ABOUT the Arctic Winter Games

In 1967, Cal Miller was in Quebec City for the first Canada Winter Games and he could not hide his disappointment.  The financial advisor to the Yukon team had 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 watched his team participate also.  They lamented their teams’ dismal performance when Miller got an idea – “the best idea since the invention of “7-Up,” he recalled in a CBC Radio interview.  Miller suggested 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, loved the idea.  A phone call later and the Governor of Alaska Walter Hickel was 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 to which our northern athletes and coaches had access and the fact that 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 engaging and ensure that Ulu medals were not handed out for just showing up.  Queries were made 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 was 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), The Honourable Lieutenant Governor Steve McAlpine (Alaska), 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 a report identifying and making recommendations on the major issues facing the Games and report 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 the participants and the host communities in 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 are 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 to gauge support for their 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 Honourable Gordon Wray agreed to follow up on 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 remain the same

  • Arctic Winter Games would continue on a two-year cycle as it was felt a three-year hosting format may make people more complacent with an “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 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

         Magadan had some participants in Arctic Sports and some cultural participants

         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 the 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 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 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, Arctic Sports and Dene Games.  Chukotka, Russia was invited to participate in the 2000 Games to be held in Whitehorse, Yukon.

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. 

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 the 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 Soldatna.  This was 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 sites, 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 2010 Arctic Winter Games in Grande Prairie, Alberta welcomed 2000 Athletes, Coaches and Mission Staff as a new community joined the Arctic Winter Games family.  An Economic Impact Study done by the Government of Alberta concluded that more than 182 person years of employment and $7.29 Million in income was generated by the operational and visitors’ expenditures associated with the Arctic Winter Games in the Grande Prairie Region in 2010.

Whitehorse had the privilege to show case their facilities and an abundance of great volunteers as they hosted the 2012 Games. It was the first Games where all the results were done from each venue. Every hotel space in the city was filled for the Games.

Fairbanks, Alaska hosted the Arctic Winter Games in 1988 and did not get the opportunity to host again for 26 years. The community came together and went all out to host the 23rd Arctic Winter Games in 2014. The AWG is the world’s largest circumpolar multi-sport and cultural event. It is a celebration of athletic competition, culture, friendship and cooperation between circumpolar (northern) contingents. Athletic competition features sports that enjoy worldwide popularity alongside traditional Arctic Sports and Dene Games.

Fairbanks showcased a significant cultural component featuring visual arts, dance, ceremonies and galas with participants from across the circumpolar region. The 2014 Arctic Winter Games Torch is a significant legacy for the community and was paid for with donations of $2014.00 by citizens of Fairbanks and the Fairbanks North Star Borough. It includes engraved plaques with the history of the Arctic Winter Games in Alaska and personal engravings of all the citizens who made the $2014.00 donation to build the torch.

The 2016 Arctic Winter Games were held co-operatively between Nuuk, Greenland and Iqaluit, Nunavut.   It was the biggest event of its kind in the history of Greenland. Fourteen sports were held in Nuuk with the hockey competition being held in Iqaluit, Nunavut.  The Host Society faced challenges early on in the week as weather caused delays in transporting participants on a flight bridge from Kangerlussuaq to Nuuk and some sport schedules required adjustment. Participants reported having a positive adventure of their experience in Kangerlussuaq.  Once all the participants were on the ground in Nuuk, it was a successful Arctic Winter Games which provided all the participants an opportunity for a unique sport and cultural experience. 

The South Slave Region was the home for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games.  The region is made up of seven communities and the two largest communities, Hay River and Fort Smith were the host locations for the sports and cultural events of the 25th edition of the Games.  Organizers of these Games worked closely with the International Committee to meet the challenges of hosting a Games in two communities situated 270 km apart.  Local volunteers including members of the Canadian Rangers came forward and worked diligently to ensure the success of the Games.  Participants were housed in both communities and attended the Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony in Hay River.  Fort Smith, as well as hosting a number of sport competitions, was the home of the cultural participants for the week.  The Cultural Gala held in the Fort Smith Cathedral was truly a celebration of the collaborative work of the cultural participants and a showcase of northern cultures. 

The 2020 Arctic Winter Games which were to mark the 50th anniversary of the Games and hosted in Whitehorse, Yukon were cancelled following the recommendation of the Yukon Chief Medical officer due to public health concerns surrounding the Corona Virus (COVID 19).  The announcement was made March 7th, 2020 (Opening Ceremonies were scheduled for March 15, 2020).  Four days later, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a world wide pandemic.  The 2020 Arctic Winter Games Host Society was the first in AWG's history to be required to decommission a Games which did not happen. In the days that followed the announcement Volunteers and Staff came together with heavy hearts to do the work that needed to be done.  Although the 2020 Games did not happen, the planning and preparations brought this community together.  The relationships forged with nearby communities and the bridges built will remain as a legacy to the 2020 Games.  The AWGIC awarded the 2020 Hodgson Trophy to the 2020 Arctic Winter Games Host Society Volunteers and Staff to recognize their journey and dedication to the Arctic Winter Games.


The focus of the Arctic Winter Games is still the same today as it was in 1970, to involve as many participants as possible either in the Games themselves or in the team selection trials, and to provide a forum of competition for those other than elite athletes with competitive opportunities in the south. The cultural component of the Games adds the unique opportunity for fellowship for the participants and host communities.

One of the most important functions of the AWGIC is its responsibility for nurturing and protecting the extraordinary impact that the Arctic Winter Games have on the north. The Games achieve these results because they bring together, in one community, a multitude of visiting athletes, coaches, cultural participants, volunteers, media, visitors, officials and community leaders from around the circumpolar and northern world for seven days of athletic competition, cultural exchange and social interaction.

The success of the Games is directly related to a program that combines athletic competition, cultural exchange and social interaction. Athletic competition features sports that enjoy worldwide popularity alongside exciting northern and traditional Aboriginal events. In combination with the selection trials run by each contingent, the Arctic Winter Games are a significant part of northern sport development.

Cultural programming at the Arctic Winter Games includes participants from all contingents who come together to learn from one another and to celebrate and demonstrate their unique artistic talents. Combined with the important opportunity provided for performing and visual artists from the host region to showcase their talents to the world, the Games are a significant part of northern cultural development.

The Arctic Winter Games promote an atmosphere of social interaction that strengthens cultural awareness and understanding, increases community pride, enhances self-esteem and promotes volunteerism. The Games also help develop stronger economic, political and social ties and provide international exposure to the community in which they are hosted.

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


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