Sault Ste. Marie will host the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Winter Games.
The announcement was made early Wednesday afternoon by Tourism Sault Ste. Marie and Sault Ste. Marie Police Service officials.
Special Olympics is the charity of choice for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The games, which are held every four years on a rotating basis, will run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, 2019 and occur at roughly the same time as the 2019 Bon Soo Winter Carnival.
“It is very exciting and a great, great honour for me to tell you that Sault Ste. Marie has been selected as the host community for the Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Winter Games,” said Ian McMillan, Tourism Sault Ste. Marie executive director, addressing a packed Angelo Bumbacco Room at Essar Centre Wednesday.
The games will consist of Nordic skiing, Alpine skiing, figure skating, speed skating, curling and snowshoeing, to be held at the John Rhodes Community Centre, Essar Centre, Community First Curling Centre and Searchmont Ski Resort.
McMillan projected the games will bring together 600 volunteers, over 400 athletes and coaches and inject approximately $1 million of tourism dollars into the community.
Beginning in Jan. 2018, Sault Police Service Constable Shaun Beaulieu will be seconded to work as Games Manager, to help with administrative duties and fundraising.
“Our bid was accepted based on the technical abilities that were presented in the bid…there’s room for us to grow the Winter Games more than they’ve been, anywhere else,” Beaulieu told SooToday, adding Games officials were impressed with venues such as the Community First Curling Centre, its eight sheets of ice and its ability to include up to 24 teams, along with its seating capacity.
“It (the quality of local venues) definitely will increase the number of athletes (above the 400 projected), and it will probably also open up the availability for us to invite some athletes from Michigan to encourage that cross border partnership,” Beaulieu said.
The games will be paid for through fundraising.
“We’re going to set our fundraising goal at $500,000,” Beaulieu said, anticipating that amount will cover the cost of hosting the games.
Beaulieu said he is confident of reaching that goal, but any fundraising shortfalls will be covered by the Special Olympics head office in Toronto.
Beaulieu has been a police officer for 18 years, working with Special Olympics since 2003.
Fundraising will begin in August with Letride Superior, a fundraising motorcycle ride held yearly around the shore of Lake Superior.
Beaulieu unveiled a locally designed official logo for the 2019 games, along with its official ‘Stars Meet’ tagline.
It is anticipated, in keeping with tradition, that Beaulieu and Sault Police Service Chief Robert Keetch will accept the Games Flame of Hope torch at the end of the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Summer Games in Peel, and transport the torch to the Sault.
“I had the privilege of attending the 2015 Winter Games in North Bay and the opening ceremonies, and for those of you who haven’t been exposed to the Special Olympians and these types of events, I would really encourage you to attend,” said Chief Keetch.
“It’s quite moving to see the genuine emotion, and to see the athletes as they are paraded in for the opening ceremonies and the various competitions, they truly demonstrate what we want in people, their genuineness and their caring,” Keetch said.
“We’ve never seen a better bid, it’s a tremendous bid,” said Glenn MacDonell, Special Olympics Ontario president and CEO, praising the venues the Sault has to offer for the 2019 games.
Beaulieu officially informed the Sault Ste. Marie Police Services board in January that Tourism Sault Ste. Marie and Sault Police had submitted a bid to host the games to the Special Olympics Toronto head office.
The bid had been in the works for a year, Beaulieu told the board in January, and the board approved the bid for the games.
Beaulieu told SooToday he learned the Sault had been chosen to be the host city for the games approximately one month ago.
The last time the Sault hosted such an event was the Special Olympics Summer Games in 2001.