Today marks five hundred days until the opening of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George and the countdown clock continues to tick down.
The opening ceremony will be held Feb. 13, 2015, inside CN Centre and will mark the beginning of a 17-day stretch of competition, camaraderie and festivities.
The Games are projected to bring more than 3,400 participants (athletes, coaches and support staff) to the city and will be the largest sporting and cultural event in the history of northern B.C.
The Games are Canada's Winter Olympics and hosting them requires a mammoth amount of planning and preparation. Much of the work has already been done, while other Games-related projects are in progress. And, of course, Games organizers still have a rather lengthy to-do list in front of them.
Looking at the big picture, Stuart Ballantyne, chief executive officer of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, said he's "quite comfortable" with the amount of progress made to date. He noted, however, the real crunch is yet to come.
"Five hundred days out is a tremendous milestone for us and it's also a point in time that tells us we're now in the downhill run and we've got to get stuff done between now and the one-year-out anniversary," Ballantyne said. "Between now and February is when the majority of the work on the Games gets done and of course we're staffing up, which is also a significant part of our growth."
Currently, Canada Games House holds a staff of 15. By the time the Games arrive, 50 paid employees will be working out of the building, located at 545 Quebec St.
Foundation in place
Some of the important work that has already been completed includes: the formation of a 17-person Canada Games host society, led by chair Anthony Everett; the hiring of a five-person senior management team, headed by Ballantyne; the establishment of Canada Games House; the development of the Games brand and official business plan; and, most recently, the finalization of the list of competition venues for the 19 sports that will be represented (see related story).
As well, several partnerships have been forged between the 2015 Canada Winter Games and corporate entities -- partnerships that will result in funding and/or services being provided in the lead-up to the Games and during the two-plus weeks of competition. Partners of the Games currently include: the Prince George Citizen and the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group; the Twentyten Group; BID Group of Companies; Northern B.C. Tourism Association; Lheidli T'enneh; Dunkley Lumber; Canfor; Finning Canada and The Cat Rental Store; SpeeDee Office Experts; TransCanada Corporation; Pacific Western Group of Companies; and the B.C. Lottery Corporation and Treasure Cove Hotel and Casino.
Todd Doherty, director of revenue generation for the Games, is pleased with where things stand right now but said efforts to find partners and raise more money will continue right up until the opening ceremony.
"Our goal is to be able to build an incredible experience for the athletes, the participants and those in our community," he said. "I think our focus has to always be on that revenue generation. Everybody has to be able to have an opportunity to take part in it and we don't want to leave any money on the table. So even when we attain our revenue target [of $10.47 million] we're still going to continue pushing forward because then that allows us to enhance the experience for those athletes and participants."
Doherty would only say the Games are "significantly down the path" toward that $10.47 million target. Additional funding is being provided by the City of Prince George ($11,107,000), the provincial government ($11,120,000) and the federal government ($11,120,000).
Around Prince George, and in its outlying areas, Games-related work continues on a daily basis. Perhaps the most visible example is on the Exhibition Grounds, where the rebuild on Kin 1 is nearly finished. When the arena opens, it will feature an Olympic-sized ice surface, seating for 1,000 spectators, improved dressing rooms and a host of other upgrades.
Ballantyne is anticipating a November or December opening and is anxious to set foot inside the facility before then.
"We're looking forward to our first hard-hats tour because we haven't been in it yet," he said. "We've been peering through the window like everybody else."
Kin 2 has also been remodeled, as has the Kin Lounge, which is the upstairs area between Kin 1 and Kin 2. The original budget for the project was $16,528,000.
During the Canada Winter Games, the Kin Centre will host short track speed skating, hockey and figure skating.
Currently, several other venues are also in the process of being brought up to Games standards. These venues include the Otway Nordic Centre (biathlon, cross country skiing), the Outdoor Ice Oval (long track speed skating), Tabor Mountain Ski Resort (freestyle skiing, snowboarding) and Purden Ski Village (alpine skiing, one snowboard event).
At Otway, the berm for a new 30-lane biathlon range is now in place, a pair of timing/storage buildings are under construction and new trails have been built. At the Outdoor Ice Oval, meanwhile, prep work has begun for the eventual placement of an operations building.
"We're also doing some track development work," said Phil Beaulieu, director of sport and venues. "We're adding a topsoil mixture to the race track and that will increase our ability to withstand a warm weather event during the Games. One of the challenges the oval faces in its current structure is that it is all gravel, so when we get a melt, the water just drains right through and that creates air pockets. Then when you drive a Zamboni on it, it breaks. The other challenge is, we don't have a therma-layer. If you build [the oval] on topsoil that's saturated with water, then you have a six-inch frozen layer that you're building your ice on top of and it withstands better."
Twenty minutes to the east, at Tabor Mountain, the ski-cross and snowboard course is basically ready for action and so is the aerials course. Work continues on a slope style course, and the moguls course will get some attention in the next couple weeks. Beaulieu said the area for the halfpipe competition has been cleared and will be surveyed this fall so it can be completed next summer.
Purden Ski Village, a little further out on Highway 16 East, is also undergoing some changes to its landscape.
"We have some rock to take out and some course widening to do," Beaulieu said.
City-initiated renovations, which will benefit the Games, have also taken place at the Prince George Golf and Curling Club.
