August 16, 2017

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Canada Summer Games begin with grand opening spectacle

The colourful and captivating opening ceremony in the books, a few thousand Canadian athletes will wake up Saturday morning raring to go and the sporting venues will be ready for their arrival.

Four years of planning and preparations have come down to this: Let the 2017 Canada Summer Games begin.

The 17-day, multi-sport event officially kicked off Friday night as about 2,500 athletes, coaches and managers from across the country marched into Bell MTS Place for the opening ceremony. A crowd of more than 10,000, including athletes aged 22 and under proudly donning their provincial colours, took in the grand spectacle.

The first week of competition begins this morning and runs until Friday. Then, another 2,000 participants flood the city for Week 2, which runs from Aug. 7-13.

Team Manitoba marches into the Canada Games opening ceremonies at Bell MTS Place.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Team Manitoba marches into the Canada Games opening ceremonies at Bell MTS Place.

There is also a major cultural festival happening at The Forks during the 11 days of the Games -- celebrating its 50th anniversary -- and about 20,000 visitors to the Manitoba capital are expected. Gimli is hosting sailing, while Kenora is staging the rowing event.

The two-hour, 15-minute opening ceremony -- a choreographical and logistical achievement of mammoth proportions that was two years in the making -- featured about 850 performers ranging in age from nine to 89.

One of the first to arrive for the show, shephered by two members of the RCMP in full red serge, was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, walking hand in hand with his daughter, Ella-Grace. He was seated at floor level, just about where the red line would normally be for an NHL game. He shook hands, high-fived or posed for a selfie with just about every ecstatic athlete who paraded past the section of dignitaries, and later yelled passionately and with high praise to the athletes.

"Everything you do -- your drive, your determination, your engagement -- means we are in great hands," Trudeau said, to thunderous applause.

Cindy Klassen lights the cauldron.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Cindy Klassen lights the cauldron.

There were huge cheers for each and every team that entered the arena, but the arrival of Team 'Toba, naturally, generated a deafening roar, remniscent of the reaction to a tally by Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine during his rookie season.

Winnipeg rower Emma Gray, 19, who proudly carried in the provincial flag, admitted the moment was intense and emotional.

"It was a little nerve-wracking. It was over before I knew it," she said. "I didn't really know what to expect. It was kind of an out-of-body experience. It was a proud moment to lead out my province at the Games as the home province."

Team Manitoba has a contingent of about 330 competitors in 16 sports, all with their sights set on the podium. 

Co-hosts of the Games are the First Nations communities of Treaty No.1, Treaty No.3 and the Metis Nation, represented by the Manitoba Metis Federation, whose traditional lands and waters the Games are being held upon. During the opening ceremony, Elder Dave Courchene Jr., delivered a welcome prayer and Elder Grandmother Florence Payter introduced the tradition of the water ceremony.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the crowd at the opening ceremonies.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the crowd at the opening ceremonies.

Performers on the night included Serena Ryder, Bros. Landreth, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet aspirant program, a youth choir from StudioWorks, Coeur de Pirate, the Red Shadow Singers. The Prairie Voices Choir performed the national anthem while a huge Canadian flag was unfurled.

Four torch carriers came to the stage and created one flame. Trudeau shared the moment with five Canada Games alumni members -- Doreen Botterill (speed skating), Kerry Burtnyk (curling), Susan Auch (speed skating), Kaitlyn Lawes (curling) and Cindy Klassen (cycling, but better known as a world-class speed skater) -- representing 50 years of Games history.

Gray said she was blown away by the entire ceremony. "It's been overwhelming and incredibly inspiring."

As of Friday morning, about 18,400 tickets had been purchased for the sporting events: athletics, baseball, basketball, canoe/kayak, cycling, diving, golf, rowing, sailing, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, triathlon, volleyball, beach volleyball and wrestling.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Six thousand volunteers stepped up to make the Games run, ensuring visitors from all provinces and athletes, friends and family members from Manitoba are treated to a memorable two-week event, said Jeff Hnatiuk, president and CEO of the 2017 Canada Summer Games host society.

Speaking Friday afteernoon, he said the energy of the young athletes will power these Games.

"You feel their excitement .They’re on a national stage, it's national TV coverage, the opening and closing ceremonies. They’re staying in an athletes’ village. You talk to former Olympians and they’ll tell (the Canada Games) was truly their first taste of that life. It’s a unique and exciting opportunity these athletes have," Hnatiuk said.

Local fans get their first chance to cheer for Manitoba at 2 p.m. today when the male softball squad takes the field against Prince Edward Island at John Blumberg Complex on Portage Avenue, just west of the Perimeter Highway.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell.

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History

Updated on Friday, July 28, 2017 at 9:38 PM CDT: Writethrough

9:44 PM: Edits headline

July 29, 2017 at 7:22 AM: Video added.

11:20 AM: Photos changed.

12:22 PM: Slideshow added.

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