This would be the 1st time northern sports are included in the Games’ 55-year history
The Canada Winter Games could include Arctic Sports like the high kick and the knuckle hop — that’s if Whitehorse is chosen as the Games’ next host city.
Members of the Canada Games Council’s bid evaluation committee were in Yukon’s capital assessing the territory’s bid to host the games in 2027.
The bid, launched in Sep. 2021 by the City of Whitehorse and the Government of Yukon, proposed including Arctic Sports and Dene Games in the Games lineup.
This would be the first time the northern sports are part of the Games’ 55-year history.
Gael Merchard, the executive director of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle, said it’s important to include northern sports at the national level.
“All these games and sports have very unique cultural roots,” he said. “And very strong social values that are really positive for the entire Canadian society and it’s a very good tool for reconciliation.”
Reconciliation is one of the three principles of the bid, alongside connection and resilience.
Anthony Everett, the chair of the bid evaluation committee, said the Yukon has a compelling story to share if it were to be chosen as the next host city.
During the committee’s three-day visit, members of the committee met with First Nations leaders and viewed an Arctic Sports demonstration at the Canada Games Centre.
“I think we have some more questions to ask around how other territorial governments and other provinces will engage and bring athletes forward to compete in those events,” said Everett.
“But I’m very encouraged because it looks like an exciting opportunity for athletes to try new sports and they look like a lot of fun.”
The committee’s visit, known as a comprehensive review, is the second phase in assessing the bid. The first phase, a technical review, was conducted in February of this year.
Everett said the Canada Games Council board of directors will make the final decision to award the 2027 Canada Winter Games in November with a public announcement slated for December.
Why is Whitehorse the only bid?
The Canada Games is held once every two years, alternating between winter and summer. It’s the largest multi-sport event in Canada for up-and-coming amateur athletes. The Games are two weeks long with more than 15 sports, thousands of athletes, coaches and managers and over 4,000 volunteers.
Since 1967, nine out of 10 provinces and the Yukon have hosted the games.
So, why is there only one bid and why is it from a previous host?
Everett said it’s because the opportunity to host the games rotates across the country and this year was Yukon’s choice.
“In this jurisdiction, it’s only really possible to hold it in Whitehorse. So it’s as simple as that,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
While the territory’s proposal is still under review, Everett said there are no major concerns when it comes to Whitehorse becoming the next host.
If the Yukon’s bid is not successful, a new bid would have to start and go back to the Canada Games Council who would explore the options, including going to another jurisdiction, said Everett.
Two main concerns: finances and timelines
In late September, Whitehorse City Council voted to support the bid despite hesitations around the finances and timelines.
At that time, the cost of new infrastructure, including a new sports complex with two hockey arenas and an athlete’s village, was pegged at $115 million, with roughly $17 million contributed by the city.
The cost of a new athletes village would be “something probably in the neighbourhood of about $60 million,” said Piers McDonald, chair of the Whitehorse bid committee.
McDonald, who was also part of the 2007 Games Whitehorse committee, said back then one of the biggest challenges was sponsorship and meeting the host society’s obligation to fund approximately one third of the operating cost.
“For us that was a big workout. The reality of a small and remote community like this is that we don’t have a big industrial base to draw from,” he said.
McDonald noted they relied on national sponsors and are hoping to do the same this time.
Another major concern was the territory’s ability to produce all the deliverables on time.
According to the Games Council’s expectation, the sports centre with the two new hockey arenas should be finished by 2026 for a trial game.
Peter Densmore is the president of Ketza Construction Corporation. His company built both the Canada Games Centre and the athletes village used in the 2007 Games.
“The construction itself was relatively straightforward, and had some very interesting construction challenges which just made it kind of fun,” he said.
Densmore said the dates for the new facilities are all doable, as long as the contract delivery method can be decided fairly quickly.
“But if they delayed the start of these projects for whatever reason for too long, that obviously changes that calculation.”
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Guy Lafleur in the North – ‘He just wanted to meet his fans’ says former NHL teammate Steve Shutt, Eye on the Arctic
United States: Veteran musher Brent Sass wins Yukon Quest 300, CBC News