While not a sport venue, Canada Games Plaza is currently in the design phase. The plaza, which also includes the Civic Centre, will serve as a cafeteria and gathering place for Games participants. Beaulieu said construction on the outdoor plaza project is scheduled to commence in the spring.
"There have been high-level conceptual drawings that have been available for public input," he said. "Most people would agree [there are] much-needed cosmetic changes -- a little less steel, maybe a little more wood. At the same time there will be some functionally adjustments that will help the Games and, of course, future events."
Beaulieu said $500,000 has been budgeted for work at Canada Games Plaza. Another $500,000, he said, may be forthcoming in the form of a government grant.
The Games are making strides on other fronts as well.
Today – in celebration of the 500-days-out milestone – the Games will launch a new website, one that will replace the temporary site that has been in operation. The new site will be used during competition and will allow for the posting of results.
"That is a really big and important piece and [the website] will also bring some of our community relations projects to the forefront," said Alyson Gourley-Cramer, manager of communications and community relations.
A special announcement is scheduled to be made via the website at 1:30 p.m. today.
When it comes to human resources, most of the lead volunteers are now in place and the organization's data base shows close to 1,500 in total have signed up to help in various capacities. Gourley-Cramer said the target number is 4,500. As part of an effort to reach that goal, she said a program called Get In The Games will be introduced in a matter of days.
"From October 2013 to October 2014 we want all of our 4,500 volunteers signed up," Gourley-Cramer said. "Training for volunteers will start in November of 2014 so that's why we're saying, get in the Games. Our biggest concern is that everyone calls Prince George a last-minute town and that's why we're giving people parameters and a deadline to sign up, because we need them, and we need them trained."
Work on tickets and merchandise is also underway. Doherty said tickets will be available for purchase starting in 2014 and Games goodies -- shirts, hats and other souvenirs -- will be coming to market "very shortly."
As well, the entertainment lineup for the Games is in the works.
In the works
Organizers are aware that the closer the Games get, the more quickly time will seem to pass. And missing the final deadline isn't an option.
Under these conditions, several important projects still require attention.
One of these is the setup of the downtown core -- home to the Athletes Village -- as a WiFi hotspot. The other part of that equation is to meet the goal of WiFi capability at all the venues, including outlying ones like Otway, Tabor and Purden. Ideally, the network will have different entry points for athletes, spectators, media and Games administrators.
Gourley-Cramer said meetings with the city are taking place in order to determine how the existing infrastructure in the downtown can be used. Beaulieu, meanwhile, said it's time to "get down to the nuts and bolts" of what he calls a connected Games.
"The next six months is to get down to what it's going to take to do that," he said. "Can we afford it, do we have a sponsor that's going to help us afford it? We've made note of the venues where we have challenges and then, just like any business, you need to look at what your priorities are and if you have enough money to do the whole thing."
Beaulieu doesn't regard the logistics of setting up the desired WiFi zones as overwhelming.
"IT [information technology] is a fairly significant component and file for the Games but, on the other hand, everything is easier -- and gets easier every day -- in the IT world it seems," he said. "Sometimes the expectations get higher along with that so we have to be careful in that area. But things are much more plug-and-play. Connectivity is much easier so some of those things help."
Still with venues, lighting improvements are planned for the Coliseum (which will host ringette) and the Aquatic Centre (home to synchronized swimming). At the Aquatic Centre, the existing underwater lights will be replaced.
Another major job that still needs to be crossed off the to-do list is the preparation of the athlete accommodations in the downtown.
"Closer to the Games we're going to be retro-fitting all the hotel rooms," Gourley-Cramer said. "They'll see furniture taken out, bunk beds going in. The downtown will house all of the athletes, all of the media, major officials, coaches, mission staff. The downtown is going to be buzzing."
Hotels that will welcome Games participants are the Ramada, Coast Inn of the North, Days Inn, Travelodge Goldcap and the EconoLodge. A hotel proposed for a site near the Prince George Public Library, which will house an athletes' lounge, has also been penciled in as a possibility for accommodation.
In a completely different vein, the upcoming winter season will see Prince George host several championships that are expected to double as test events for the Games. Included on this list are the B.C. Scotties Tournament of Hearts women's curling championship in January, the Western Canadian cross country ski championships in February and the Canadian short track speed skating championships in March. Test events are dry runs to ensure everything is in place for smooth delivery during Games time.
Games organizers have already seen the real thing executed. Some were in Halifax for a first-hand look at the 2011 Canada Winter Games and some traveled to Sherbrooke for the 2013 Canada Summer Games, which ran from Aug. 2 to 17 this summer. At the closing ceremony in Sherbrooke, Ballantyne and company felt a direct shift from present to future.
"We knew going into Sherbrooke that our lives would change significantly coming out of Sherbrooke," he said. "Now we're the next Games for the Canada Games Council (the governing body) and all eyes start to focus on us. That's exactly what happened in the month of September. We knew we'd be busy and here we are ending the month with a significant milestone that really helps remind us that things have got to get done. Everybody's responding and that's the best part about it."
B.C. has never before hosted a Canada Winter Games. The 2015 edition is expected to pump $70 million to $90 million into the local economy.
Past participants in the Canada Winter Games include hockey players Sidney Crosby and Jennifer Botterill and Olympic speed skaters Nathalie Lambert, Catriona Le May Doan and Gaetan Boucher.
At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada Games alumni accounted for 16 of Canada's 26 medals.