The steadfast flame of the 2019 Canada Winter Games arrives on Alberta soil Saturday.
Grande Prairie will welcome the MNP Canada Games Torch Relay and host a community celebration starting at 1 p.m. as part of the first ever national torch tour in the Canada Game’s 52-year history.
The relay started off in Halifax three months ago and will visit 26 communities before the Games start Feb. 15 in Red Deer.
At least 22 other communities have or will host celebrations where people can see and hold the torch, including a few in central Alberta.
Lyn Radford, chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games Committee, said most of the heavy lifting to prepare for the games is complete, and the arrival of the torch kicks off the fun as it ignites the spirit of the games within people, whether they are athletes, parents, coaches, spectators or volunteers.
“It’s kind of like the Christmas tree. It’s hope. It’s a symbol of bigger things coming,” Radford said.
Just like when the Olympic torch moved across the country to Vancouver in 2010, the Canada Games flame is fanning the excitement the closer it gets to the event. The relay in Prince George, B.C., on Dec. 8 had one of the largest crowds, she said.
“People were in tears because Prince George had just hosted the games in 2015 and it brought back so many positive memories to them,” Radford said.
Grande Prairie was chosen as the first relay community in Alberta since it was the last city in the province to host the games. That was in 1995.
In central Alberta, relays will be held in Rimbey, Blackfalds, Olds, Lacombe, Sylvan Lake, Ponoka and, of course, Red Deer. Names of the Red Deer torch bearers will be announced soon.
Shawna Pearman, one of eight Ponoka torch bearers, competed in three Canada Games starting in 1975 in Lethbridge, the first Alberta community to host the event.
She went on to play on the national softball team and attended several speed skating competitions.
“They are great growing experiences for athletes because it’s supposed to be the stepping stone for the next level,” said Pearman, 57.
“It’s like a mini Olympics. You have an athletes village. You get bused to events. You have medal presentations. You have media.”
But it’s the friendships gained that make the biggest impact, she said.
“The majority of those friendships I made in ‘79 are still my close friends today. Those are the memories — the friendships.”
While the games highlight the athletes, torch events shine a light on the communities by bringing people together, she said.
“I’ve talked to a number of people in Ponoka and they’re excited. They want to go in and watch some different events during the games. That’s great,” Pearman said.
Radford said the national torch tour has provided some positive attention for Red Deer. The city has even captured some international attention, since the Canada Games are unique to Canada.
“We’re anticipating that there might be a country or two that may send some representatives to do some observation of our games. Other countries are now starting to ask why Canada is all of a sudden starting to make a strong move in the Olympic world. They’re evaluating what we’re doing as a country for athlete development.”
For more information on the torch run and community celebrations, visit https://www.canadagames.ca/2019