By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. – The Canada Games are viewed by many as a way to bring the country closer together.
Ask one of the young athletes who travelled to this city in northern British Columbia and they will probably tell you it was mission accomplished.
The multi-sport event wrapped up Sunday night with the closing ceremony, signalling the end of a 17-day run that included 2,400 competitors from all 10 provinces and three territories.
“Everything was just a blast here,” said Alberta men’s hockey captain James Hamblin. “Meeting all the different people from around Canada, that was just spectacular. This only comes once in a lifetime and I think we really cherish that.”
Established in 1967 to help celebrate Canada’s centennial and promote unity, the Games feature athletes aged 12 to 35 and alternate every two years between summer and winter editions.
“It’s really cool to represent your province and be with the best athletes in my sport in Canada,” said Quebec snowboarder Oceane Fillion. “It’s really nice. We met people from other parts of the country and I can practice my English.”
A number of elite Canadian athletes have competed at past Games, and fans here in all likelihood witnessed at least a couple future household names.
“It’s almost like a mini Olympics,” said B.C. hockey player Justin Almeida. “It has that kind of feel. It prepares you for bigger and better things. Hopefully one day I’ll be there. The experience is awesome.”
The event included years of planning by this city of some 90,000 people, and Games CEO Stuart Ballantyne said hosting has helped boost the psyche of the entire region.
“Lots of people didn’t think they could do it. They thought that they had bitten off a lot more than they could chew,” he said. “In the end you don’t eat it all at once. You take a little bit at a time.
“There’s a definite elevation in the confidence of the city that they can do something. They’re proud to have had their city talked about across the nation. This is what the magic of the Canada Games is all about.”
It was also about performances, and there were many impressive ones. Quebec finished atop the overall medal standings with 141 (62 gold, 39 silver, 40 bronze), followed by Ontario’s 112 (47 gold, 40 silver and 25 bronze) and B.C.’s 88 (22 gold, 33 silver, 33 bronze).
There was also a camaraderie in the athletes’ village and an energy at the outdoor cultural events that many competitors experienced for the first time.
“It’s so incredible,” said Ontario women’s curling skip Megan Smith. “You have all these different sports and you have everyone cheering you on. You’re part of a bigger team. It’s something I’ve never experienced before.”