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      Background of the Arctic Winter Games

 

 

In 1967, Cal Miller is in Quebec City for the first Canada Winter Games and he can't hide his disappointment. The financial advisor to the Yukon team has just seen the more experienced southern athletes outplay his athletes from the North. It's a sentiment shared by Stuart Hodgson, the commissioner of the Northwest Territories, who was watching his team participate also. They lament their teams' dismal performance when Miller gets an idea — "the best idea since the invention of 7-Up," he recalls in a CBC Radio interview. Miller suggests creating their own games for the North. It would provide a forum where athletes from the "circumpolar North" could compete on their own terms, on their own turf. After some discussion and a few phone calls Hodgson and Smith, as well as Canadian Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Arthur Laing, love the idea. A phone call later and the Governor of Alaska Walter Hickel is also on board.

Commissioner James Smith (Yukon), Commissioner Stuart Hodgson (Northwest Territories) and Governor Walter Hickel (Alaska) began the Arctic Winter Games in 1969. All three men were concerned about the lack of competition that our northern athletes and coaches had access to and the fact they were frequently exposed to lopsided scores when they participated in the Canada Games and other national events in the south.

Recognizing the differences of each Government and the various goals that the Arctic Winter Games may have within each jurisdiction, the Arctic Winter Games Corporation was formed with a mandate to act as the guardian of the Games and to ensure that the Games continued into the future. The formation of the Corporation also provided a mechanism for the member jurisdictions to provide political input but keep politics away from the day-to-day operations of the Arctic Winter Games.  

The first Games were held in Yellowknife, NWT in 1970 with the three contingents coming from Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska.  In the next sixteen years there were some “observer” teams from Greenland and northern Quebec.  Northern Quebec first participated in 1972 and actually hosted the Games in Schefferville in 1976.  In 1980, 1982, and 1984, however, the Games were back to the three original contingents. 

After the 1984 Games in Yellowknife the AWG Corporation felt that the games had lost much of their appeal and excitement and that it was time to add another contingent.  This would make the competitions more appealing and ensure that Ulu medals were not handed out for just showing up.  Queries were sent out to see if there was any interest from northern British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  There were only two replies, one from the Sport and Recreation Branch in British Columbia and one in Alberta. B.C. was not able to obtain the support of their government to participate. Northern Alberta did and were invited to send an “observer team” to the 1986 Games in Whitehorse and assess if they would like to join in the future.  They sent about 40 athletes to these games.   

Fairbanks was the only community from Alaska to bid on the 1988 Games and enthusiasm was somewhat measured.  In addition, there seemed to be limited support for these Games from the State of Alaska.  With the games rotating every two years between Whitehorse, Fairbanks and Yellowknife, there was less enthusiasm to host the Games, diminished corporate support, volunteer burnout and indifference on the part of the participants who had seen it all before. 

Fairbanks hosted a credible set of Games in 1988 but there were organizational problems and a lack of enthusiasm and support in the community as a whole.  The state was cutting back sharply on spending and did not actually commit funds for the games until October 1987, only six months before the games.  On the positive side, Alberta sent 75 athletes to Fairbanks and because their participation was achieving a number of northern sport development goals, they were invited to become a permanent partner in 1988. 

During the 1988 Games, the Corporation convened a meeting with the Government partners.  In attendance were the Honourable Gordon Wray (NWT), the Honourable Piers MacDonald (Yukon), the Honourable Norm Weiss (Alberta), Lieutenant Governor Steve McAlpine, the Honourable Dave Nikerson (Government of Canada, MP Western Arctic), Legislator Steve Frank (Alaska) and Legislator Nillo Koponen (Alaska).  After much discussion on all aspects of the Games the Corporation was charged with developing report identifying and making recommendations on the major issues facing the Games and reporting back on these within six months.  The Honourable Piers MacDonald agreed to host a follow up meeting of political representatives to discuss the report. 

The meeting was held in Dawson City, Yukon on August 25, 1988.  At this meeting it was unanimously agreed that the Arctic Winter Games were an important event and positive experience for all contingents.  Some of the commitments made at this meeting were:

        Continued financial support from all governments

        The corporation would develop a Hosting Manual

        The corporation would increase its focus on cultural events indigenous to the north

        More focus was to be placed on marketing and media exposure

        More emphasis was to be placed on Arctic Sports as these events unique to the north

        Dene games events would be introduced into the Games

        Alberta was accepted as a full partner and would work to increase their team size by 1996

        Alberta would be prepared to host by 1996 and may consider 1994 if requested

        The Honourable Gordon Wray was given permission to invite Greenland and Northern Quebec and to see if there was support for them joining the Games in Yellowknife.   

        Alaska suggested that the Corporation should seek participation from Russia as there was a growing interest in Russian trade and economic partnerships developing.  The Honorable Gordon Wray agreed to follow up in the request.  He was successful into attracting cultural participants from the Russian province of  Magadan to participate in the 1990 Games in Yellowknife

        Team size per contingent would stay the same

        Arctic Winter Games would continue as a two year cycle as it was felt a three year hosting format may make people more complacent with a “out of sight, out of mind” attitude

        The corporation would arrange to hold meetings with the ministers at each set of Games to evaluate the benefits and to plan for the future 

The 1990 Games in Yellowknife were considered a great success due to the support of the Honourable Gordon Wray, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the major support of the City of Yellowknife.  The decisions that were put in place from the Dawson City meeting produced the following immediate and positive results: 

        Team competition was enhanced

        The excitement of having Greenland and Russia participate enhanced corporate fundraising and volunteer recruitment

        CBC carried the Games highlights on the national network for the first time

        A highlight package also appeared on CNN and was seen across the United States and in some other countries. 

