The visiting and local athletes were given a rousing welcome to Kelowna to mark the official opening of the 5th Winter International Children’s Games.
The opening ceremonies, held at Prospera Place, featured both speeches from various political dignitaries and performances from several local dance groups, singers and musicians.
Some 470 athletes representing 38 cities from 13 countries were ushered in to the arena before a packed house of appreciative supporters.
Included in the parade of cities were teams from West Kelowna, Kelowna, Lake Country, Penticton and the Westbank First Nation.
Other Canadian communities represented included Abbotsford, Canmore, Chetwynd, Coquitlam, Fort Simpson, Kamloops, Strathmore, Surrey, Vancouver, Waterloo, Whitehorse and Windsor.
The other countries with multiple city representation were Slovenia (Celje, Gorje, Maribor), Switzerland (Lausanne, Montreux and Vevey), Australia (Maroondah and Woollahra) and the U.S. (Cleveland and Chesterfield).
Other cities competing at the ICG are Darmstadt (Germany), Patras (Greece), Reykjavik (Iceland), Innsbruck (Austria), Kaunas City (Lithuania), Seoul (South Korea).
Team Kelowna has the largest single contingent with 69 athletes and 19 coaches.
In her remarks, Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd acknowledged the vision of Bob Sugden, who she said “got the ball rolling” on the idea of Kelowna hosting the event, the organizing committee headed by Heather Schneider, the contribution of City of Kelowna staff members Jim Gabriel and Don Bachmeyer, and the help of local Rotary Clubs to cover the cost of the opening ceremonies.
“I wish you all a warm welcome,” said Shepherd to the athletes assembled on the Prospera Place arena floor, saving a special ‘go Team Kelowna cheer’ at the end of her speech.
Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson said the ICG was a great opportunity to showcase Kelowna to people from around the world, echoing the same theme as Vancouver did as host for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“This will be an experience of a lifetime, ” he said to the participating athletes. “You will meet new people, see new places and enjoy competing in our various sports.”
Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan, suffering from a case of laryngitis, was unable to speak but passed along greetings from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Among those performing at the opening ceremonies included the dance company MOVE , the Westbank Pow Wow drummers and dancers, singer Rachel Pavlakovic, violinists Colleen and Alicia Venables, the Canadian Ballet Company, Bumpershoot, Mission Dance Centre and the Wentworth Music band.
The blessing was also given by WFN elder Mary Eli, who was presented with the gift of tobacco from the organizing committee, a First Nations symbol of peace and respect .
The Canadian flag was also ushered in by Kelowna RCMP detachment members Staff Sgt. Allan Dengis, Const. Brenda Daly, Const. Mike Dunn, Const. Steve Holmes, Corp. Amanda Jones, Const. Karla Kincade and Sgt. Ann Morrison. They were joined by two local cadets—Jamielyn Peterson and Brandon Jeberg.
The ceremonies concluded with the symbolic lighting of the ICG torch by Kelowna athletes speed skater Mitchell McCullough and figure skater Monika Randall.
The International Children’s Games events will get underway in Kelowna and at Big White Ski Resort on Friday and wrap up on Sunday, with the closing ceremonies Sunday, 5 p.m., at the Delta Grand Hotel.