Vancouver 2010 – A Community Affair

The "must have" gloves

Like most Vancouverites, Mark and I got swept up in Olympics fever late.  (Many were very angry at the cost British Columbians would have to bear for no anticipated benefits. Some left town for warmer climes, not wanting to deal with the crowds, noise, and traffic disruptions; others protested the opening and closing ceremonies; still others set up a tent city to highlight the additional homelessness caused by landlords evicting tenants in order to charge exorbitant rents to Olympics visitors. Most were disappointed at not being able to get tickets or were just apathetic.) I was unaware of the first two rounds of ticket lotteries, and never got out of the virtual “waiting room” on the third, largest, and final round.  We were far enough removed from the venues that we would not be affected.  After all, what did it matter if you were watching the Games on TV in the host city or a continent away?  Only… we didn’t have a TV…

It wasn’t until a friend, an Olympics veteran (Salt Lake City, Nagano, Los Angeles) from Southern California, rounded up another mutual friend from the SF Bay Area (also a Winter Olympics veteran – her brother and sister were on U.S. Alpine Ski teams) and landed in Vancouver with flags (Canadian and U.S.), a lanyard, pins, venue maps, a program of events, and a cowbell, that we were dragged into the spirit of the Games.  From the initial participation at the torch ceremony on 11 February at LiveCity Yaletown until the closing ceremony, our lives revolved around the Games.  By the second day, after our friends had gone, we figured out that CTV had live streaming of all the events, from start to finish, in French and English.  We hooked up a projector to Mark’s computer, and set up a couch and side tables in front of the projection wall.  This is where we lived and ate until the evening of 28 February. Like our Wall Street brethren, we even got attached to the Canadian curling teams. (Ok, ok, and the Norwegian men’s curling pants.)

It wasn’t until the Games were over that I got to read about some of the more interesting aspects of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.  (Yes, I was trolling the Olympics sites in withdrawal.)  My favorites?  Just Beginnings Flowers, a non-profit organization working with marginalized women (ex-prisoners, sex workers, victims of abuse) was contracted, along with Margitta Flowers, to make the 1800 bouquets of flowers handed out to Olympic medalists.  The wood for the podiums was donated by different communities throughout British Columbia.  And, the Podiums and medal trays were assembled by at-risk youth and recent immigrants trained by Rona, a distributor and retailer of hardware, renovation and gardening products.

In fact, these Games were not just Vancouver’s, they were Canada’s Games.  Community participation started with the torch relay across Canada – the longest domestic torch relay in Olympics history, covering 45,000 km and involving 12,000 torchbearers over 106 days.  Starting in Victoria, Vancouver Island, where the final leg of the flame’s journey from Greece was carried in a First Nations canoe in a miner’s lantern, the torch touched over 1,000 communities from coast to coast to coast, including Alert, Nunavut, the northernmost permanently inhabited community in the world, carried by canoe, dragon boat, handrail, Skyride, on skates, skis, snowboard, skidoo, bobsled, snowshoe, snow plough, (you think there’s a lot of snow in Canada?) bicycle, motorcycle, horse, firetruck, …

Free Celebration sites were set up in every city.  In the Greater Vancouver area alone, there were Celebration sites in Richmond, West Vancouver (site of the freestyle skiing and snowboard events on Cypress Mountain), North Vancouver, Surrey, Port Coquitlam, and Whistler.  In Vancouver, there were two LiveCity sites, the Aboriginal Pavilion, as well as numerous pavilions representing every province and territory in Canada.  Of the other countries, Russky Dom, House of Switzerland, and Slovak House were the most popular. And, every community center in Vancouver was given a 50”plasma screen TVs so that they could host viewings of events in their “community living rooms.”

Most impressive of all, the Cultural Olympiad, with free and ticketed art, music, drama and dance performances throughout the Greater Vancouver area, showcased Canadian and international performers for night after night of festivities. This three-year initiative, which started in 2008, extends through the Paralympics.

So yes, Vancouverites finally got over themselves and had a great time.  Over 150,000 people gathered every night in Robson Square, in downtown Vancouver.  LiveCity sites were filled to capacity every night.   And through it all, people were friendly and celebrative.  Buses flashed “Go Canada Go” in alternate displays with their routes.  Bus drivers let visitors and revelers ride free.  People used mass transit. Cars sported a maple leaf flag, or two, or four.  Homes and businesses were decorated with lights, flags and posters.  And they are still.


1 Response to “Vancouver 2010 – A Community Affair”

  1. 1 Trishna April 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    That’s pretty awesome to hear how so many local community groups were engaged instead of being excluded from the happenings of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. So far, it feels like London’s heading in the other direction with community groups being largely ignored or “used” for marketing purposes when needed, but not being truly invited to become engaged with the happenings. I work in the borough that’s hosting the Olympics (we have a centre that’s only a 10 minute walk away from the main stadium) and from what I’ve heard so far, local people feel really let down by the lack of initiative the Olympic committees have shown in interfacing with and just simply communicating to the local people in this area. Let’s see if anything changes over the next 12-18 months… I hope so 🙂

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