12,000 Ottawa students smother record in hugs

Thousands of students from 10 Ottawa high schools think they may have squeezed into the Guinness Book of World Records with the world’s biggest bear hug.

Organizer Peter Lamothe, who works at St. Matthew Catholic High School, estimated that 12,000 students, teachers and parent volunteers took part in a gargantuan group embrace Friday as part of an effort to raise more than $150,000 for the Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the CHEO Foundation and the Ottawa Senators Foundation.

Byron Shaw, a student at St. Matthew who raised $1,500 said students won’t know until later whether they actually broke the record, but are hoping they succeeded and had fun in the meantime.

“We felt like connected with everyone else and I was in between two Canadian Mounties — it was pretty cool,” said Shaw, who joined thousands of others to encircle the Rideau Canal from the Pretoria Bridge to the Laurier Bridge.

Shaw’s own fundraising was inspired by his family’s experience. His mother was diagnosed with cancer when he was in Grade 6 and died when he was in Grade 8.

“I hope that no one else has to go through what our family went through. We had a lot of bumps and bruises in the road, but we’re working it out.”

Lamothe said the school came up with the idea of combining the record-breaking and fundraising in 2004, inspired by a couple of kids at the school who died of cancer.

“We just thought, ‘Let’s tie the two in,'” he said. “The kids like to have a little goal.”

After their 2004 record of 5,100 group hug participants was shattered by a group of Americans, they brought nine other schools from the Ottawa Catholic School Board for their attempt to crush the new record.

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