely see it as something I want to take on more, especially in my program and my role,” said Forfar about exposing more people to the league. “I want to share it worldwide. I don’t want this to be something I do [just] for fun. There’s so many people that need to know more about the CWHL.”

Forfar is starting with Ryerson, the Canadian University located in Toronto. Both she and Ryerson men’s hockey assistant coach Kori Cheverie – who makes an appearance in the first episode of CWHL All Access – have ties to the league.

Where her time in South Korea took more of a fan perspective, Forfar sees CWHL All Access as a chance to strengthen her versatility as a journalist. “There are definitely journalists that can have that very serious, very intellectual approach but also get out there and talk to the athletes ... [CWHL All Access] will be a bit of both.”

In addition to an interview and fun skill competition with Cheverie, the first episode featured interviews with players of the past and present, such as Tessa Bonhomme and Laura Stacey.

“I’m trying to picture a show where I’m able to talk with my fellow athletes, teammates, and role models in my industry, but also sit down with, maybe [CWHL Commissioner] Janya Hefford and have more of a serious conversation.”

Giving back to Canada

For her upcoming trip, Forfar won’t be traveling too far. She is the trip leader for the 2019 Ryerson Rams Care Humanitarian Trip. This trip is taking a different, but very intentional approach to the service.

“In aboriginal Canada, there’s a lot of youth that suffer with suicide and they have a really high rate of suicide up in Northern Ontario,” Forfar explained.

As the trip coordinator, Forfar and her group of athletes will work with Indigenous youth. Last year, the Wapekeka First Nation declared a state of emergency due to an apparent “suicide pact” among its children. The Ontario community has sought government funding for a mental health emergency that has claimed the lives of over 500 children, most between the ages of 10 and 14 years old.

According to Dr. Laurence Kirmayer, director of McGill University’s Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, the rates of suicide in aboriginal communities is linked to high rates of physical and sexual abuse and forced a devaluation of their native culture at residential schools. Although the last residential school closed in 1996, the effects of forced assimilation and a devaluing of native culture still linger.

Despite the state of emergency declared on the aboriginal communities in Ontario, Forfar fears she and her fellow Ryerson students, whose campus is located in Toronto, are removed from a very serious problem because they don’t personally identify as aboriginal themselves.

“It’s something we kind of just turned a blind eye to. I wanted to really change what we’re doing and and try to you know make a lasting impact. A lot of these other trips were kind of like voluntourism where you get to go see Angkor Wat (a famous temple in Cambodia) and get to go to a jungle, but it’s like what are we doing you know there’s a lot of time we could be spending with the kids [in Ontario] making an impact.”

Forfar sees the upcoming trip as an opportunity to avoid the stereotypical voluntourism tag, while also making meaningful, lasting impact on a local community. Prior trips have all focused on service to youth groups, mostly at orphanages.

“It’s going to be a lot more one-on-one with the children,” said Forfar about the May 2019 trip. “I think that’s where you make your biggest growth and where you should really impact the life when you’re there for that reason and that reason only.”