Hockey tourney shines light on mental health in honour of Aidan Burbank

·5 min read

An avid fan of the great outdoors, Aidan Burbank was a regular fixture on the Town’s outdoor rinks and any local ponds frozen enough to allow he and his friends to have a casual game of three-on-three hockey.

It was not only a passion, but a way for them to catch up after going their separate ways for school and work – and, for Aidan, an environmental science student, it may have been something of a release.

After his death in October following a struggle with mental health that plagued him since childhood, his friends decided that the tradition would continue, laying the groundwork for the inaugural Aidan Burbank Pond Hockey Tournament which, in future years, will set out to raise money and awareness for mental health.

Spearheaded by friends Cameron Palmer and Charles Peters, and a group which included Aidan’s brother Bryn, they hit the ice at Case Woodlot over the holidays to honour Aidan in a new tradition.

“This was fitting because Aidan loved to spend his time outdoors and when I think of him I think about how much he liked to be outside,” says Charles. “We used to go out to the pond pretty well every year and meet him and Cameron and a couple of other buddies – we would always be going out to the ponds, so we figured that was perfect.”

For mother Martha Burbank, her son’s peers’ idea to further Aidan’s legacy by carrying on and doing what he most loved to do, while making a tangible difference for those living what was Aidan’s everyday struggle, the inaugural tournament “means everything.”

Martha had imagined the same idea – a holiday pond hockey tournament for Aidan – and was thrilled that his friends had independently thought of it.

“Aidan was an amazing runner, a hockey lover and an avid outdoorsman,” says Martha. “He loved the forest, he studied hundreds of species of trees in field labs at university and thrive on that. Nature, quiet and being outside helped immensely with his happiness.”

For the Burbanks, Aidan’s struggle was something they lived with every day since he was nine years old.

When he lost his fight, the family began researching what they could do to have a positive impact on mental health charities. Among the organizations they earmarked were the Canadian Mental Health Association and Jack.org, an organization with a specialization on youth mental health.

“When we publicized Aidan’s obituary, a lot of people donated to Jack.org, others decided the Canadian Mental Health Association. There have been tens of thousands of dollars to date in Aidan’s name from maybe 70 to 80 people. The response to mental health support from neighbours, friends and people whose life Aidan touched has been overwhelming,” says Martha. “We didn’t want charitable donations for this year’s tournament, but with this tournament, we wanted to establish a tradition of keeping mental illness at the forefront of discussion and be clear that it is important to be talked about.”

The inaugural tournament, she says, was, despite the weather, a beam of sunlight that helped cut through the clouds.

“We have had a bad feeling in the pit of our stomachs on a lot of these days since our son died, but this day was so wonderful,” she says. “I was chatting with these young men who are about 21 and I have known many of them since they were five, and maybe six other moms just independently arrived onto the ice. Everyone had a lot of compassion. A couple of the boys had a difficult time, one who plays baseball in the States was almost in tears and we were going through a lot of emotions.”

In addition to a fundraiser in Aidan’s name, it was also a reunion in his honour.

“I was just happy to be there with all these people,” says Cameron, who says he hopes the tourney will become an annual tradition. “Pond hockey is something we used to do every year and being there was really important. It was a good opportunity to just get everyone together and reflect on the positive stuff. We shared good stories and good memories.”

Adds Charles: “It was nice that everyone could make it out for such a special cause and pay tribute. It was a little tough at first to just be out there thinking about it, but once we were all there and everyone was sharing stories, it became more of a fun event, almost like a celebration of life.”

Aidan Burbank lost his fight on October 15 at the age of 21.

Pursuing his degree in Environmental and Natural Resources at the University of New Brunswick right up until the time of his death in mid-October, he was previously a French Immersion student at Lester B. Pearson Public School and Aurora High School.

“We had been struggling with Aidan’s mental health since he was nine,” says Martha. “This was a very long-term challenge for us. Parents really need to continue to follow through, call, email, whatever it is – if their child is in a situation and they are struggling and you’re waiting for counselling or therapy, you really have to pursue that with a lot of proactivity. Parents need to be as proactive and blunt as possible if their child is suffering and communicate with them about their suffering. They have to reach out and do everything they can to look for support systems.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran