When the eyes of the province looked to the Cowichan Valley in the summer of 2018, the Valley delivered.
From July 19-22, the Cowichan Valley played host to the BC Summer Games, with nearly 2,500 athletes and hundreds of coaches and officials descending on the region to take part in 18 sports. Venues from Shawnigan Lake to Ladysmith and from Cowichan Bay to Lake Cowichan hosted the events — synchronized swimming was held in Nanaimo as well — with more than 2,500 volunteers making it all possible.
Everything hinged on the volunteers, who were visible at every venue, doing every job imaginable
“I can’t say enough about the volunteers,” Cowichan 2018 president Jen Woike said just after the conclusion of the Games, noting that 150 volunteer chairs coordinated those efforts over the last 10 months. “They were the meat and potatoes of the operation. They made everything happen.”
It all went “better than expected,” Woike said a day after the Games concluded with emotional closing ceremonies at the Island Savings Centre.
“The vibe and everything I’m hearing in the community is that everything went off without a hitch,” she commented.
It was the goal of the organizers to show that a community the size of Cowichan could do as well as, or better than, big cities that had hosted the Games in the past.
“We tried to raise the bar and punch above our weight,” Woike said.
In Ladysmith, upwards of 1,500 people, including athletes, spectators, volunteers and officials were expected daily for the event.
“These partnerships are really beneficial for us. The community has been able to put our mark on this and work as a region to deliver a games that really emphasizes our region and some of the qualities,” the town’s director of Parks, Recreation and Culture Clayton Postings said.
The Holland Creek ballpark was already in line with Baseball BC criteria but some minor upgrades were done to the bullpen as well as parking improvements.
At Forrest Field, new lines were painted on the turf field for lacrosse as well as grandstand improvements to add comfort in the form of an enclosed area perfect for wet weather. And 600 tons of good quality sand was dropped at Transfer Beach to create two additional beach volleyball courts. Volleyball BC is hosting a weekend camp at Transfer Beach following the games and the sand was scheduled to be reused afterwards as top dressing around town.
In total, the town budgeted $60,000 for facility improvements the prepare for the event. Participating local athletes included Devyn Zunti, West Cateaux, Kaleb Freer, James Joyce and Dru Wright.
“It’s a legacy piece so that’s nice that we’ve been able to add some value that everyone in the future will benefit from,” Postings said of the upgrades. “We’re making sure that our facilities are at a level so that we can always be part of this regional initiative.”
The opening ceremonies at Laketown Ranch got things off to an excellent start. Performances by Asani, who sang the national anthem in English, French and Cree, and poet Shane Koyczan, helped make that happen. Koyczan, in particular, had the entire crowd enraptured.
“That was pretty powerful,” Woike said. “I think we got the reaction we wanted to get from the kids.”
Opening ceremonies usually expect 1,000 spectators, but Cowichan’s event might have had three times that number, and the Island Savings Centre arena floor and stands were also packed for the closing ceremonies.
“Cowichan really came to the table,” Woike said.
Other aspects in which Cowichan blew away the benchmarks set by previous Games were in feeding the athletes, where director of food services Chad Conrad was believed to have set speed records, and a strong focus was made on using food produced either locally or elsewhere in B.C.; and in merchandise, where clothing branded with the Cowichan 2018 logo — created by the Taiji Group and marketing directors Cal Kaiser and Cam Drew — outsold the previous record by $7,000, and online sales had doubled the previous mark even before the Games started.
Woike was thoroughly proud of the way the entire Cowichan Valley community came together to support the Games.
“This is why Cowichan does this type of multisport event so well,” she said. “Cowichan really gets behind it. We stood up to the bigger cities — the Abbotsfords, the Langleys, even Kamloops. It shows what Cowichan is all about.”
Cowichan athletes took advantage of competing on their home turf. More than 50 athletes from the Valley took part in the Games, helping win 37 of Zone 6’s (Vancouver Island-Central Coast) Games-leading 155 medals.
The long-term benefits to the Cowichan Valley of hosting the Games are many, including some tangible elements that were purchased with the BC Games Society’s Powering Potential Fund: a permanent dock at Quamichan Lake, starting blocks for the competition pool at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre, a new mat for the Cowichan Valley Wrestling Club, and triathlon transition racks that will be moved around the province.
Out-going BC Games Society president and CEO Kelly Mann was pleased to leave a lasting impact in the region after his last Summer Games.
“We can go home at the end of the day when it’s all over with,” he said. “But what is our legacy?”
— With a file from Mike Gregory