Remembering the games

Five years ago this week, Prince George was welcoming the nation as the host of the 2015 Canada Winter Games. Despite unseasonably warm weather that turned into early spring, the community put its best foot forward as host.

The nationally televised opening ceremonies in CN Centre were gorgeous and spectacularly choreographed. The events, not just the sports but also the music and arts events, were well attended. The Lheidli T'enneh pavilion was popular with locals and visitors alike, as Prince George became the site of the first-ever Canada Games to recognize its area's Indigenous people as a host First Nation.

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It was amazing to see young area athletes excel, from biathlete Emily Dickson's four-medal performance (two of them gold) at Otway to Meryeta O'Dine and Evan Bichon taking gold in the women's and men's snowboard cross.

The two-week party was fantastic, leading right into the week after everyone went home, as Prince George celebrated its 100th birthday.

The organizers of major sporting events love talking about the huge legacy their events leave behind - the new and/or upgraded facilities, residents coming together in common cause, the confidence boost, the "putting us on the map" awareness and so on. Yet five years later, not much has changed in Prince George. The games are remembered fondly by most and that's about it.

If anything, the games simply postponed internal conflicts brewing within the city. A month after the games, the professors at UNBC went on strike. Even during the games, downtown retailers, who had bought into the hype by staying open late, were saying they weren't getting nearly the business they had been told they would see. The increased police presence downtown with foot patrols and police dogs were welcome by some while others felt it was invasive and unnecessary. Local musicians either refused to perform during the games because of Northern Gateway's sponsorship involvement or worked their protest into the show, as Black Spruce Bog did not once but twice, singling out the Site C  dam and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Artist Jennifer Pighin's work was featured on the medals and the Team B.C. clothing. Three months later, she took games organizers and the Wood Wheaton Auto Group to small claims court for copyright violation.

Local government spending, staff hires and the corresponding annual tax hikes from city council that ramped up before the games kept right on going. Temporary and one-time increases associated with the games became permanent with more added on each year since, including significant raises for the mayor, the city manager and the growing number of senior bureaucrats.

Externally, it was the same old story. Vancouver sent its broadcast and print journalists to Prince George during the games, where they chuckled daily on-air and online about how such nice people would choose to live in such a stinkhole.

As for Harper, he couldn't even bother to visit during the games (the only Canada Games he didn't attend while prime minister) but was highly visible hanging out in Calgary for two days as a spectator at the national men's curling championship.

It's not all bad, of course. 

The 2015 games were a great reminder that this community and its residents can meet any challenge, accomplish any task. But the games were not a pivotal moment in the city's history, certainly not compared to more significant, unplanned events like the 2017 Cariboo wildfires and taking care of 10,000 evacuees.

The games were a moment of pride five years ago, nothing more and nothing less.

- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout





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