Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images
It was early on Monday morning when a fire broke out at the renowned St-Albert Cheese Factory in St-Albert, Ont. A few hours later, the blaze not only took down the historic landmark nestled within a small village of 650 people, it put 125 people – roughly one fifth of the town’s population – out of work for the foreseeable future.
With the 119 year old structure noticeably absent from its location on St-Paul St., there is not only a visible physical gap in St-Albert, but an emotional one for anyone who has called it home. Virtually every resident of the town has a direct link to the factory in some way.
While the factory stood less than 100 kilometres away from Scotiabank Place, the Ottawa Senators also have a connection to the town of St-Albert and its cheese factory beyond its close proximity. Sens’ defenceman Andre Benoit not only grew up in St-Albert, he held a job in the factory as a teenager.
“I actually worked there for a summer and it's a big part of the village,” said Benoit. “I was packing the curds and handling the cash in the afternoon. I was younger; it was a good summer job.”
With family still living in the village, Benoit is a regular visitor during his offseason. As someone with fond memories and a close connection to the town, news of the blaze left him in shock and concerned for the factory’s employees. Thankfully, nobody was seriously injured and efforts have already begun to repair the damage.
Now, as the town’s efforts turn to rebuilding the factory to have it operational within a year, the Sens and Benoit are reaching out to the employees of the St-Albert Cheese Cooperative. Each of their 125 employees affected by the fire received a pair of tickets for the Sens’ Hockey Day in Canada game against the Winnipeg Jets from the team on Benoit’s behalf.
Andre will also be meeting with the group after the game.
“I think it's a great thing that the team is doing for them,” said Benoit. “I'm really grateful that they'll be there and to have the opportunity to go see them after the game and give them whatever support I can give them. I'm sure it's a tough time for all of the employees and if this gives them a night of fun, it's great.”
Head Coach Paul MacLean echoed that sentiment during his Friday press conference.
“I know it’s a big part of the community and if we can help out a little bit better for them – I know we can’t replace what was there – but if we give them an afternoon of entertainment that makes them relax a little bit, I think that would be a great thing,” MacLean said.
With the residents of St-Albert about to band together and embark on a process to not only restore their livelihoods but, in many ways, their identity, a helping hand will go a long way.
For Andre, who is living out the NHL dream born in that town, it’s simply just a matter of returning the favour.
“It's a tight knit town,” said Benoit. “I always got a lot of support from St-Albert growing up and with my hockey career so you just want to try and support them at this time when it's not going as good.”
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