By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
When the Manitoba Games powered by Manitoba Hydro are in town, the energy in the community skyrockets.
For the week of the games, thousands of athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers, and their family and friends from all corners of Manitoba pour into town.
They participate in and watch competitions at the sport venues. Many eat at local restaurants, shop at local stores, and stay in local hotels. They also check out the sites and discover the charm and amenities of the host and its surrounding areas.
As a host, it’s incredible to see an economic boost and experience an elevated community spirit.
While the excitement certainly comes to a peak during the Games, the impact of hosting is felt beyond the event itself, in the years leading up to and following the Games.
For example, the physical legacies, like a new baseball diamond, trail system, or upgrades to locker rooms.
There’s also the less tangible legacies, like seeing a volunteer movement in your hometown and building lasting friendships through working together to run Manitoba’s largest multi-sport event. Or, introducing Manitobans to your community, which for many, draws them in to return in the future.
Dauphin hosted the 2004 Summer Games and is set to host again in 2024.
Co-Chairs Clayton Swanton and Carla Wolfenden both saw the impact the ‘04 games had in Dauphin, making their role extra thrilling in preparation for the next event.
“For me it’s really the legacy piece from 2004 that spurred me on to become involved for the 2020—now the 2024—Games,” said Clayton.
Jim Steiner, Co-Chair of the 2004 Manitoba Games and Carla’s dad, said their venues were lacking, and the ones that did exist were scattered. The Games gave them a chance to fix that.
For example, updated baseball diamonds, soccer venues, and a new rugby pitch.
“We also developed a running track at the high school along with a couple more diamonds for high school ball,” said Jim.
Carla said a major legacy from ‘04 is they will be able to host again without nearly as much major venue improvement, outside of re-doing their track for athletics.
“They did the bulk of capital improvements [the first time they hosted the Games]. A lot of ours were small touch-ups, just from age, because it will be 20 years,” said Carla.
She said there was some initial opposition when looking at costs related to hosting in 2004, which have since proven to be of benefit to residents and visitors.
“Once it was here, people realized ‘Wow, we really needed this’ and ‘Look what it’s doing for our community’. It’s a positive snowball effect. You build it, they will come. People will get more active and you can further enhance your facilities, because more people are using them. There’s a lot of intangible benefits from big events and from the Games in particular,” said Carla.
But one project that was far from small was Northgate trails: 26 km of mountain bike trail spread out over 720 acres.
“Without the Games, we wouldn’t be able to leverage the funds that we did in order to pull off what we did. I think 100 per cent, without the Games coming to Dauphin, Northgate would not exist today and probably wouldn’t even been dreamt up,” said Clayton.
The initial requirement for hosting the Games was four to five km of trail, but that took on a life of its own. It even formed an additional committee separate from the Games to manage the creation of the brand new trail.
Northgate’s legacy will be completely community-changing.
“[It’s] a year-round tourism destination tied to active living, because we’re so close to [Riding Mountain National Park],” said Clayton.
When visitors head to Dauphin to watch the athletes on the mountain bike trails, or spend a weekend trying them out themselves, it can be a major attraction to come back to see.
“People can work from anywhere these days, so if you offer the right amenities and the right quality of life, they may choose to live and work in your town just because of that.”
Another repeat host city is Thompson. The hub of the North hosted the Winter Games in both 1994 and 2018.
Dennis Fenske, Mayor of the City of Thompson during the 2018 Games, said it was a pick-me-up for the city that was then undergoing challenges as a result of a downturn of the mining industry.
And although they had only 18 months compared to the usual 24-month cycle to prepare, it was a very positive event to inspire and energize the community, especially the youth.
“As a result of that, it really invigorated the community to step up and show that Thompson, the surrounding region, and First Nations communities could adapt to this, even given the short time frame, and do well with it,” said Dennis. “I have to give a lot of credit to the two Co-Chairs that we selected, Murray Kissick and Sandra Ross-Hitch.”
“In regards to the physical aspects, as in ’94, there were improvements around the community—physical improvements—all in total around $425,000 of investment in various areas,” said Dennis.
Things like bleachers and arena updates, and investments in the Norplex pool. The high schools and local elementary schools also had shower and change room improvements.
Local sports also saw a positive impact. One outstanding example is wrestling.
