Former NHLer returns to the land

Sheldon Kennedy and his family moved to Saskatchewan two years ago and have settled down on a grain farm

For more than 20 years, Sheldon Kennedy has been known as the former National Hockey League player who went public with sexual abuse by his former junior hockey coach.

He rollerbladed across Canada, lent his name to a child advocacy centre, wrote a book and founded an organization dedicated to ending bullying, harassment, abuse and discrimination.

But Kennedy wants to be known as something else: husband, father and Saskatchewan grain farmer.

“I’ve got a lot to learn but I love it. It’s going to be the next phase of my life, and it’s beautiful out there,” he said about farming.

He grew up on a dairy farm at Kirkella, Man., which his family sold when he and his brother moved to play hockey.

Over the years he bought some land around Calgary and Bassano, including irrigation for hay land, and had 42 horses indoors at his equestrian facility.

When it sold, Kennedy looked further afield for his next venture.

“We moved out to Saskatchewan,” he said after a presentation at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities midterm convention. “We’ve got irrigated land around Lake Diefenbaker and some dryland in the RM of Lacadena.

“We’ve been in Saskatchewan now for two years and, you know what, I love it.”


Sheldon Kennedy recently spoke at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities midterm convention. | Karen Briere photo

He farms with the help of a local farmer and like everyone else this past growing season they struggled. In particular, the Lacadena land was too dry and they didn’t even try to combine five quarters where the crops were too short. Another quarter remains unharvested due to the bad conditions.

Beans are the focus on the irrigated land.

“We don’t feel that we’ve got a strong market in the area right now for potatoes,” he said.

Farming is a comfortable fit for Kennedy.

“It’s something I grew up with. It gives me an opportunity to get back on the land when I find myself running around on airplanes and in the city and so forth, and I also feel that it’s a secure investment for us,” he said.

His adult daughter is in her second year of agriculture at Olds College and he has a 16-month-old son who loves riding in the tractor.

Summers on the nearby lake are ideal for the family and Kennedy said he is able to keep learning.

“I’m really interested in the agri-food business and specialty crops and trying to grow the ag and irrigation business out here,” he said.

At SARM, Kennedy and the regional director for his Respect Group, Brad Blaisdell, introduced delegates to the Respect in the Workplace online program.

The SARM board and staff have already taken the 90-minute course to become certified and all rural and urban councillors will have the opportunity as well.

The provincial government already requires all its employees to take the course and recently announced Saskatchewan will become the second province to provide free access to the Respect in School training for all school divisions.

Kennedy said the training developed from the initial Respect in Sport program is designed to empower bystanders to deal with bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.

There are always people who know what’s going on but maybe don’t know the proper way to handle a situation, he said.

“How do we create a confidence around issues that carry a lot of fear?” he said. “That’s what we set out to do.”

He said when he first shared his story in 1998 he felt like he was the only one.

“We received over 200,000-some letters in the Boston Bruins office, at the time,” he said.

Since he spoke out and developed Respect in Sport more than 1.5 million Canadians have been trained.

Some ask why the program is aimed at the “good” people and not the small percentage who are abusers and bullies.

“We’re all about polishing the good apples in organizations,” said Blaisdell. “Ninety-five percent or greater of your people are really good people. Focus on that.”

Kennedy added that younger people expect that this type of training is in place and a priority in workplaces so that inappropriate conduct is handled.

This doesn’t mean workplaces can’t be fun, he said, but behaviour has to be appropriate.

Blaisdell said psychological safety is gaining traction as something workplaces require.

“Instead of pointing fingers at other people in my municipality or community, why don’t I take ownership of how I’m going to show up and if everyone does that you see cultural shift taking place,” added Blaisdell.

Kennedy said the language used within the online training is easy for everyone to understand. When Respect began, the developers thought the biggest problem would be internet access but it turned out to be literacy level.

“We feel that we’ve had success in the rural area with the sport program and the school program and the parent program across this country and we tried to bring that same technique into the workplace and I think we’ve found a language that’s suitable for all,” he said.

One SARM delegate said he had served on council for a couple of years and found some debates to be heated and divisive.

“I’m really concerned that we learn how to handle that debate respectfully and not get into abusing our fellow councillors,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kennedy has just come off winning the Battle of the Blades, a television program that pairs hockey players with figure skaters. The pairs compete on figure skates to win money for charity. He and his partner, Canadian champion and world medalist ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver, won $100,000 for Jumpstart to help all children get equal access to sports.

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