Yukon larger than life at Vancouver Olympics

The Vancouver Olympic Games is not just a venue for sporting excellence, but aggressive marketing – and it appears to be working. The territory’s investment in the Games looked to be paying off Saturday, which was dubbed Yukon Day.

The Vancouver Olympic Games is not just a venue for sporting excellence, but aggressive marketing – and it appears to be working.

The territory’s investment in the Games looked to be paying off Saturday, which was dubbed Yukon Day, as thousands of people lined the street outside Canada’s Northern House in downtown Vancouver waiting as long 30 minutes to get a taste of northern culture.

The third most popular pavilion at the Games, Northern House, which features live performances from Yukon artists and traditional sports all day, every day during the Games, surpassed 100,000 visitors on Sunday.

“There’s usually a line-up at 8:30, 9 a.m.,” said Dee Enright, a director with Canada’s North Media Team, an organization hired by the three territories to promote the North at the Games. “We’re hearing that ours is very family oriented. It’s quite interactive, but it’s not all technology based. There’s are the displays, the visuals, the arts and the crafts, so that’s really what the popularity of the house is about. A lot of the (other) pavilions are based on the concept of a sports bar almost.

“There’s performances on the stage all day long, so I think that’s what’s driving the popularity.”

Showcased daily are bands, throat singers, drummers, storytellers and Dene and Inuit sport athletes from throughout the territories, performing among displays meant to educate visitors about the territories, promote the North as a vacation destination and a viable location for investment.

Roughly 170 traditional sport athletes, performers, artists, youth ambassadors and Yukon aboriginal youth and elders from the territory were showcased at the Cultural Olympiad on Saturday.

“We wanted to make these Games about the many and not about the few,” said John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC). “And as we set off to provinces and territories to talk about the opportunity Vancouver presented we had the most magnificent reception everywhere, and the entire country has arrived in Vancouver.

“Our goal was to make this about everyone. Our goal was to try, given the opportunity we had, to do something that would unite Canadians.”

Canada’s Northern House, a pavilion showcasing culture in the three northern territories, was at the centre of the excitement generated by Yukon Day. Reaching beyond education, Northern House, and the 13 other venues in Vancouver and surrounding areas promoting the Yukon, laid the foundation for future business relationships, said Jim Kenyon, Yukon minister of economic development.

“A lot of what we do is put (business) parties together – we’re talking private groups, so we can’t get into details, it’s just the nature of business,” said Kenyon. “But what we’re seeing is actually beyond our expectations.

“It translates into industry because we have these groups here, some that might be looking at a subsidiary or something they might want to develop. We’ve talked to a few people who said, ‘We could have a branch in the Yukon; we could sell that product to the Yukon.’”

“All of the Vancouver media has been saying, of all the pavilions, (Northern House) is the one to be in.”

Aside from performances and informative displays, Northern House was the scene of an aggressive marketing campaign. Visitors to the pavilion were lining up by the dozens to enter a contest to win 3.8 ounces of Yukon gold, which, in the entry process, recorded contact information to be used later to encourage tourism to Outsiders.

“They’re all people we’ll be following up with,” said Elaine Taylor, Yukon minister of tourism and culture. “They waited in that lineup for quite a while, so they’re genuinely interested.

“Our investment has primarily been in the people themselves; we’ve invested heavily in over 100 Yukon performers, artists and traditional sport athletes as well as youth ambassadors. It’s a great opportunity for the Yukon to build that invaluable experience but also to raise awareness on an international stage and that investment comes back home.”

Throughout the Olympics, Yukon art was on display and/or available for purchase at numerous other locations, such as the Aboriginal Pavilion and the Inuit Art Gallery of Vancouver, which showcased 12 Yukon artists in the first-ever gallery exhibition of Yukon art in Vancouver. (All the Yukon pieces at the gallery can be seen on-line at www.inuit.com.)

“We’ve had a good response from it – and, as I said earlier, we had a great response to the Ross River Drummers that were here for the opening ceremony,” said Melanie Zavediuk, director of the Inuit Art Gallery of Vancouver.

“We’re really thrilled to have Ann Smith in the gallery today, demonstrating her weaving. She’s an amazing artist.

“We’ll have several artists in the gallery demonstrating in the next few days.”

The principle attraction at Yukon Day was a show at BC Place that featured performances by the Yukon Urban Dance Ensemble, Yukon’s Soir de Semaine and Dakhka khwaan Dancers.

The show also featured a live video link to that night’s medal ceremonies and ended with a concert performance by UK’s Sterephonics at BC Place.

“I can’t believe the energy in the Yukon Day – my heart is full and I’m so proud of our territory and our people,” said Darius Elias, MLA for Old Crow. “To put our culture and the way that we live as Yukoners, and our kind and friendly demeanor, our land, our water, our wildlife, our business, to put that on the world stage and share with the Olympic family … is a phenomenal experience.

“I just can’t put into words how proud I am of our territory and our beautiful people.

“I’m telling you this, Yukon Day will go down in Olympic history as one of the best days and I’m just so proud to be a Yukoner.”

Showcasing the Yukon on the world stage did not come cheaply. To acquire its own day at the Games and participate in the Cultural Olympiad, the Yukon joined VANOC’s Contributing Province/Territory Program in September 2008 at the cost of $166,667. The Yukon was the fifth province or territory to join the program that later saw every province and territory in Canada except New Brunswick.

However, the bulk of investment came in the costs of transporting Yukon artists and performers to Vancouver, housing them and preparing venues, at an estimated cost of $2.6 million.

“At the end of the day there is a master plan and the master plan is to showcase Yukon as a place to do business, come visit and also a place to live,” said Taylor. “We are tracking every single media hit, story and coverage so we’ll be able to measure the return on investment. We tracking to websites (like) Travel Yukon.com, Canada’s North.com and the numbers coming through (Northern) House.”

While a planeload of Yukoners flew down to Vancouver to take in their territory’s special day, 67 national and international media and travel industry representatives travelled to the territory experience the land and culture for themselves through museum tours, the Yukon Quest banquet and outdoor activities like dog sledding, snowshoeing and ice climbing. However, for a few, the views were enough to spark a romance with the Yukon.

“I just got an e-mail from VANOC, from their official communications person, saying she had feedback from one group out of the US and their cameraman was almost weeping with joy from the visuals on the trip,” said Enright.

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Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com