A bittersweet ceremony

‘And now, the hometown team — Yukon.” The crowd roared. Everyone stood up. And … nothing happened.

‘And now, the hometown team — Yukon.”

The crowd roared.

Everyone stood up.

And … nothing happened.

It was the Canada Winter Games closing ceremonies on Saturday night and the taped, syrupy announcer congratulated the audience on a good practice run.

The mystery voice explained the ceremonies were going be to telecast across Canada and the crowd needed to be part of the fanfare.

“Let’s hear another cheer.”

The crowd played along.

And still nothing happened.

Finally spotlights flashed across the tent, music reminiscent of Star Wars blasted from the speakers and dignitaries began to file in led by Mounties in red serge.

The bleachers in ATCO Place were packed, but the rows of silver benches down front were empty, awaiting the athletes.

Roaring in on an ATV, DJ Prhyme jumped onstage and got the wave going, but he was soon interrupted by the mystery voice announcing the first team.

Dressed in team uniforms, the athletes snaked into the place like miniature armies.

As the boom-camera swooped over the athletes, many hammed it up for national TV, giving the event a hockey-game feel.

“After these Games all of Canada will be looking at the North,” said Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Jim Prentice, sharing the podium with Sport Minister Helena Guergis.

“You are Canada’s athletes and we are so very proud of you,” added Guergis.

More cheering.

After an awkward parka ballet, complete with an axe-wielding lumberjack in bunnie boots, Premier Dennis Fentie took the stage, giving high-fives to the Yukon team on the way by as disco music pumped.

The North accepted the Games challenge, he said.

“And we met that challenge.”

Fentie was preparing to hand out the first award, honouring the most-improved team since the last Winter Games.

Silence fell in the tent.

“The 2007 Canada Winter Games Centennial Cup is awarded to much-deserving team Saskatchewan,” he boomed.

A sea of white hats and green tartan coats leapt from their seats.

“This was an amazing event,” said mayor Bev Buckway, who credited the volunteers and previously elected officials.

“We’ve heard this is the best Games ever, and Whitehorse accepts the compliment,” she said.

Buckway was there to hand out the Jack Pelech Award to the team that exhibited the best combination of sportsmanship, friendship and competition.

“And it goes to team Yukon,” she said.

The crowd erupted in applause.

“We were so proud to have the Games here,” said Yukon bronze medalist Bryn Knight, celebrating after the ceremony.

“We wanted everyone to have a good time so we stepped it up and made everyone feel welcome.”

The Yukon athletes and coaches showed a great deal of enthusiasm, said Yukon mission staff Bill Parry, discussing the award.

“But I really think the volunteers won it for us.

“They’ll be what’s remembered.”

During the Games, Parry came across volunteers who were in their 60s standing out in minus 30-degree temperatures with a wind chill.

“They were standing in the parking lot asking, “Can I help you?” he said.

“And I’m in this heated van thinking, how can I help you?”

This set the tone for these Games, said Parry.

The volunteers made it happen, said MP Larry Bagnell, sporting a beaded buckskin jacket.

“All of Canada was looking north, and this may have removed some preconceptions,” he said.

In the stands, families from across Canada watched as their children were honoured.

“I love it here,” said Saskatchewan parent Joseph Chan, who had a daughter in table tennis.

“It is much better than I expected.

“The scenery in the North is like nothing I could have imagined before I came.”

Chan plans to return.

“My daughter is already talking about coming back in the summer and going camping,” he said.

The hospitality was fantastic, added Toronto parent Wendy Porter.

“Even the bus drivers were great and dropped us off wherever we wanted to go.”

“I wasn’t expecting anything to be put on as well as it was here,” said Alberta dad Dennis Overguard.

“We’ll be back in the summer.”

As the Games’ flag was lowered, a hush fell in the tent.

Standing at attention, members of the navy tidily folded the flag.

Before presenting it to Ontario, the province with the most flag points, Canada Games Council president Sue Hylland asked the athletes to soak it all in.

“This is a defining moment in your life,” she said.

“Remember the passion.”

The disco and revelry stopped as the torch was unveiled, flaming on the stage.

Wearing her medals, Knight leaned in and lit a smaller torch, then passed it to PEI.

“This is a bittersweet duty,” said host society president Piers McDonald, watching the torch change hands.

“It’s easier to bid farewell knowing the legacy will live on,” said Yukon commissioner Geraldine van Bibber, closing the night.

Music and mayhem ensued.

Confetti rained from the big top, white blowup snowballs bounced around the room, can-can dancers went on a kissing spree and an enormous Canada flag engulfed the athletes, while Old Man Winter’s willow effigy danced with the crowd.

“We’re having a party in Whitehorse,” the ghost voice announced to the rest of Canada as glow sticks were passed out.

Milling about, the athletes didn’t want to leave.

After wearing team colours for the past two weeks, the competitors were rushing around trying to swap gear.

“Want to trade coats?” a young Manitoba girl asked team Saskatchewan mission staff.

After the swap, the two fumbled in each other’s pockets, checking for wallets and keys.

“It’s fun to wear other provinces’ clothing,” said team Ontario’s Len Valjas.

“It’s fun to go home and hang it on the wall.”