INNISFAIL — With more than 200 children enthusiastically showing up for the first-ever national MNP Canada Games Torch Relay, the local celebration event instantly lit a fire of inspiration for youth to one day become heroes and role models for their community.
Hundreds of Innisfailians, including more than 200 grade 5 and 6 students from Innisfail Middle School, came to the Innisfail Library/Learning Centre on Jan. 30 for a celebration stop for the 2019 Canada Winter Games. The national sporting event is running in Red Deer from Feb. 15 to March 3.
“It is good to see kids get the opportunity to come out. It gets the energy going in the school,” said Mayor Jim Romane, who also noted the upcoming Winter Games will provide a spinoff economic boost for the town. “I am sure the accommodations, such as in Red Deer, require a lot of support. Economically it is good for the community but also just for the awareness for the whole Central Alberta region too. Across Canada is going to give us some exposure.”
The MNP Canada Games Torch Relay is visiting 48 communities across Canada, including 26 torch relay stops and 22 celebration stops. Innisfail was the final celebration stop. A torch relay event was held in Olds on Jan. 31.
The Innisfail celebration to get a good look at the Winter Games torch also featured a hotdog barbecue and free coffee from Tim Hortons, as well as speeches from Romane; Earl Dreeshen, MP for Red Deer-Mountain View; Devin Dreeshen, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; Scott Gilchrist, business advisor for MNP; Nicole Lorrain, community board of governor member for the Canada Winter Games; and a visit from Waskasoo, the Winter Games’ mascot.
“It is always more fun when kids are here. They bring a whole different energy, and at the end of the day the Canada Winter Games are about kids,” said Lorrain. “They are our future athletes. For them to come and be able to hear this is happening in Red Deer, and (say), ‘maybe I can be part of the next Canada Winter Games as an athlete or torchbearer.’ It is very exciting.”
Gilchrist, business advisor for MNP, said his accounting and consulting firm is pleased with its decision to move forward with sponsoring a national torch relay, which previously had only been at best a regional event since the Winter Games began in 1967.
“It has brought us together. It has brought Canada together as far as the Canada Winter Games,” he said. “I think it is incredible the schools got involved in this. The children came out to experience this, our next athletes who are going to be coming up to take part in an event such as this.”
Meanwhile, the Innisfail celebration stop was especially pleasing for Earl Dreeshen who has been involved with Red Deer’s bid for the Winter Games for more than five years, lobbying hard in Ottawa for Central Alberta’s largest city to succeed.
“We made a special push in letting the sports minister know. We took a big banner for Red Deer to Ottawa in front of the Peace Tower and got everybody to sign it and say, ‘Red Deer is ready,'” he said, adding former Red Deer MLAs Cal Dallas and Mary Anne Jablonski also played big roles in helping Red Deer secure its bid. “It is just really exciting to see what has happened, how MNP has put together the relay.
“This is something for the youth,” added the Red Deer-Mountain View MP. “These people who are going to be competing in the next couple of weeks will become our athletes for the future, and more than that they will become our leaders for the future.”