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Manitoba shines on the West Coast

Visitors stroll through pavilion in Vancouver

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VANCOUVER -- The eyes of the world have been trained on Vancouver lately, but Thursday was Manitoba's turn to share the spotlight at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

People streamed through the CentrePlace Manitoba pavilion all day, soaking up almost everything Manitoba.

"I don't miss the mosquitoes," said Chilliwack, B.C., resident Wendy Senetza. But she did miss her home province. She moved from Brandon in the 1960s when she was just 16 years old. The Manitoba pavilion gave her a rush of nostalgia for the place she left behind when she was just a high school senior.

"It's a must-see," Senetza said. "I was surprised to see it right here in the middle of downtown."

So far, the booth has seen some impressive visitors. Feminist leader Nellie McClung's granddaughter and great-grandson came by, as did descendants of Métis leader Louis Riel. MP Stockwell Day, aboriginal leader Phil Fontaine, singer Sierra Noble and several Olympic athletes have also made appearances.

Staff handed out free Manitoba pins and little plastic polar bears to anyone who could provide two facts about Manitoba.

CentrePlace Manitoba, located at the corner of Georgia and Beatty streets in downtown Vancouver, cost $2.3 million to construct. The pavilion was prefabricated in Manitoba then shipped to Vancouver for assembly. Interactive displays and a 36-screen high-definition film presentation were the hallmarks.

"It's an investment that can be reused," said Rob Kennedy, director of Culture, Heritage and Tourism. The 2,650-square-foot booth won the Vancouver Organizing Committee's Sustainability Star, because the planks for the floors and ceiling, as well as the benches, were made using trees afflicted with Dutch elm disease.

Every province except New Brunswick chose to build a pavilion and participate in the Olympics provincial theme days, with the price tag based on population. The Manitoba government paid $1.5 million to the Vancouver Olympic Committee to be included, plus an additional $2.3 million to build the booth.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Minister of State Steven Fletcher were on hand to kick off the day's festivities.

"About 60,000 people have come through here already," said Selinger. He grinned from ear to ear as he stood beside a scale model for the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is currently under construction at The Forks. "We are drawing the curious, and those not yet lucky enough to live in Manitoba."

To celebrate Manitoba, music made by the province's artists was played at sporting venues around the region Thursday. Even the athletes' village featured Manitoba films and music.

In the evening, Manitoba artists took the stage after the Victory Ceremony to award the day's medals at B.C. Place. The lineup included Doc Walker, Grand Analog, Chic Gamine, Tracy Bone and Inward Eye, with Burton Cummings as the headliner act.

But in true Prairie style, the province didn't wait until its designated day of honour to start celebrating. The party started the night before at a popular downtown live music venue called the Commodore Ballroom. The event was a Manitoba anomaly not likely seen in British Columbia before -- a social. About 900 people showed up to mingle with other Manitobans.

-- Special to the Free Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2010 A4

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