From the moment the announcement was made at MacDonald Island Park on a cold February day in 2019 that Wood Buffalo would host the Arctic Winter Games (AWG), Host Society staff, Board of Directors and committee volunteers have been busy planning to welcome 2,100 participants, coaches and officials from across the circumpolar North.
And now 32 months later, we are just over three months away from the main event!
Before we get into what you can expect from January 29 – February 4, 2023, a brief history of the Arctic Winter Games.
The AWG brings the circumpolar world together to celebrate the north through athletic competition, cultural exchange and social interaction as represented by the three interlocking rings on the International Committee’s logo. The first Games were held in Yellowknife in 1970 with 500 participants from Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska and have since grown to eight contingents and thousands of participants.
To be eligible to compete in the Arctic Winter Games, teams must be located above the 55th parallel north circle of latitude on the globe. This means contingents are coming from some of the most remote parts of the Arctic. Team Sapmi, for example, are part of the Sami people who travel with the herds of reindeer in remote areas of Norway, Sweden and Finland.
You will notice the medals will look different at the AWG. Participants are not competing for regular medals, instead, they win gold, silver and bronze ulus. In Inuktitut, ulu () means “woman’s knife” reflecting the historic use of the tool by female Inuit.
Another unique feature of the AWG is the Hodgson Trophy – named after Stuart Hodgson, former Commissioner of the Northwest Territories (NWT). At the end of the week, officials vote for a contingent whose participants best exemplify the ideals of fair play and team spirit.
There are many ways the Arctic Winter Games are unlike any other multi-sport event. The excitement and anticipation for the first AWG event since 2018 are building and now we are only months away from welcoming the NWT, Yukon, Nunavut, Alaska, Greenland, Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Northern Alberta and the Indigenous people (Sami) of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, it is full steam ahead with many exciting initiatives and events for the community.
Winter Sports with an AWG Twist
The Arctic Winter Games are unofficially known as the Olympics of North. This means you will see winter sporting events, such as figure skating, male and female hockey, snowboarding, downhill skiing and cross-country skiing, but there are traditional events that are unique to the Arctic Winter Games, such as snowshoeing, Dene Games and Arctic Sports.
The Dene Games are rooted in traditional and cultural values and feature a number of events, such as finger Pull, snowsnake, stick pull, team hand games, team pole push and an all-around event. Arctic Sports consists of events that highlight a participant’s endurance and athletic strength, such as one-foot-high kick, two-foot-high kick, Alaskan high kick, kneel jump, sled jump, triple jump, arm pull, airplane, one-hand reach, head pull and knuckle hop. Arctic Sports and Dene Games will also host an Opening Ceremonies held together at MacDonald Island Park. The event will include a traditional feast for the participants, officials and special guests.
You can watch these unique events at the Suncor Community Leisure Centre at MacDonald Island Park where you will also find male hockey, table tennis, curling and archery – which is making its Arctic Winter Games debut.
After rebuilding from the 2020 flood, Norfort Gymnastics will host gymnastics. Volleyball and futsal will be held at Syncrude Sport & Wellness Centre. There will be lots of jumps and spins at Frank Lacroix arena where ladies’ figure skating will be held. Wrestling will take over Composite High School’s gymnasium while basketball will occupy Ecole McTavish. In the Birchwood Trails, 3,5,7 km snowshoeing and cross-country ski races take place. Biathlon ski and biathlon snowshoeing are turning the Fort McMurray Golf Club into a winter venue with four events. Vista Ridge All Seasons Park will host downhill skiing and snowboarding events. Further south at the Anzac Recreation Centre, the shuttlecocks will be flying as badminton singles, doubles and mixed doubles teams go for gold. Lastly, north of Fort McMurray, speedskaters take over the Fort McKay Arena.
With 20 sports at 12 venues across Wood Buffalo, there is plenty of action and participants to cheer on.
2,000 Volunteer Opportunities
The participants may be the show but none of it would be possible without the support of volunteers. And A LOT of people are needed to make the Games a success – 2,000 to be exact!
Volunteers are the heart of the Wood Buffalo Arctic Winter Games. The energy, eagerness and commitment to the event, the participants and their community make a big impact on the overall experience.
During Games week, volunteers will be wearing standard uniforms with accreditation to make them easily identifiable at each venue. Due to the size and complexity of the event, the Games require many people to fulfill a variety of roles both before and during the Games, assisting in areas such as accommodations, food services, box office, spectator services, logistics and culture. Tasks can be anything from taking tickets or serving special guests, to the fit-out of venues. There are also sport-specific roles, including results and technical officials.
Each volunteer who works two shifts, approximately eight hours, will receive a uniform package, volunteer orientation, role-specific training, recognition at ceremonies, and an invitation to volunteer recognition events.
Don’t wait, be a part of the experience and sign up to volunteer at awg2023.org/volunteer.
Culture Takes Centre Stage
The importance of cultural exchange and social interaction at the Arctic Winter Games can be most evident in the Cultural Participants Program. Each contingent sends cultural performers to participate in a Cultural Gala. Unlike sport, instead of competing against one another, these performers work with their peers throughout the week to put together a two-night show at Keyano Theatre that celebrates Indigenous cultures of the North that may include throat singing, drumming and dancing. After the show, there are no awards, no best performance – instead, they receive a cultural medallion designed by a local artist Kim Coppard for their participation and recognition.
Cultural participants may also perform pop-up performances at sport venues and for their peers throughout Games week giving you plenty of opportunities to see this celebration of cultural identity.
The Arctic Winter Games Cultural Program goes beyond performances by celebrating Indigenous culture through art. An International Indigenous Culture exhibit will be housed at Keyano Art Gallery in collaboration with the cultural galas. There will also be a traveling exhibit and an Indigenous Sports Gallery that supports the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #87 and will showcase nominated Indigenous athletes from Wood Buffalo.
You can head down to the Syne during Games week for dog sledding demonstrations that will have educational elements of culture and traditional teachings.
The Host Society is honoured to work with Elders and groups in the community to share local Indigenous culture through the Arctic Winter Games. Through this journey, we are committed to following in the path of Truth and Reconciliation and have chosen Calls to Action #87, #91 and Beyond 94.
Don’t miss a moment of the Games by following us on social media at @WoodBuffalo2023 on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin and find more information on our website AWG2023.org.