“With wrestling as part of the 2018 Games, it spurred a new club and new organizations, and new mats were purchased,” said Dennis.
Economic Impact Studies
In terms of quantifying the economic impact, Sport Manitoba and the host communities worked with the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance’s Sport Tourism Economic Assessment Model (STEAM Pro 2.0) to generate economic impact studies for both the 2016 and 2018 Manitoba Games.
These studies measure the positive effects that events have on economic activity in a specific region. They first calculate the amount of new money being spent in the host community as a direct result of holding the event, and then the impact these new monies have on the regional, provincial, and national economy as a whole.
The 2016 Summer Games in Steinbach generated $2.6 million in economic activity in Manitoba, including a $1.5 million boost to provincial GDP and $660,000 in visitor spending.
The 2018 Winter Games in Thompson generated $1.7 million in economic activity in Manitoba including a $591,696 boost to provincial GDP and $859,000 in direct spending.
And while these studies weren’t conducted for Dauphin in ’04, Jim remembers a boost throughout the city.
“It was so obvious with the number of people coming to town to cheer on the athletes, you know, places like gas stations, motels, restaurants — they all spiked in activity. And not to mention retail outlets in town, we have a mall that I’m sure saw an increase in sales. It was a great weekend, and the weather was great so it brought a lot of people in,” said Jim.
Sense of Community & Volunteerism
The Games buzz, including new friendships and connections among residents and visitors, is another lasting legacy.
Jim said the generosity he saw between volunteers, locals, and businesses taking pride in the community was amazing to see.
One family, the Muchinsky family, even donated $10,000 toward the development of a baseball diamond.
“We encouraged people to come back up here again after the Games and I think a lot did. They wouldn’t have been up here otherwise, so it gave them some exposure to us,” said Jim.
The 2018 Games brought in new visitors to Thompson, too.
“It was really nice to see those interviews conducted through the economic impact survey and to hear the comments, [such as] ‘I never knew this existed’, ‘So surprised at what we saw’, ‘Really impressed with the friendliness of the community’, things like that really helped boost the morale in Thompson,” said Dennis.
“And it was really nice to see the First Nation and Métis heritage celebrated in our community and experienced by not only those visitors from the south, but also residents of the north.”
Plus, the many outdoor attractions.
“You could leave your door in Thompson, and be on a lake fishing in 20 minutes. People pay thousands of dollars for that experience, and it’s in our backyard.”
He said young people were integral to volunteerism in 2018.
“My generation, we’re now the mentors and we needed to recruit new volunteers. So we had a real growth of volunteerism. For instance, my youngest daughter became a part of the medical team, she was a nurse at the time. Her generation really stepped up. The legacy of volunteerism continued.”
Watch the video below for a highlight of the Manitoba Games powered by Manitoba Hydro in Thompson, Manitoba.
When it was announced Dauphin would be hosting again, Carla, who was a spectator at the ‘04 Games, said people were excited, because they remembered how much fun it was the last time around.
“[It was] a lot of work, but the environment and the buzz it created in town, I think people realized what a big event can do,” said Carla.
“When you put in that time and when you give back to your community, it gives such a sense of pride to be able to say that you were a part of that project and to see those things to fruition,” said Clayton.
Future Host Cities
“[To] anyone that’s interested in hosting the Games, it may seem overwhelming when you first look at it –[thousands] of athletes, [coaches, officials, and volunteers] over seven days– it doesn’t have to be that intimidating,” said Dennis.
It’s all broken down into manageable chunks and timelines.
When preparing for Dauphin, Carla recalls how exciting it was to go to Thompson and see how they ran the Games.
“I really liked the transfer of knowledge sessions. We probably got the most benefit out of those out of anything, talking to people who are in the throes of a crazy event telling you, ‘Strongly recommend you do this, and ‘Strongly recommend you don’t do that’. That was really helpful and we used that to guide a lot of our decision-making, and we tailored it to Dauphin and our situation.”
It’s all about creating the greatest experience possible for Manitobans, and that means adapting as time goes on.
“My experience has been that Sport Manitoba isn’t just resting on their laurels saying ‘We’ve got it figured out, don’t try anything new’. They’re very open to discussions about ‘What do you think you can do to improve the process?’ and implementing those and moving it forward,” said Clayton.
To learn more about hosting a future edition of the Manitoba Games, visit our website.