Canada Winter Games bid opened floodgates of sports tourism in Red Deer

Red Deer is quickly becoming a destination for sports lovers.

With a recent surge in hosting duties, the city is starting to make noise in provincial and national sporting circles.

For the next 10 years, Westerner Park will host the Canadian Finals Rodeo and the 2019 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s national men’s volleyball championship will be played in Red Deer.

Lyn Radford, Canada Winter Games board chair, said the effect of next year’s games is already benefiting the city.

“I just didn’t expect it to all happen so fast,” said Radford. “Once you get a national event or an event that is valued, it seems other events start looking at you and recognizing the fact that ‘here’s this diamond in the rough, and maybe we should consider it.’

“All of a sudden the country is sitting up and recognizing Red Deer has some pretty decent venues, and those are getting even better with the Games coming.”

The Canada Winter Games will be held Feb. 15 to March 3, 2019, in Red Deer.

Other events on the horizon in Central Alberta range from the international, with co-hosting duties with Edmonton for the Ivan Hlinka/Gretzky International Ice Hockey Federation U-18 tournament in August, to the provincial Tournament of Champions atom and novice hockey tournaments, March 30 to April 1.

Joel Ward, Red Deer College president and CEO, said the Games bid and the financial support from the City of Red Deer allowed them to think bigger when it came to building the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre.

“We had on our books, building a new sports facility, but at a much smaller scale,” said Ward.

“When we partnered with the Games and the City, it gave us an opportunity to think bigger and dream bigger.”

Ward said the college’s contribution is more than just a skating rink. The two new residences were crucial to what the college wanted to do, providing housing for athletes and coaches during these events.

“We want to be able to hold national and international events,” said Ward, listing basketball, volleyball, hockey and speed skating as potential events.

“Of all the national volleyball (college) championships, we’ve won half. Since 1987, when they changed the rules about space, we haven’t been able to host. Now we are able to showcase our community, our college and our teams on the national stage.”

The City of Red Deer recently opened the Servus Arena, replacing the aging Red Deer Arena. It will host Hlinka/Gretzky tournament and mens and womens hockey during the Canada Winter Games.

Red Deer’s geographical location, which is in the centre of about 3.2 million people according to Radford, was a driving statistic behind their pitch for the games.

“It was time for Red Deer to elevate itself out of the shadows of Edmonton and Calgary and become a premiere hosting centre,” said Radford.

Visit Red Deer pointed to several previous events the community has hosted including 1995 World Junior Hockey Championships, the 1994 Brier and the 1994 Sunlife Skate Canada. Executive Director Liz Taylor said Red Deer has always been active in the sports community because of the location, facilities and hotel accommodations.

“We are going to be challenged when you think of all the events we have to host in the next 12-15 months, but if there was ever a city to do it, this is the city that’s going to do it,” said Radford.

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