Piers McDonald, chair of the 2027 Canada Winter Games bid committee, highlights potential plans for the Games at a Sept. 14 press conference. Whitehorse city council and the Yukon government will be deciding whether to move forward with the plans in the coming weeks. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Piers McDonald, chair of the 2027 Canada Winter Games bid committee, highlights potential plans for the Games at a Sept. 14 press conference. Whitehorse city council and the Yukon government will be deciding whether to move forward with the plans in the coming weeks. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

2027 Canada Winter Games bid pitches $37M for housing complex, new Takhini arena

Commitments sought from city, Yukon government

The question of whether the 2027 Canada Winter Games should come to Whitehorse will take another step forward in the coming weeks.

A review package has been submitted to the co-hosting territorial and municipal governments before it’s sent to the Canada Games Council on Sept. 23.

The national sporting event will see more than 20 winter sport competitions held over a two-week period in February 2027. The event has been traditionally hosted every four years (with the exception of COVID-19) with the next Winter Games scheduled to begin Feb. 18 in Prince Edward Island. The Canada Summer Games are also traditionally held every four years, with the winter and summer events alternating every two years.

At a Sept. 14 press conference, Whitehorse bid committee chair Piers McDonald announced the bid committee for the 2027 Winter Games is confirming commitments from the city and territory before submitting the comprehensive community information review package to the Canada Games Council.

Council will be presented with the package at its next meeting Sept. 20, with the Yukon government set to also make a decision within the next week.

As McDonald explained, the package lays out the full vision for the Games.

That vision is focused on reconciliation, McDonald said, highlighting a recommendation to include Arctic Sports and Dene Games as part of the recognized sports program, the creation of a $1-million trust fund post-Games to promote and support Indigenous sports and athletes, and a cultural festival that would highlight the Yukon’s First Nations cultures to the rest of the country.

Also outlined in the package are plans to build the athlete’s village at Yukon University, as was the case for the 2007 Canada Winter Games that were hosted in Whitehorse. The units would be converted to student housing after the Games.

The 2007 Games resulted in a residence for student housing and a seniors residence on the site that was then Yukon College.

It’s anticipated the 2027 village would create more affordable student housing options in the city with McDonald describing it as “one step” to help address the need for more affordable housing in the community. He pointed out without units being built at the university, students would be looking off-site for housing, contributing further to the demand around Whitehorse.

Exactly how many units could be created is not yet known as that will ultimately depend on the final design, McDonald said.

While a number of sites around Whitehorse were considered for the athlete’s village, Yukon University was selected as it also met requirements for a large commercial kitchen, seating areas for meals and other spaces needed.

“The athlete’s village is more than housing,” McDonald said.

The package also outlines a new 3,000-square-foot arena built on the same property as Takhini Arena with further plans to see Takhini Arena brought down and a new ice surface built on that spot or Takhini Arena renovated. The two arenas could be attached. The new structure would also serve as the site for the opening and closing ceremonies as well as ice events throughout the Games.

“This would be a major legacy piece for the Games,” McDonald said of the estimated $115-million project.

One event is planned to be hosted in Fort St. John, British Columbia, which has an indoor long track speed skating oval, ensuring it can happen inside. When the Games were hosted in Whitehorse in 2007 an outdoor oval was constructed for long track speed skating, which had to be rescheduled as temperatures dipped below -40 C.

McDonald emphasized efforts would be made to ensure the long track speed skaters are part of the Yukon events with the athletes set to attend the opening or closing ceremonies (depending on the week their event is hosted) and be in Whitehorse after their event is held to cheer on their fellow athletes in other sports.

In addition to the price tags on the new arena and athlete’s village, it’s anticipated the Games will cost $37 million to operate (an amount that’s based on the costs of recent Games, local pricing and other factors). The federal government is anticipated to cover $13.7 million of that with $8.6 million coming from the territory. The remainder would be raised by the host society – which would be formed should the city and territory be awarded the Games – through sponsorship, ticket sales, merchandise and more.

A further $9 million in capital costs are also expected to go to efforts like refurbishing facilities for the Games, sport equipment, athlete’s beds and other items needed. The City of Whitehorse, Yukon government and federal government would each provide $3 million towards the capital costs.

It’s anticipated the Games would generate between $80 million to $110 million in economic spending, bringing more than 3,600 athletes, coaches, families and others to the territory for the event.

“The Yukon is eager and ready to host this truly pan-Canadian event,” McDonald said. “Our overall approach was to build a bid that focuses on the values of reconciliation, connection and resilience and ensures significant infrastructure, economic and social benefits. Whitehorse hosted the 2007 Canada Winter Games and many Yukoners continue to use the legacy infrastructure of those Games. We are confident if Whitehorse wins this bid, the territory will again enjoy similar transformative legacies.”

While Whitehorse city council and the Yukon government will ultimately decide whether to commit to the spending, McDonald and John Glynn-Morris, who sits on the bid committee and was also on-hand for the press conference, argued it is an investment worth making.

It’s about celebrating, investing in and empowering young Canadians. It can bring the country and host community together and contribute to the national fabric, Glynn-Morris said.

“That’s always a worthy, worthy investment,” he commented, later pointing out that while he wasn’t living in Whitehorse in 2007, as a current resident he continues to benefit from the legacies left from the 2007 Games.

Having the physical infrastructure that come with the Games – the Canada Games Centre, for example – can also serve as a draw for potential professionals – doctors, teachers, and others – who are considering moving to the Yukon.

In a Sept. 15 joint statement, the city and territory said they would work together to “review the proposal in detail and determine the best way forward to realize the Canada Winter Games in the Yukon.”

The two governments went on to congratulate and thank the bid committee for their work.

“The Canada Winter Games are an opportunity to show our support for Canada’s top athletes and put Whitehorse on the national stage,” Mayor Laura Cabott said. “This proposal breaks down the economic, community, and social benefits of the Games and why Whitehorse would make a great host city. On behalf of residents, I want to thank the bid committee, and the Chair Piers McDonald for all their work and I look forward to considering this proposal to bring these games to life.”

Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said he was particularly impressed with the focus on long-term legacies for the territory.

“I now look forward to the council’s review and to working with the federal government on ensuring we can make this bold vision a reality,” he said.

The Canada Games Council is set to visit the territory in October should the bid move forward.

It’s expected a decision by the council on the bid will be made in November.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com