GHOSTKEEPER'S GIFT - ONE MAN'S NORTHERN LEGACY
By Ryan Sinclair
BC Hockey Staff Writer
His name is well known throughout northern British Columbia, because for decades Charles “Charlie” Ghostkeeper positively impacted countless lives through the power of sport.
Ghostkeeper had a focus and passion that was fastball, but when the weather turned and the snow started to fall, his love of hockey took center stage and he worked tirelessly to support the people and sports that he loved.
Northern British Columbia is where Charles would spend his life. Growing up in the small town of Grouard, Alberta, Ghostkeeper later moved with his parents and 12 siblings to Prince George while he was a teenager. It was here that he married Lucy, and they raised their four children Frank, Dwayne, Cindy and Fern. As his children and grandchildren began to play sports, Ghostkeeper noticed the limited recreational opportunities available for members of the Indigenous community. In the years that followed, his desire to help this situation, and his passion for sports, led him to focus on coaching and organizing tournaments to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to play.
“He loved sports and loved his children,” said Charles's wife, Lucy Ghostkeeper. “He loved any child really. As long as he could help out a child, he would do everything he could.”
Ghostkeeper simply took it upon himself to lead the way. He cared, and he selflessly invested his time, and money, to ensure sports were available to everyone.
“It didn't matter who you were, he'd always find a way to get involved,” said Ghostkeeper’s nephew Chad Ghostkeeper. “For a lot of Indigenous people, it can be tough for kids to get involved in sports. But he was there to help them sign up or direct them in just getting started.”
Recognizing a Need
Ghostkeeper was determined to make a difference in his community. In the early 1990s, he helped to start the United Native Nations Youth Hockey Tournament, later known as the Prince George Aboriginal Youth Hockey Championships. The annual tournament brought players and families together from around the province, often drawing more than 500 players.
“When he saw a need, he did everything he could to get it done,” recalled Dwayne Ghostkeeper, Charles’ son. “That was one thing about him. Once he got his mind set on something he found the way to make it happen.”
With the annual tournament at home established for the kids, Ghostkeeper began taking teams on the road. Every year he would take teams to Saskatchewan to play in the Western Canadian Minor Aboriginal Hockey Championships, where he would coach and volunteer.
“He organized frequent trips to Saskatoon,” said Dwayne. “All these kids together to have fun. He would always make the kids feel special, in particular by renting a bus. The bus was a big deal because that’s what the guys in the big leagues rode. It was a great experience for everyone, and my dad got a lot of compliments for that.”
Ghostkeeper’s efforts often involved plenty of time working with the network of contacts that he had established through his many years of involvement in sports.
“He was always on the phone,” recalled Cindy Ghostkeeper-Whitehead, Charles’ daughter. “He knew so many people, in every sport from hockey to baseball. He made a lot of lifelong friends in those sports arenas.”
Organizing tournaments and arranging teams didn’t just involve Ghostkeeper’s time, but also sometimes required his financial support.
“Quite often he would invest his own money,” said Cindy. “If kids wanted to play sports, he did everything he could to make sure that they could play.”
As a part of this commitment to a financial support system, Ghostkeeper started, and then managed, the Prince George Multicultural Recreation Society. The Society helped by sponsoring any individual, particularly youth, that needed help to remove financial barriers that prevented them from getting on the ice or playing other sports.
“The multicultural society enabled kids to participate in all kinds of sports,” said Cindy. “I remember he sponsored kids in hockey, basketball, karate and other all kinds of sports.”
A Quiet Legacy
In 2012, Ghostkeeper passed away after a battle with cancer. His commitment to increasing Indigenous inclusivity and participation in hockey and other sports is his legacy. He was a selfless and humble man, and his motivation was always clear; to do what he could to help the kids, and never look for any personal recognition.
“He did it because he loved it,” said Dwayne. “That was his life. Helping his children and Indigenous youth with talent that was not able to get exposed. That was his satisfaction right there. That’s all he needed.”
“He didn't like to be in the spotlight,” recalled Cindy. “But if you were a family that was struggling, and your son or daughter wanted to play sports, he made sure that funds were available.”
Over his decades of giving, the lives that Charles impacted are countless. His love for his community and for sport provided opportunities and memories for multiple generations.
“He helped, especially for me. Without him being around and adding his support, helping with costs and all that, who knows where I would have been without it,” said Chad. “He was always there to try and get kids involved and then keep them involved.”
“At his funeral, there were people that we didn't know,” said Cindy. “They were coming up and offering their condolences. I remember this one young girl came up and said that she had named her daughter after my dad, because of the help that he had given her when she was trying to play sports. So, she has a daughter named Charlie.”
For the many years that he worked tirelessly to provide Indigenous children the opportunity to play sports and make lifelong memories, Charles was named the recipient of the BC Hockey 2020-21 Indigenous Impact and Legacy Award. This award is presented to an individual, team, league or association that has demonstrated a commitment to increase Indigenous inclusivity and participation in the sport of hockey.
“I am proud of my dad,” said Dwayne. “He's been gone for nine years now, but for him to still being recognized for all his accomplishments brings a tear to my eye.”
“It certainly warms our hearts knowing that he did leave a legacy,” said Cindy. “It's nice to know that he has been recognized for all the work that he put in because it took a lot of his time. Hours and hours he spent organizing tournaments. But that was his passion, and he just wanted to do it. He would say he was just doing what needed to be done.”