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Hosting the Canada Winter Games in Yellowknife: worth the money?

Yellowknife, NWT – The City of Yellowknife is looking to bring the 2023 Canada Winter Games to Yellowknife – but it’s going to cost.

The Games, which currently feature 18 sports, will be held in Prince George, British Columbia, this coming spring (the video above is related to the 2015 Games). The event is subsequently scheduled to come to the Northwest Territories in 2023, following a trip to Red Deer in 2019.

Yellowknife has been earmarked as the 2023 host, but first the city must weigh up the financial commitment involved in staging an event which features tens of thousands of athletes, officials and spectators.

City councillors discussed the projected price tag of the Games at Monday’s session of the municipal services committee.

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Officials estimate hosting the Games would cost the city approximately $18 million, based on studies of previous events, assuming contributions of $12 million each from Sport Canada and the territorial government.

See the city’s cost breakdown and full analysis in Annex C of the meeting’s agenda (PDF) on the City of Yellowknife’s website.

That projection also relies on a further $10 million being generated in private sponsorship, bringing the total cost – shared among all parties – to a little over $50 million.

“This issue is going to polarize Yellowknife to some degree, primarily because of the financial implications,” said councillor Phil Moon Son.

“If we do not accept hosting the Canada Winter Games, someone else will certainly do so and reap the immense benefits,” cautioned councillor Cory Vanthuyne.

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“That said, I believe at this point there needs to be a community-based approach to exploring this opportunity further.”

The City’s tentative plan calls for the establishment of a Canada Winter Games reserve fund, beginning in either 2015 or 2016, with contributions steadily escalating up to 2023.

It is not yet clear what, if any, financial demands would be passed on to the city’s residents to help meet the cost of the Games.

Upgrading the city’s swimming pool forms part of the current plan. Officials estimate that will cost at least an additional $17 million, up to $30 million, on top of the financial commitment to hosting the Games.

Several councillors argued that the territorial government must be persuaded to substantially increase its financial backing before plans proceed any further.

“We’ve got to be able to host those events and provide those opportunities for our young athletes to reach their full potential,” said councillor Adrian Bell.

“I don’t want to stand in the way of starting this process now – I want to find a way to do this – but I want to negotiate a better deal with the GNWT.”

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John Stephenson, president of the Yellowknife Ski Club and a former Canada Winter Games volunteer, urged administration to back the project.

“I know the numbers are daunting, but I think we can do this,” said Stephenson, addressing the committee.

“Taking on the Canada Winter Games will be transformative for our city. There will be nobody in the city that won’t be somehow involved and inspired.”

Stephenson raised the issue of temperature as one of his few concerns, with the Canada Winter Games preferring events to be staged in the month of February.

“If we could host it in March rather than February, it bumps up our opportunity to meet temperature requirements with both those sports. That is always a risk,” he said.

Doug Rentmeister, executive director with Sport North, said: “Hopefully 2023 becomes a legacy event for hosting bigger and better things down the road. From a Sport North perspective, we’re quite encouraged by – and willing to get behind – this event.”

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