Officials cut the ceremonial ribbon at the Walker Sports and Abilities Centre on April 22. BROCK UNIVERSITY

Walker Sports and Abilities Centre has huge “wow factor”

The 28th edition of the Canada Summer Games is scheduled from August 6 to 21 in Niagara, and with fewer than 100 days until the competition commences, the grand opening of the newly minted Walker Sport and Abilities Centre, at the corner of Merrittville Highway and Sir Isaac Brock Way, took place on Friday, April 22. It was followed up with an unveiling ceremony of the Games’ medal design, in a ceremony at Ravine Winery in St. David’s on April 28.

It is the first time in 21 years that an Ontario community has hosted the competition.

The Games’ objective is to develop young athletes (and para-athletes) from across the country in a variety of sports. They take place every two years, alternating between summer and winter seasons. Some 5,000 competitors from all provinces and territories are expected, competing in 18 different sports. Rugby Sevens will have its inaugural appearance at the Games, and Canada’s national summer sport, lacrosse, returns after an absence of almost four decades.

Brock University will serve as the Athletes Village for the two weeks of competition.

In addition to providing an opportunity for the local community to showcase itself, the Games leave infrastructure for future use, facilitating new builds and improvements to existing sports facilities. The Royal Canadian Henley Rowing Course in St. Catharines, the Welland Baseball Stadium, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Tennis Club are all receiving upgrades for the Games.

The crown gem of the infrastructure injection is the Canada Games Park and the 200,000-square-foot Walker Sports and Abilities Centre, which includes a sport performance unit, a health and well-being unit, two NHL-size ice surfaces, a 200-metre indoor track, sport offices, and a multipurpose field house featuring a parasport gymnasium and a combative sport centre. The Canada Games Park features six beach volleyball courts, a cycling and storage pavilion, and a 400-metre track-and-field facility.

ASM Global has been hired by the Canada Games Park Consortium to manage the day-to-day operations of Canada Games Park and the Walker Sports and Abilities Centre.

The Walker Family of Niagara earned naming rights for the complex with their $3 million contribution. Additional funding of the $102 million dollar project came from the federal and provincial governments, Niagara Region, the cities of Thorold and St. Catharines, and Brock University.

Unlike the Olympic Games, the Canada Games are a money-maker for the host community. The average Olympic Games since 1960 went 156 per cent over budget. Given these huge cost overruns, Olympic hosts lose millions, if not billions, and fail to achieve a return on investment. But the Canada Games are considered a major driver for economic growth, according to their promoters.

The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) reported that the average Canada Games creates $116 million in total economic activity, with $98 million of that being local. They create an average of 800 new local jobs, paying $28 million in local wages and $1.9 million in local municipal taxes. Niagara Regional government expects that the Games will have an economic impact of as much as $240 million, with support for 1,500 jobs and $76 million paid out in wages. Much of this money will go into the tourism sector.

It takes 4500 volunteers to staff the Games, and at present, 3200 spots have been filled. Those interested may apply for positions at [email protected] Applicant must be at least 16 years old and fully vaccinated against Covid.

Niagara College graduate Shaun O’Melia eclipsed more than 45 submissions to win the commemorative medal design competition. 2000 of the gold, silver, and bronze medals will be presented to athletes at the games. O’Melia, who specializing in branding and illustration, and owns a successful creative design company, earned $2,000 as the design winner.

The quality of the materials and the interior finish, and the sheer magnitude of the build, leaves you awe-struck

The medals incorporate five key features, including iconic Niagara Falls. O’Melia design includes 13 waves representing Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, as well as Niagara’s municipalities, and the ceremonies of the moon celebrated by the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples who historically occupied Niagara. The medal lanyard is inspired from historic Wampum treaties, promoting friendship and unity. Teck Resources Limited of Vancouver, a mining company, manufactured the medals.

“Long after the game’s closing ceremonies, this facility will continue serve Niagara’s residents, as well as visiting athletes, providing world-class amenities and opportunities for generations,” said Regional Chair Jim Bradley. “The Walker Sports and Abilities Centre will stand as the lasting legacy of the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games, and a testament to the Region’s enduring commitment to improve the quality of life for all who call Niagara home.”

Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin was overwhelmed by the Canada Games Park and the Walker Sports and Abilities Centre, which he visited during the grand opening ceremony.

“When David [Pelham CAO Cribbs] and I walked through the new facility last week, I told him it had a huge ‘wow’ factor,” said Junkin. “The quality of the materials and the interior finish, and the sheer magnitude of the build, leaves you awe-struck. It dwarfs our MCC.”

Junkin sees the sports park as a wonderful asset that the entire region will use for a variety of sporting events, including provincial and national tournaments. He said that he expects to attend a number of competitions during the Games, and was particularly keen on track-and-field events.

“It takes what the region can offer sports-wise to a whole different level. It was unfortunate that the Canada Games were moved back a year due to the pandemic, but everybody’s ready to go now.”