Whitehorse city council could sign on to potentially co-host the 2027 Canada Winter Games with the Yukon government as early as next week.
At council’s Sept. 20 meeting, members were presented with a recommendation to approve proceeding with the bid to host the Games; that it advance the budgets associated with hosting the Games through the capital budget process; and that the mayor be authorized to sign the memorandum of understanding to co-host the Games.
While the bid committee will submit the bid Sept. 23, it is contingent on the city’s approval with council to vote on that at its next meeting Sept. 26.
Outlining the plans
Krista Mroz, the city’s acting manager of community services, brought forward the recommendation. Piers McDonald, chair of the Whitehorse bid committee, and Marie Cairns, director of the territory’s sport and recreation branch, also addressed council on the Games bid.
“It’s a rare national opportunity,” McDonald said in answering questions posed by city council members.
He acknowledged the Games would be a workout for the community in terms of financial commitments, volunteerism and more, while also noting it would bring significant benefits to the city and territory.
The national sporting event would see 22 winter sport competitions held over a two-week period in February 2027. The event has been traditionally held 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.
As McDonald outlined, the vision for the proposed Whitehorse/Yukon Games is focused on reconciliation with Arctic Sports and Dene Games proposed as part of the recognized sports program, the creation of a $1-million trust fund post-Games aimed at promoting and supporting Indigenous sports and athletes, and a cultural festival that would highlight the Yukon’s First Nations cultures to the rest of the country.
Costs and impacts
The bid package also puts forward plans to build the athlete’s village at Yukon University, estimated between $60 and $70 million, with the units to then be converted to student housing. The bid committee has pointed to the project as one way to help address the housing crisis in Whitehorse and provide affordable housing.
Along with required facility upgrades to existing buildings that will be used for the competition, it’s anticipated a new estimated $115-million arena complex at the same site of Takhini Arena will be needed. It would include two rinks with the capacity to host the opening and closing ceremonies.
Mroz later stated the arena facility would be anticipated to cost about $800,000 a year to operate and it would have a 40-year life cycle.
When the construction of the arena complex is underway, McDonald suggested a temporary outdoor covered rink could be built to accommodate users who would lose the Takhini space. While the cost of an outdoor rink would ultimately depend on exactly where and what is built, McDonald suggested the cost may be in the $1 to $2 million range.
The operating budget for the Games is estimated at more than $37 million - up to $38.6 million with contingencies, according to the report that went to council - while the capital budget is an estimated $9 million. Capital expenses would include things like sports equipment, athlete’s beds, refurbishing of existing facilities for the Games and other items needed.
The operating budget would see the federal government contributed $13.7 million and the Yukon government put in $8.1 million with another $1.2 million coming for tickets and merchandise sales. The remaining $15.4 million is anticipated to come from sponsorships, fundraising, Yukon Lotteries and in-kind services.
Meanwhile on the capital front, it’s anticipated the city, territory and federal government would each contribute $3 million.
It’s anticipated the Games would generate between $80 and $110 million in economic spending, bringing more than 3,600 athletes, coaches, families and others to the territory.
Highlighting that the city and territory would act as co-hosts for the multi-sport event, Mroz outlined the memorandum of understanding the two governments would sign should the plans for the Games move forward.
“The city and Yukon Government recognize that trust is the foundation of relationships and that a commitment to planning, investing time and providing opportunities for engagement at all levels is critical to the success of the Games,” Mroz said. “As such, the MOU outlines the values, principles, and approach to the Games, anticipated contributions from each government, and demonstrated support for the host society. The co-hosts are considered equal partners in media events, public communications, and engagement with representatives of the Canada Games Council and other partners. The MOU should be reviewed annually to ensure continued alignment with its intent.”
In the more than one hour discussion that followed the presentation, councillors raised questions and sought out more details on everything from the legacy of the Games to the costs, budgets projected as well as the impact of current situations like labour shortages and extended timelines to get construction materials.
McDonald acknowledged the Games will not be without challenges, though he emphasized that he believes the ambitious targets set out are achievable.
Among the bigger challenges will be ensuring new facilities are ready in early 2026 to meet the requirement that a large test event be hosted at any new facilities. If construction is not started next year on facilities, like the arena, then there could be significant challenges, he said.
Speaking to the legacy of the Games, McDonald said such events have a legacy that go beyond the obvious facilities that are built, such as the Canada Games Centre and housing that was built for the 2007 Games.
“One of the reasons why I volunteered in 2007 and previously in Arctic Winter Games and volunteer for the bid committee was that I’ve seen the Games being transformational,” he said. “I mean that from an array of a variety of different perspectives. Certainly the athletes - to compete on their own home turf is life changing. Certainly for all the athletes that I’ve spoken to, for them to perform and make their community proud and make themselves proud is a great accomplishment.
“I found also that the organization of hosting the Games changes a community like this.”
He described the Games as an event that brings a wide variety of people together “because if they don’t work together there won’t be the success that the Games requires or there won’t be the results that we all expect.”
Council will vote whether to move forward with the bid Sept. 26. If the bid goes ahead, the Canada Games Council is anticipated to be in Whitehorse in October ahead of making a decision in November.
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