Who better to share the checkered history of PEI Ultimate than one of the founding fathers himself; Mathieu Arsenault. I put out the question: What is the PEI Ultimate story, and this is his answer.
The story of PEI Ultimate
For over 10 years, organized Ultimate in PEI seemed to be an impossibility, some said that it attempts of organized Ultimate would be destined to fail. PEI for a long time, was the only province in Canada to not have an organization or a league of any sort. This was until 2010, where history was rewritten for good, and for the better. Before we get to the heroic journey of a handful of dedicated players, let’s rewind and see the ups and downs of Ultimate in PEI!
Genesis of Ultimate – Peter Bolo (1995)
According to our association’s historians, Ultimate seems to have come to PEI via Peter Bolo, who taught a handful of students at Bluefield high school. Long time player Sean Brady commented: “I don’t think we had any idea then that it was a sport that existed beyond school yards. That is, until I moved to BC in ’99, when I started playing there, and got exposed to how massive the game really was”.
The seed was planted for the greatest sport in the world to come to PEI.
The Great “Rules” Divide (early 2000s)
Early 2001 is the earliest recorded playing of ultimate in a semi-structured way. Interestingly enough, at that time, there were actually 2 groups playing ultimate, using different sets of rules. A group which composed PEI Ultimate “legends” Don Wagner and Gabe Landry, having played in other leagues, abided by the official rules of Ultimate. The second group had their “house rules” which included interesting variations of the rules: teams would switch sides every 5 points and didn’t allow for players to be in the endzone before the disc was thrown! Initially, this alternate group refused to join the main group, swearing allegiance to their special set of rules.
In spite of the different interpretations of the rules, PEI made its appearance at its first tournament, the 2002 Catch and Release. Having 2 groups, there were quite a few players at this time, and the time seemed ripe for an organized league in Charlottetown and PEI.
Joe Remedios – The Great Unifier (2004)
It seemed that it would take someone from the outside to rise “above the fold” and unite the groups. That player was Joe Remedios, an experienced player who has played in a bigger organized leagues on the West Coast. He was PEI’s best hope to get momentum to put together PEI’s first league.
Joe Remedios had a grand vision of a league for PEI and sought immediately to create it. Remedios originally succeeded in his great gambit, gathering enough players to have 4 hat teams.
This success was short lived however, Remedios provides insight on why this might be. In a 2010 interview, he states: “it didn’t work because there was no dedicated field.” The lack of a permanent home was indeed a major road block to fully develop the sport in PEI, a shortcoming that the “new core” would address later down the road. More on that later.
Concurrently, there was also the continual rift created by the “great rules rift”. Players loyal to the alternate set of rules, now known as the “old rules” returned to their old ways. The date with Ultimate destiny would be pushed back a few years, when a new generation of players would coalesce to build what many observers have described as “Canada’s beautiful little league”. (see footnote 1)
The Orlebar Years – The Gathering of Great Minds (2009)
Proto-PEI Ultimate had a home: Orlebar field. A small field tucked away in a residential neighbourhood of Charlottetown. It had the advantage of being under-used by soccer associations, and would serve as the ideal location to jump start PEI Ultimate.
2009 would be a pivotal year for PEI Ultimate. Facebook and email linked players like never before and a few new players made their appearance on the Orlebar pick-up scene, joining the ranks of the “old schoolers” Don Wagner, Kingsley Ralling and Sean Brady came the new generation of players: Dylan Smith, Evan Ceretti, Mathieu Arsenault, Jeff Dohoo, Sarah MacKinnon, Martin Cathrae, Laura Bourque and Niall Stanley. They were led by the “power couple” Jenn Slemmer and Chris Richard. What we would see for the first time in a long time is a dedicated group who would committ to the sport and eventually build the legendary league and organization that is the pride of Ultimate players across PEI.
The Great Dream – Parlee Beach (2009)
It was at Parlee Beach that the storied “Magnum PEI” touring team had come up with a new grand scheme of creating a league in Charlottetown. Much like Confederation was a great idea that came at a conference in Charlottetown in 1864, these new players decided they wanted to play at a higher level and develop the sport.
Thoughts were along the lines of: “Why don’t we start a league? We already have about 20 people playing pick-up, we just need another 20 or so players, if we all ask our friends and do a little bit of Facebook promotion, we can do it!”
This new core of players had not known or lived the disappointment of the early years, and was therefore immune to the defeatist attitude that came with. Some of the old players were skeptical: “We’ve tried that before.” “It’ll never work.” “I’ll play if it works, but good luck.” As Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” In this case, a small group of players were about to change PEI Ultimate world… forever!
The PEI Ultimate League is born (2010)
Four of the more dedicated players, Jenn Slemmer, Dylan Smith, Mathieu Arsenault and Don Wagner were the main leaders of the drive to put together a league. Breaking with the tradition of the past, this core of players talked with a confident, future orientated voice, acting as if the league was already a fact. “A League is happening, sign up to be put on one of the four teams!” There was no hesitation in their voice. A league was happening that year. A Facebook campaign was started, Orlebar field was booked, a schedule was set and 4 teams were put together. These 4 players, known as the league’s “founding fathers and mother” captained the first 4 teams of the first ever Summer league.
PEI Ultimate was created and the symbol of this nascent organization, the new PUL logo (a disc cradled by a wave) became the PEI Ultimate’s official logo. There were also jerseys made which gave the league legitimacy and professionalism. Players took the league seriously, and PEI Ultimate has never looked back since.
The Golden Era (2010-2013)
Since its inaugural success of the Summer League, PEI Ultimate has continued to grow: incorporation, recognition as an official sport by “Sport PEI”, official PSO status recognized by Ultimate Canada, creation of the executive committee, hosting of 2 successful beach tournaments (15 teams present at the 2nd edition), participation in tournaments in NB, NS and Québec, 14 coaches trained, modern communications and website systems, great social scene and many parties, and much more! In March 2013, PEI’s touring team “Huckin’ Islanders” played at the Mars Attaque tournament in Québec city and finished a perfect 7-0, capturing the “H division” – a tribute to the evolution of this remarkable association which rose from non-existence to respectability in a very short period of time.
Looking to the Future
PEI is the last province to get an organized Ultimate scene, but certainly not the least! PEI has irreversibly claimed its place as part of the grand Maritimes and Canadian Ultimate communities. It will look to expand to high schools, other regions of PEI as well as expand its Charlottetown player base and ramp up its beach ultimate scene, because well, who doesn’t want to combine the worlds two best things? PEI Ultimate is riding high and is enjoying this golden era of Ultimate, which is inclusive, fun, spirited, community-orientated, competitive and respectful.
Thanks for reading! And come play with us!
Footnote 1: Not an actual quote!