I’ve never been a huge fan of opening and closing ceremonies at events such as the Olympics. In fact, other than Vancouver 2010, I don’t think I have ever sat down to watch more than five minutes of either celebration.
Saturday evening, however, I had the distinct pleasure of experiencing first-hand the opening ceremony of the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games, as a partner with former CBC Olympics broadcaster Sue Prestedge for the play-by-play of the Athletes Parade.
You can consider me a convert.
After being postponed from 2021, for many it has been hard to get excited about these games. Of course, there’s been this little thing called the pandemic that may have gotten in the way. But Saturday’s gathering at the Meridian Centre got the ball rolling in a big way.
The energy in the building was palpable as the young athletes from each of the 13 provinces and territories paraded into the arena dressed in their team colours. Remember, these athletes are true amateurs, the best in the country at their sports, and for the most part under 23 years old. Many of them will be Canada’s future Olympians and Paralympians, and they were thrilled to be in Niagara to take this next step in their journey.
As one might imagine, Team Ontario, as the host province the last to enter, received the loudest response from the crowd. But seeing the many different provincial flags waving in the stands brought home the point that there were people from every corner of the country right here in our region.
Once the athletes were seated on the Meridian Centre surface, the ceremony began with a performance from Indigenous drummers, led by Gary Parker. Then, 17-year-old youth Indigenous ambassador Kya Steinbach-Parker from Fort Erie took the Turtle Island stage to share the Haudenosaunee creation story and to reflect on the generational trauma suffered by Six Nations people.
That was followed by a powerful performance featuring Juno Award winner DJ Shub, Métis fiddler Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk and, Kyle Burton of the Toronto Métis Jiggers and accomplished hoop dancer Myranda Spence.
At one point during the performance, technical difficulties silenced the sound from the musicians, and the athletes began clapping, then starting ‘the wave’ across the arena to fill the silence.
Though totally unplanned, that was a key moment in realizing the power of all of these people together in this building, celebrating the beginning of a two-week sporting event. Nothing was going to stop anyone present from enjoying this night.
A series of dignitaries then took to the Turtle Island stage, beginning with Canada Games Council (CGC) Chair Evan Johnston and Olympic champion speed skater and CGC board member Catriona Le May Doan.
A giant Canadian flag was ushered along the “Welland Canal” toward the Turtle Island stage by the Fort George Foot Fife and Drum Corps, followed by Waterdown’s Simone Soman singing the National Anthem.
With 19 venues being used across the region, it’s clear that the Canada Summer Games are meant to bring Niagara together. Each of the mayors from the region’s 12 municipalities paraded onto the floor. Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Betty Disero took her place in front of Team Ontario and enthusiastically waved to the crowd when she was introduced.
When federal Minister of Sport Pascal St-Onge officially declared the games open, the entire audience roared.
That was followed by a musical performance of Steel Heart, the anthem of the games sung by Toronto artist Poesy, accompanied by a group of dancers from the Brock Badgers Dance Pak.
The Roly McLenahan Torch then arrived at the Meridian Centre to complete its months-long journey, brought in by Louis Martel, CEO of Canada Steamship Lines, who was accompanied by the crew of the CSL Welland.
Martel passed the torch to Host Society chair Doug Hamilton, who in turn passed it to a group of Ridley College rowers entering the arena in a rowing shell.
Finally, Olympic gold medalist Kristen Kit of St. Catharines, winning her medal for her role in the Canadian women’s eight rowing crew in Tokyo, received the torch. With great enthusiasm, she stepped up to the cauldron and ignited the Canada Games flame to loud applause.
The ceremony ended with two songs from St. Catharines-based country music star Tim Hicks, with aerial performers, gymnasts and dancers from the Zacada Circus School performing stunning feats all around him.
Patrick Roberge Productions created and designed a stunning program that perfectly captured the spirit of the games and reflected all communities across Niagara.
No event has brought this many people from this many provinces and territories into the Niagara region prior to this. It was easy to sense the pride in the Meridian Centre to be hosting this event and showcasing Niagara on a national scale.
The Canada Games, both winter and summer, are designed to leave a legacy in smaller communities such as Niagara. Here, the new Canada Games Park and improvements to various sporting venues across the region will have that lasting effect.
But I would opine that another legacy left behind will be the inspiration, the sense of wonder, and the feeling of the entire country coming together right here in our backyard that anyone in attendance or watching on CBC streaming services surely felt Saturday.
Count me in for the Closing Ceremony on Aug. 21.