The 1992 Games in Whitehorse saw the first sport participants from Russia (Magadan) with the assistance of the Government of Yukon. It was a challenge for everyone to ensure their participation at these games. Their participation, however, helped attract national media, both print and television, to cover the Games. The Whitehorse Host Society also had increased access to corporate sponsorship due to added attraction of the Russians participating.  

In 1993, the name of the Arctic Winter Games Corporation was changed to the Arctic Winter Games International Committee. The Arctic Winter Games logo was also changed at this time. Greenland also officially joined the International Committee as a full partner in September 1993.  

In 1994, the Government of Alberta received approval to bring participants from the province of Tyumen in Russia to help build upon the economic exchange programs between the two governments. After the 1994 Games, it was decided that the Russian teams would have to fund themselves completely if they wished to continue to participate in future Arctic Winter Games.  

At the elected officials meeting in 1994 two key decisions were made: 

1)      It was agreed that if there was not at least three jurisdictions competing in a sport category during the Games that  the sport would be eliminated. Up to that point there had been times when only two jurisdictions entered a particular sport resulting in a less than entertaining and meaningful competition.  

2)      The International Committee was requested to assess the impact on the Arctic Winter Games of the NWT splitting into two territories in 1999. 

The 1996 Games in Chugiak Eagle River were also a pivotal Games. The Host Society did an enormous amount of promotion, attracted some major sponsors and had expanded media coverage throughout Alaska. Their games ended with a substantial surplus and as a result were able to establish several legacy funds in the state. During the elected officials meeting, the Arctic Winter Games Strategic Plan was also approved..  It was also during this meeting that the addition of Nunavut was approved and that the 2002 Games would be hosted in Nuuk, Greenland and/or Iqaluit, Nunavut.  The political leaders also approved a move to a youth focused Games.  

The 1998 Games in Yellowknife included fewer adult categories.  By 2000 the only adults included were in culture and Arctic Sports and Dene Games.    

The 2000 Whitehorse Games were significant as the Host Society was able to attract large private sponsorship and significant media coverage for the Games. CBC became a significant sponsor in both television and radio. 

At the request of the political leaders, the Arctic Winter Games International Committee approved a split venue Games in 2002.  Nuuk, Greenland and Iqaluit, Nunavut hosted the first split community, split country Games.  Although the games were unique and exciting it was realized that the resources required for such an event, both human and monetary, were stretched to the limit. The evaluation report completed for the political leaders recommended that a split venue games not be held again.  They approved this decision in the summer of 2002. 

In June of 2002, at a Ministerial meeting hosted by the Government of Alberta, the government partners approved a new Games Strategic Plan. 

The eighteenth Arctic Winter Games was held in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in Northern Alberta.  The Games featured two new guest units, the Sami People from Northern Scandinavia and Province of Yamal, Russia who replaced Chukotka for these Games. The 2004 Arctic Winter Games was a success for participants, spectators and the Municipality of Wood Buffalo. These Games had the largest Media presence ever with television, radio and print media from all the participating countries. 

The Kenai Peninsula Borough in Alaska hosted the nineteenth Arctic Winter Games in the municipalities of Homer, Kenai and Soldotna. This is the first time in Alaska history that a games as large as the Arctic Winter Games has been held outside of the major cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks. The 2006 Host Society made the 2006 Games a truly State event with the assistance of   the three community hosting site, the City of Anchorage and both the State and Federal Government. Much of the private sector business community who supported and sponsored the Games were state businesses whose offices were in Anchorage, Alaska.  

The 20th Arctic Winter Games was celebrated in Yellowknife Northwest Territories, the home of the First Arctic Winter Games. Many past participants joined in the birthday celebration as they cheered on our northern youth sharing in the spirit of the Arctic Winter Games. Five generations of our young people have come together sharing our sports, culture and friendship. The opening ceremonies was attended by Prime Minister Harper and featured the AWG torch being passed from generations of past participants to one of the Fathers of the Games Commissioner Stuart Hodgson who lit the 2008 Arctic Winter Games Flame. These Games were a significant celebration for all participants 

The focus of the Arctic Winter Games is still the same today as it was in 1970: 

“to involve as many athletes as possible either in the Games themselves or in team trials and to provide a forum of competition for those other than elite athletes with competitive opportunities in the south” 

There has been and continues to be considerable interest from other jurisdictions wanting to participate in the Arctic Winter Games. During the political leaders meeting with the Arctic Winter Games International Committee in 2008, they reconfirmed their commitment to the current units and the current size of the Games.  For the foreseeable future, this will not allow for the addition of new Canadian units or an increase in maximum team sizes. 

The XXIst Arctic Winter Games will be hosted in Grande Prairie, Alberta  Canada. The Arctic Winter Games will be celebrating its 39th Birthday in March 2010. 

Every thing about Arctic Winter Games is available on our website at www.awg.ca.  This includes, Hosting Manuals, Sport Selection Criteria, reports, studies (economic and social) and the history of the Games.

For information about this site Contact the Webmaster

This site is sponsored by Northwestel

 

This Website is produced by the Arctic Winter Games International Committee

NORTHWESTEL IS AN INTERNATIONAL CORPORATE HONOR ROLE SPONSOR OF ARCTIC WINTER GAMES 

(Click here for International Corporate Honor Role Sponsor information) 



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