It looked like a Winnie the Pooh convention, even organizers said so, as the 2019 Canada Winter Games wrapped up with a volunteer appreciation event held at the Westerner Sunday afternoon.
Thousands of the estimated 5,000 volunteers for the Games, which ran Feb. 15 to March 2, turned out for the event, the majority of them decked out in their gold and red Columbia jackets.
The two-hour event featured live music, a buffet-style snacking area, and Games merchandise at huge discounts. Volunteer jackets, at a jaw-dropping $50, flew off the tables as did tuques ($5), gators ($5) and vests ($30).
And that was just the beginning.
The volunteers swarmed the merchandise tables which offered a 50 per cent discount from original prices. There was a plethora of items up for grabs everything from Waskasoo stuffies and insulated bottles to clothing such as sweatpants, sweatshirts, T-shirts, and more.
Three lucky volunteers, all from Red Deer, had their names drawn for two trips to Las Vegas and third won a trip to Mexico.
“This has got to be the biggest Winnie the Pooh convention in the history of the world,” said Games CEO Scott Robinson to chuckles and thunderous applause from the thousands of volunteers in attendance. “It’s awesome.
“Whenever we were asked people to get involved, they said yes. And they put their hands and their hearts into what is probably one of the biggest undertakings central Alberta has ever had. This room, today, demonstrates how lucky we are, not just in Red Deer, not just in central Alberta, but in Alberta and across the country.”
“This is amazing,” said David Patterson, president and CEO at Canada Games council, to the sea of volunteers. “Red Deer you are amazing. You are incredible.”
“It’s such a honour … to thank you on behalf of Canadians.
“As Canadians, we have our best young people, we sent them to you. And you took such, such good care of them,” he said.
“This country is better off because of what you have done.
“Today, on March 3, this is a different community. A more connected community. A more healthy community and it’s because of you,” said Patterson. “And when Red Deer does what Red Deer does, Canada is better.”
He added it didn’t matter where the athletes were from, when they left the community, they took a piece of Red Deer back with them.
“Because of those friendly faces, in those Pooh Bear jackets,” he said to chuckles and shouts of approval from the thousands of volunteers in the audience.
“When they (the volunteers) were thanked for standing in 40 below they said, ‘No, thank you,’ which makes no sense,” said Patterson. “And when they were getting ready for this event, they held fundraisers to raise funds for other fundraisers, which makes no sense. But you did it, and you made your community better, you made your country better, you made sport better.”
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer was beaming as she thanked the volunteers for the tireless efforts throughout the Games, which featured 19 sporting events ranging from table tennis, curling and judo to alphine skiing, artistic gymnastics and paralympic events.
“The community spirit and volunteerism is alive and well in our Red Deer,’ she said to thunderous applause.
“It was our community spirit that won us the Games in the first place, and it is your community spirit that carried us through to the most successful Canada Games in Canadian history. Be very, very proud,” she said.
“I firmly believe we are all part of Team Red Deer. We’re Team Red Deer strong, and you have much to be proud of,” she pointed out.
“Thoughout the Games, there was one consistant theme we heard, and every time someone spoke to us, they said, ‘You have 5,000 volunteers – that’s incredible. And not only do you have 5,000 volunteers, they are happy in minus 40 and they are proud to wave our Canadian flag to welcome our athletes.”