The national day for recognizing sport is coming up at the end of November and in B.C., the official celebrations this year will be centred in Prince George since both the federal and provincial cabinet ministers with sport in their portfolio have ties to the area.
"When discussions began about holding the annual celebrations and what we were going to do as a province I felt this amazing feeling because I got to raise my hand and tell them there were going to be some changes this year," said B.C.'s new Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes. "I explained right off that whatever the plans were, they were going to be in Prince George this year. We were going to draw all the eyes we could to the city hosting the 2015 Canada Winter Games and get everyone in the province fixing their mind on this region and the amazing sports and cultural event this will be."
Oakes has been a part of the Games gush since she was a city councillor in Quesnel, which supported Prince George's bid to host the winter extravaganza. When she succeeded in winning the Cariboo North seat in the last provincial election and was named a rookie minister, the 2015 Canada Winter Games file came to her.
So did a relationship with her federal counterpart, Minister of State for Sport Bal Gosal. In their first meeting, Gosal had a revelation for her.
"I lived in Quesnel, and I also lived in Prince George," Gosal said. "I moved from India to Quesnel in 1981. I got married there, I married a Quesnel girl, and then I went to Prince George where I attended the College of New Caledonia [Stationary Engineer fourth class]. My wife also went to CNC."
The early 1980s were dark times in the local economy, he said, so he and Pawanjit moved to Ontario for better prospects. They settled in Brampton where they started a family and Gosol went into business as a financial advisor and insurance broker. He also volunteered heavily, mostly in sport-related organizations.
"I was there in Prince George for the Canada Winter Games funding announcement at Pine Centre Mall [April 12, 2012, $22 million between the province and federation]. I was so happy to be there. My wife's sister still lives in Prince George so it was special to share that event with our close connections," he said.
"In Ottawa, we are excited about the Games. We are in preparation mode in our ministry. We have a role to play," he said. "I was in Sherbrooke for the Canada Summer Games, it was a very well-run Games and we are now focused on the Winter Olympics in Russia 100 days away and after we get through that, the focus goes largely to Prince George."
Gosol said his ministry exists to foster sport, physical activity and fitness due to its health benefits, but there is a whole other side of it that he, as a financial professional, finds personally gratifying. It has massive economic impacts as well.
"Right now, the building and refurbishing of the facilities creates jobs, but soon you will have all the spectators and families and athletes and media and officials - all those people who will come to P.G. and boost the economy. They will come for the preparation events, there will be a groundswell during the Games themselves, and then more after the Games. The biggest thing is after the Games. The legacy left behind of all the facilities and resources is where you produce future Olympians and Paralympians from your community, or they come to your community for future meets in their sport, because you will have the best facilities. Creating a world-class sports system has health benefits, community spirit benefits, and economic benefits."
The Canada Games system is the reason communities like Prince George get such opportunities to boost themselves. Gosol said he met recently with a Canadian who was lured to Australia to coach in their world-leading swim program. He decided to move back to Canada and when he was questioned why he would shed a life of endless summer, Gosol said "he told me it was because of the Canada Games model - because we are one of only a handful of countries in the world that has an Olympic-style multi-sport event every four years to build our athletes and officials and facilities toward. He wanted to be part of that, because of the athlete development results."
The details of the Nov. 29 events planned for Prince George have not been unveiled yet.