GRAVENHURST - Muskoka has already claimed its first victory in the 2014 Ontario Winter Games.
With the announcement last Wednesday, June 13, the combined communities of Bracebridge, Georgian Bay, Gravenhurst, Huntsville, Lake of Bays and Muskoka Lakes successfully won their bid for the games.
It will mark the second time Muskoka has hosted the games, with 2010 being such an inspirational and successful event local councils were easy to rally behind the effort.
Spearheaded by Bracebridge director of economic development Cheryl Kelley, the next step will be to create an organizing committee with representatives from each community and begin seeking out volunteers to help run what is expected to be another massive draw to the region.
“Based on how successful the 2010 games were, we’re really excited about this,” said Gravenhurst assistant economic development manager Amy Taylor, who worked hard alongside Kelley to create the bid. “There’s going to be a lot of work to come; it is a couple of years away, but the organizing has to start now to make this the best one yet.”
“Once we get the organizing committee in place, then it will be out looking for volunteers. We simply can’t do it without that volunteer support like we had last time,” Taylor added.
Meanwhile, Taylor is also starting to eye up the events that Gravenhurst can host, having already spoken for the sledge hockey games.
In total, the 2014 games will bring 25 different sports to the region from Feb. 27 until March 2. During the 2010 games, Gravenhurst hosted the opening ceremonies and an athlete’s village and Taylor said the hope is to do the same this time around.
“We’re also looking at bringing wrestling to Gravenhurst. It’s new to the games and new to us, but there’s about 140 athletes for that event alone and (it) would mean a lot to bring that here,” she said.
“We see the games as a great chance to showcase our facilities here in Gravenhurst, like the new centennial centre that’s completely accessible and really unlike anything else in Muskoka.”
Kelley said the bid committee will be meeting before the end of June to establish a selection criteria for the organizing committee, then will look to what subcommittees need to be filled as well.
“We do need to get on a lot of things,” she said. “Now the real work begins.
“Bracebridge’s focus is going to be on the sportsplex and getting as much activity there as possible,” Kelley added, saying the town will also look to host an athlete’s village and will be the primary location for administration for the games, as Bracebridge is the lead host town this time around.
“We’ve got a few sports we’re looking at bringing here, and we’d also like to look at getting one on our ice surface here too, but it will be a bit yet before we know what everyone will be hosting.”
The 2010 games in Muskoka, with Huntsville the lead host, drew more than 3,000 athletes, supporters, volunteers and officials to the region, injecting more than $1 million into the economy. Legacy funding, left behind after the games, provided thousands of dollars for local community organizations and the expectations for 2014 are no less.
“These games provide an opportunity for visitors and residents alike to see and be inspired by our athletes, while helping us to build a strong and prosperous economy,” said Michael Chan, minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. “The Muskoka region is truly a four-season destination and proven host for multi-sport events. I am confident that the community will deliver an exceptional event for Ontario athletes, coaches, fans and supporters in 2014.”
“Muskoka has a long and successful history of hosting great sporting events and we certainly look forward to these communities partnering together to host the Ontario Winter Games,” said Holly Abraham, chair of Sport Alliance Ontario, the games’ governing body.
“The Muskoka region has great community spirit and support and we are confident they will deliver an exceptional event with lasting legacies not only for the participants but for the entire community.”