The games are coming to Red Deer.
News that Red Deer has won the 2019 Canada Winter Games brought tears, jubilation and excitement at the official announcement in Calgary on Thursday.
Red Deer bid committee chair Lyn Radford credits a community rally on Aug. 22 for pushing Red Deer over the top to win the bid. The rally drew thousands dressed in red to the city’s downtown despite inclement weather.
“It means so much for our community,” said Radford, who did not hold back her tears. “We don’t recognize the impact it. Our community will now be able to build on some facilities. We are going to get an influx of cash. The biggest thing is that the young people in our community are going to get a legacy of learning to give and what it means to come together as a community. I don’t think we can beat that.”
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said this is a defining moment for Red Deer and Red Deerians. She said credit for securing the hosting duties in 2019 belongs to the people of Red Deer.
City manager Craig Curtis said getting the games will change the city because of the facilities and upgrades necessary to host the event in five years.
“It’s one of those transformational opportunities that you have every now and again,” said Curtis. “When we built the Centrium and we hosted the world junior hockey championships, that was a big deal. This is another big deal for the city. We are overwhelmed today.”
Radford, Veer and Curtis were among a busload of Red Deer committee members, politicians and city staffers who travelled to the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary to hear the news.
Canada Games chairman and CEO Tom Quinn said the decision was difficult because the bids were very close. He said Red Deer and Lethbridge both had exceptional bids.
“The two bids were probably the closest that I have experienced in 15 years,” said Quinn. “It shows the strength of the province in their commitment to support and the strength of those communities. Both cities should be very proud for what was put forward from their bid committees. I think Red Deer is an exceptional choice. I think they are going to do a good job.”
The good news has been nearly 20 years in the making, after the city was trumped by Grande Prairie for the games in 1995.
But now all eyes will be on Red Deer for two weeks in February 2019, when the best of Canada’s young athletes will compete in 19 sports at 17 venues in Red Deer, Blackfalds, Calgary and Kananaskis.
Red Deer will host 3,600 athletes, 1,500 technical representatives and officials, 4,000 to 5,000 volunteers, 450 media broadcasters and about 25,000 visitors.
The city has already approved $26 million (inflation applied) to improve existing facilities, and to build a short-track speedskating oval at the proposed Red Deer College multiplex and a long-track speedskating track at Great Chief Athletic Park.
The federal and provincial governments are expected to contribute at least $22.2 million in total, in the form of capital funding ($6 million) and operating ($16.2 million), for the two-week national sporting competition.
RDC will welcome athletes and coaches at an athletes village, home to sleeping quarters, the food centre, mission services and medical centre.
RDC president Joel Ward said the games will allow the college to add new facilities that they would otherwise not be able to build for many years. Ward said the college’s planned health and wellness centre will boast Olympic and NHL ice surfaces, and squash courts. It will be open in time for the games in 2019. It also allows the college to add new programming, improve facilities and to leave behind legacy pieces for the college and the community for many years to come.
He said the college has already started the ground work for the estimated $66-million facility.
“Our team is ready to go back and work,” said Ward. “We are looking at pre-qualifying builders and designers for our facility.”
The college will make an announcement on its fundraising progress, timelines for the project and its cost in the coming weeks.
If Red Deer College does not proceed with its plans to build an Olympic-sized arena, the city will pay $11.4 million to build the arena and squash courts at the G.H. Dawe Community Centre.
The opening and closing ceremonies will be held at Westerner Park.
The synchronized swimming events would be hosted at the Talismen Centre in Calgary and the alpine events would be held at the Nakiska Ski Area in the Kananaskis region.
Badminton competition would be held at the Abbey Centre in Blackfalds.
Other sports will be held at various venues in the city.
Central Alberta could reap about $132 million in economic spillover during the games.
Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski said not only is this news fantastic for Red Deer, but also for the Central Alberta region and the province as a whole.
Richard Starke, Alberta Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation, said the province is excited to host the games again. This will be the third time the winter games have been in Alberta. Starke said whether it’s the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton or the Olympics in Calgary, they were watershed moments for those communities.
“We fully anticipate that it will elevate Red Deer to another level beyond where they are now,” he said. “We know the kind of growth and development and enthusiasm that there is in this city.”
While it was not the news that Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearing was hoping for, Spearing congratulated Red Deer for its successful bid. His city hosted the games in 1975 and since that time, Lethbridge has hosted 42 international, national and provincial sporting events. Spearing said he was proud of the effort and the support from his community and bid committee.
“Tough outcome for us but we are going to continue to bid on other events,” he said.
The Canada Games are the largest multi-sport event in the nation. The program helps strengthen and develop the next generation of Canada’s young athletes to compete in national and international events, including the Olympics.
The games alternate between summer and winter events every two years.