Public school board, City of Red Deer and Games officials get together for the ribbon cutting by Mayor Tara Veer at the Gary W. Harris Celebration Plaza. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Gary W. Harris Celebration Plaza in downtown Red Deer is ready to welcome athletes

It will host a music and cultural festival during the Games

The last venue for the 2019 Canada Winter Games was officially opened in the nick of time on Wednesday.

“In two short days, we will be welcoming 20,000 fellow Canadians” to the city, said Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer at the opening ceremony of the Gary W. Harris Celebration Plaza.

And most of these athletes, coaches and fans will be invited to spend their off-hours in the downtown Plaza, where music and art presentations will be running outdoors or under a large, heated tent.

The weather-related irony is Wednesday’s -19 C was too cold even for outdoor speeches at the Plaza’s official opening.

Most of the ceremony had to be held indoors in the gym of the Central Middle School next door — although the ribbon cutting was later done in front of historic former Central Intermediate School.

David Patterson, president and CEO of the Canada Games Council, admitted everybody’s hoping for a warm-up. “But it is the winter games,” he said — so everybody is also prepared to deal with the cold.

On the positive side, he believes the weekend forecast doesn’t look bad enough so far to think about moving outdoor competitions indoors or to warmer locales.

In his speech, Patterson invited everybody who has worked hard on the Plaza and other Games venues to “enjoy what you’ve done,” and help celebrate unity through sport.

Lyn Radford, chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games Committee said she’s received great feedback from the community on the preservation of the historical central Intermediate School and its transformation into a cultural hub that will help revitalize the downtown.

“We are incredibly proud and extremely grateful” to everybody who funded the project — including namesake Gary W. Harris, who also contributed generously to the sports facility at Red Deer College — and Joan and Jack Donald, who funded an artwork.

The wall-mounted Unity Through Sport glass and metal depiction of the northern lights was created by local Voyager Art and Tile artists Dawn Detarando and Brian McArthur.

Radford also commended the construction companies who worked on the project, as well as the individuals who contributed towards the vision of turning the old school into “a celebration space in the heart of downtown Red Deer.”

Present was Red Deer Public School Board representative Bev Manning, who presided over signing over the old school to the City of Red Deer, to be turned into a culture centre this summer.

The inclusive and accessible Plaza in the former school yard will be hosting the 52 degrees North Music and Cultural Festival during the Games, and will remain as a legacy for future city festivals that enhance the local culture scene and invigorate the downtown.

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