By Martin Cleary
If you’ve heard noises that sounded like a proud, but not too arrogant, chest pounding, it’s probably coming from up the Ottawa Valley. Renfrew County is about to upstage its much bigger neighbour, Ottawa.
In 13 months, the best up-and-coming provincial athletes in 24 sports will head east for the Ontario Winter Games in March 2022. Granted Ottawa has played host to the Ontario Summer Games (1976, 1994, 2006 and 2008), but never the winter version.
When Renfrew County welcomes the province’s next wave of elite athletes, it will be for the 23rd Ontario Winter Games, which also will be the first time they will be held in this region. The Games have been staged in Cornwall (1993) and Kingston (1978).
The inaugural Ontario Winter Games were unveiled in the Etobicoke sector of the Greater Toronto Area in 1970. Collingwood has been home to the Games four times, while Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, London, Muskoka and Orillia have played host twice each.
“We’re a very active community with lots of events,” Renfrew reeve and 2022 Ontario Winter Games committee chair Peter Emon said in a phone interview. “Our residents spend time doing activities on trails and in rinks and gymnasiums.
“We know something like this will interest our community. We’re always looking for opportunities to showcase our community and facilities.”
The 2022 Ontario Winter Games will attract up to 3,500 athletes plus coaches, support staff and parents.
Renfrew County, which encompasses communities like Deep River, Arnprior, Calabogie, Barry’s Bay, Cobden, Renfrew, Pembroke and Petawawa, is familiar with embracing large events, including two in the past 27 years.
The 1994 International Plowing Match was held at the farm of Gary and Bev Smith in Pembroke and drew 80,000 visitors for the week-long event. Expo 150 attracted more than 30,000 people over four days in 2012.
Emon said the committee will decide shortly whether to stage the Games over seven consecutive days or split it over two Thursday through Sunday periods. Calabogie will be one of the hub areas for sports, like alpine and para alpine skiing, and social events.
The list of two dozen sports on the Games’ schedule includes squash, kick boxing, hockey, indoor field hockey, fencing, wheelchair basketball and curling, target shooting, judo, para hockey and wushu.
“We have first-rate facilities,” Emon added. “Once people explore our facilities, it will be easier to attract more sanctioned events.”
The Ontario Winter Games could put between $2 million to $5 million into the region’s economy.
Two of the biggest issues for the organizing committee will be lodging and transportation. Emon estimates 1,400 hotel rooms will be needed, which could impact Ottawa’s west end. They also will need a fleet of buses to move Games’ participants.
“We’re looking at this as a coming-out party after COVID-19,” Emon said. “It will be a get together.”
The Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries will provide Renfrew County with a $900,000 hosting grant plus $100,000 for legacy projects. Registration fees could approach $300,000.
“The Games will boost the local economy and help with the recovery from COVID-19, while strengthening our sports and tourism sectors, leaving a lasting legacy on the County of Renfrew and its municipalities,” said provincial sport minister Lisa MacLeod.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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