To hear Luc Charest tell it, active volunteerism, and gestures of goodwill by residents and local businesses is the spice of life in a remote community like Sept-Îles.

“Being involved and getting people together in fun, healthy ways is what it’s all about,” said Charest, a Sept-Îles native and a co-founder of Marée Motrice, a new local group dedicated to developing volunteer-based community activities and events.

Last winter the group spearheaded the creation of a big outdoor ice oval inside the palisade walls of the Old Post, a historical fur-trade interpretation site on the edge of town that operates during the summer months.

Armed with shovels, brooms and hoses, some 200 volunteers built and maintained the 400-metre-long oval from the Christmas Holidays to early March 2020.

Dubbed the Patinoire du Gardien (the Guard’s Rink) in honour of Charest, a sound engineer with the local Innu community who lives next to the Old Post and moonlights as site watchman, the oval circled a small forest and was equipped with white and coloured lights that lit the ice and trees, benches and a counter where volunteers served free hot chocolate and chicken soup.

The oval attracted an estimated 3,000 skaters from Sept-Îles and the Uashat mak Maliotenam Innu reserve and received extensive local media coverage.

“It was an amazing activity that got rave reviews,” said Virginie Lamontagne, a regional coordinator for Télé-Québec and another Marée Motrice co-founder.

Though the Covid-19 pandemic has cast doubt over the oval’s return this winter, Lamontagne said several community groups have provided money and materials to build boards around the ice and to buy and install a prospector’s tent with a wood-burning stove.

The Port of Sept-Îles made a notable contribution of $15,000 to the project.

“We owe a big thank-you to the Port for helping to enhance the oval experience,” said Lamontagne.  “Everyone loves it and wants to see it continue.”

The Patinoire du Gardien was just one of 13 non-profit, volunteer-based community projects and activities that received a total amount of $120,000 in funding from the Port in 2020 – a $20,000 increase over 2019.

In February, for example, the Port was a major sponsor of a show by Quebec recording star Dan Bigras that raised nearly $18 000 for La Maison du Transit, a local homeless shelter.

With the onset of the pandemic in March, the Port offered a mix of financial and in-kind assistance to various community groups, including the purchase of a freezer for a local food bank and Easter eggs for seniors in low income housing units.

The Port also contributed to three annual fund raisers – L’Envol Maison de la famille, United Way, and 5 à Huîtres Maritime – by covering the cost of food and beverages in gourmet take-out meals.

The Port also provided four community groups – Centre d’action bénévole Le Virage, Recyk et frip, Comptoir Alimentaire de Sept-Îles and l’Élyme des sables palliative care centre – with free 30-second TV ads for a month each on the TVA network for the North Shore region.

“It was a way for us to help them get the visibility they deserve but couldn’t otherwise afford,” said Patsy Keays, the Port’s Director of Corporate Affairs.  “Contributing to groups that benefit our community is something we take very seriously.”