Three years ago, I received a call during a gym session. I didn't recognize the number, but the area code was 902, PEI or Nova Scotia. It might not always be the best approach, but I answer some less suspicious unknown numbers. Answering some of those calls have led to some unique experiences that I might have missed otherwise, but I have never taken a cruise yet. That phone call was an invitation to sit on the Board of Directors of the 2023 Canada Winter Games Host Society. This was fitting because only a few weeks before, I had thought about different ways I wanted to be involved in the Canada Winter Games returning to the Island in 2023 since their last Winter visit was in 1991. I have never had the privilege to compete at the Canada Games—unfortunate timing. However, I greatly respect what the Canada Games strive for and accomplish. My brother attended two Games, the Summer 2009 Games at home on the Island and the following Winter in 2011 in Halifax. The Canada Games are a unique part the of the Canadian sporting culture. Many of the country's greatest sports superstars, Olympic or Paralympic medalists have had their 'Games' experience start at a Canada Games, hosted from coast to coast to coast.
One of the most powerful impacts of the Canada Games is bringing new and updated infrastructure to communities who otherwise might not have had other opportunities to do so. Opportunities to bring new sports to a region or open the door to hosting more significant events. For me, legacy has stood out as one of the most outstanding elements of the Canada Games. The 2023 CWG was a great example of that legacy and how the legacy would be reinvigorated for another cycle. For the Games in 1991, Biathlon was selected as a new sport added to the schedule. The sport would make its Canada Games debut as the Games came to Island for the first time. In 1991, Biathlon and Cross Country skiing venues would become the Brookvale Provincial Ski Park. (I am unsure if the Alpine in Brookvale was used for anything in the 1991 Games.)
A hidden gem many would not know about. However, maybe its true potential lay hidden beneath the surface, but the legacy endured as it should. Each Winter, the snow fell, the trails were groomed, and the targets would clink. In the Fall of 2004, that legacy allowed two brothers to try shooting. The coach was hoping he might ensnare two new biathletes. Well… he sure did! Over the next few years, Brookvale became a second home, not that their first home was far. It was only a few kilometres away, closer as the crow flies than it was to drive around to get to the venue. Biathlon on the Island was a sport where you knew pretty much everyone involved (and that is not an Islander joke; it was small). The brothers loved this sport, and they would not have had that opportunity if it was not for the legacy of the 1991 Canada Winter Games. That winter of 2005, they began their competitive Biathlon careers; forget the spark; the blazing passion was already raging. Two years later, those two and a third teammate earned what was believed to be the Island's first-ever national Biathlon medal at the 2007 Cadet Biathlon Nationals in Whitehorse (coincidently hosted the 2007 Canada Winter Games the two weeks prior).
Brookvale's legacy may have been hidden by most, but to a few, it was a pivotal part of their lives. Those two brothers went on… I did not mention their names; the brothers were Menno and Mark. Arendz. Both have competed internationally, representing Canada and earned multiple national medals each. And much more. Oh, and that is not the only family to do so. Over the following few years, a handful of biathletes from PEI have competed for Canada internationally and or earned medals at nationals.
In March 2018, I answered another one of those unknown private numbers. This time, the at-the-time Premier of Prince Edward Island was on the other end. I was visiting the Island after the astonishing PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. That evening I learned there were plans to bestow an honour I would never have imagined; the ski park would be renamed the Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park in Brookvale. Writing it is almost as bad as saying it. It is still strange, whether thinking, speaking, or seeing it. Fast forward to 2023. I had to get over it, and quickly. The Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park, I like calling it MAPS (a cool Games venue code or something). Leading up to the 2023 CWG, Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park had received millions in upgrades to prepare it to host many events over the two weeks of the CWG. One of the busiest venues of the Games hosting, Biathlon and Cross Country skiing, along with Para-Nordic events in alternating weeks. Freestyle events like Aerials, Big Air and Slopestyle. Snowboard, Big Air, Slopestyle, and Snow Cross were all held in my little park.
For many reasons, I was beyond excited to be a part of the 2023 Canada Winter
Games. I hoped the experience the athletes would have might be the catalyst for some to strive to become Canada's next best athletes. It is the peak for others, but I wanted everyone
athlete, staff, and volunteer to feel part of a special moment. I was anxious to see the venues dressed up and set to shine as best they could. The CWG represented an opportunity for their potential to shine again, maybe even spark greatness. Spending an evening under the Brookvale Alpine lights brought back memories of much time spent there. Moreover, at the same time, I am standing there watching Freestyle athletes perform. Who ever thought we would have Aerials in Brookvale? When I skied there, I always thought it could be more, to include more, like a Snow or Ski cross course. Not a mega one but a good one; I always thought it could be a possibility. Sure enough, on the other side of the venue, the mounds of snow were ready to be cut and chiselled for the cross course. These things create the magical possibilities that are part of the Canada Games.