Fifth from left, Pelham's own Liam Disley, 12, Youth Ambassador and flag bearer. Youth represented each of Niagara's 13 municipalities in the procession. ABE HOLSTEIN

Thousands roar support for start of event

After being postponed from 2021, for many it has been hard to get excited about the Niagara 2022 Summer Games. Of course, there’s been this little thing called a pandemic that may have gotten in the way. But Saturday’s opening ceremony at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines got the ball rolling in a big way.

The energy in the building was palpable as young athletes from each of the 13 provinces and territories paraded into the arena dressed in their team colours. These athletes are true amateurs, the best in the country at their sports, and are for the most part under 23 years old. Many of them will be Canada’s future Olympians and Paralympians, and they were thrilled to be in Niagara to take this next step on their journey.

Team Ontario, as the host province the last to enter, received the loudest response from the crowd. But seeing the many different provincial flags waving in the stands made it abundantly clear that there were people from every corner of the country right here in our region.

Once the athletes were seated on the Meridian Centre surface, the ceremony began with a performance from Indigenous drummers, led by Gary Parker. Then, 17-year-old youth Indigenous ambassador Kya Steinbach-Parker, from Fort Erie, took the Turtle Island stage to share the Haudenosaunee creation story and to reflect on the generational trauma suffered by Six Nations people.

That was followed by a powerful performance featuring Juno Award winner DJ Shub, Métis fiddler Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchukand, Kyle Burton, of the Toronto Métis Jiggers, and accomplished hoop dancer Myranda Spence.

At one point during the performance, technical difficulties silenced the sound from the musicians, and the athletes began clapping, then starting “the wave” across the arena to fill in the silence.

Though unplanned, it demonstrated the collective willpower of those gathered to start a two-week sporting event. Nothing was going to stop them from enjoying this night.

A series of dignitaries then took to the stage, beginning with Canada Games Council (CGC) Chair Evan Johnston and Olympic champion speed skater and CGC board member Catriona Le May Doan.

A giant Canadian flag was ushered along the “Welland Canal” toward the Turtle Island stage by the Fort George Foot Fife and Drum Corps, then Waterdown’s Simone Soman sang the National Anthem.

Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin greets Team Saskatchewan during Saturday’s opening ceremony. Junkin ran track and field in high school. MIKE BALSOM

With 19 venues being used across the region, it’s clear that the Canada Summer Games are meant to bring Niagara together. Each of the mayors from the region’s 12 municipalities paraded onto the floor. Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin took his place in front of Team Saskatchewan and enthusiastically waved to the crowd when he was introduced.

Niagara is hosting approximately 5,000 Canadian athletes, coaches, and support staff until August 21 for the 28th edition of the Games. These Games mark just the third occasion in the event’s 55-year history that they have been held in the province of Ontario and the first time in 21 years.

When federal Minister of Sport Pascal St-Onge officially declared the games open, the entire centre roared.

This was followed by a musical performance of “Steel Heart,” the anthem of the games sung by Toronto artist Poesy, accompanied by a group of dancers from the Brock Badgers Dance Pak.

The Roly McLenahan Torch then arrived at the Meridian Centre to complete its months-long journey, brought in by Louis Martel, CEO of Canada Steamship Lines, who was accompanied by the crew of the CSL Welland.

Martel passed the torch to Host Society chair Doug Hamilton, who in turn passed it to a group of Ridley College rowers entering the arena in a rowing shell.

Finally, 2020 Olympic gold medalist Kristen Kit, of St. Catharines, received the torch. With great enthusiasm, she stepped up to the cauldron and ignited the Canada Games flame to loud applause.

The ceremony wrapped up with two songs from St. Catharines-based country music star Tim Hicks, as aerial performers, gymnasts and dancers from the Zacada Circus School performed stunning feats all around him.

No event has brought this many people from this many provinces and territories into the Niagara region at once. The Canada Games, both winter and summer, are designed to leave a legacy in smaller communities such as Niagara. Organizers hope that the new Canada Games Park and improvements to various sporting venues across the region will have that lasting effect.