Going for Gold

For the third time, the Canada Winter Games are being held in Alberta. Red Deer is hosting the 2019 edition of the games in mid-February over two weeks, featuring 19 sports and more than 150 events, as well as a major arts and cultural festival.

This is the 27th edition of the Canada Winter Games and provides a stage for Canada’s next generation of national and international athletes.

“For ringette, the Canada Winter Games is the pinnacle event; it’s the highest level,” says Torrie Shennan, a 19-year-old competing in ringette with Team Alberta. “Making the team in order to compete in the Canada Games is a major accomplishment for me. I watched the 2015 games and I was so inspired, I knew my goal was going to be here 
in 2019.”

While participating in these games is a stepping stone to future athletic success for many young competitors, hosting these games is a stepping stone for future economic activity in the region.

It’s an exciting time for the province, especially for those who make their living in and around Red Deer, explains Kimberley Worthington, executive director of the Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP) — one of the province’s regional economic development alliances that encompasses 35 communities, including Red Deer.

“People are going to see money from this directly and indirectly. The economic impact as a result of these games on our local and regional businesses will be substantial,” she says. “Whether people are spending money in restaurants and hotels or participating in other activities and events around town, these games are having a major short- and long-term regional impact.”

Eager sports fans, athletes and families of those competing, come from across Canada and the globe to experience not only the games, but everything central Alberta has to offer.

River Bend Trail Biathlon range (left) and Setters Place skating oval (right). Photographs courtesy of the City of Red Deer.

Scott Robinson, CEO of the Canada Winter Games, and his team of just under 60 full-time contract staff members, along with 400 planning and leadership volunteers, have been working to organize the event for the past 5 years. The games had a budget of $45 million with the municipal, provincial and federal government levels funding two-thirds of the budget while sponsorships, ticket sales and private money covered the rest.

Robinson says the legacy of hosting the games doesn’t just mean an increase in tourism dollars for the short-term when the games are taking place. Other positive impacts include new facilities that have been built and upgraded, such as the “Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre/Centre des Jeux Canada Gary W. Harris” at Red Deer College, and improvements to outdoor recreational spaces, such as Great Chief Park, Canyon Ski Resort, the River Bend Golf Course and Recreation Area, and the Gary W. Harris Celebration Plaza. Improvements to major roadways by the province in central Alberta were also timed to be completed by
February 2019.

“The economic benefits of hosting the 2019 Canada Winter Games have proven to be numerous for our community. We expect to see an 
economic impact of more than $100 million as a direct result of the games,” says Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer. “Through new and improved facilities we are also now attracting national and international events, and are able to maximize future opportunities to host sporting competitions and other events which will bring new visitors and economic diversification to our city.”

Worthington agrees that another positive impact of the games will be to future tourism in central Alberta. Travellers share positive experiences on social media and through word of mouth, which could inspire people to visit the region and as a result, generate economic activity.

Over 90 percent of central Alberta’s visitors currently visit from within the province, and under 5 percent are from the rest of Canada and outside of the country. Organizers note that the games will showcase Red Deer as the centre city of the region and another vibrant opportunity for investment in this province.

According to CAEP, the Alberta Winter Games in 2014 (held in Banff and Canmore) positively impacted the province by generating $2.7 million and the 2017 Canada Summer Games (held in Manitoba) generated nearly $50 million into the Canadian economy, $43 million in Manitoba and $26 million for the City of Winnipeg.

“This is a dynamic and amazing thing for the community on a whole,” Robinson says. “Just think, we have over 5,000 volunteers taking part. That’s an incredible investment of vision, time and enthusiasm from a community of individuals and businesses, committed to supporting, showcasing and growing their region culturally and economically.”