Looking for Your McMurray Magazine? We've created something even bigger and here to check it out!

Looking for our original content? Welcome back to our original site!



Game On! - Behind the Scenes with the Gamesmakers

(1 Vote)

Since June 2011 when the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo was successful in its bid, work has been underway preparing for the Western Canada Summer Games.

The closer we get to this athletic springboard to greater competitions at the national level such as the Canada Games, the more signs are visible around town. In addition to the countdown clock in front of the Jubilee Centre, there are posters adorning local facilities that will house various sporting events being used, Volunteer On posters scattered around the region, and local businesses participating in GameWear Fridays.

This event will showcase the skills of young athletes aged 13 to 23 from across Western Canada - British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and the three Territories: Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut  - but also this region and all it has to offer.

And it’s what happens behind the scenes to ensure those anticipated public showcase moments truly shine. Thousands of hours have gone into the behemoth task of planning this extraordinary multi-sport event with meetings after meetings; hours of planning and scheduling; venue walk throughs; organizing accommodations, menus, the grocery lists; finding drivers and vehicles; ensuring staff and volunteers have the correct security passes; even lining up enough porta-potties and toilet paper.

Then there are the people ensuring the racing lanes, whether for swimming or rowing, are properly marked; starting and finishing lines properly aligned; cycling routes clearly laid out; ensuring enough bleachers to seat the cheering crowds; dressing rooms and facilities are available for athletes at the various competition locations.

There are even a slew of events to benefit the athletes: a large tent Athletes Village at Noralta Lodge where they can unwind and socialize. There’s also entertainment such as a movie night and gaming nights. Plans are also in the works for some social activities for the parents, chaperones and coaches. Then there is the kaleidoscope of talent during opening and closing ceremonies and after Game Day, the Party at the Plaza will be the hot ticket event on six different evenings during the Games, Jubilee Plaza will be transformed into a festival site.

And let’s not forget a little polish on local community parking lots and roads, and other projects such as the construction of an amenities building, volleyball courts, paved walkways, a parking lot and even some weed removal at the Snye.

Everything down to the minutest details has to be planned.

This 10-day event held at venues in Fort McMurray and Anzac needs some 3,000 volunteers. To keep those names and skill sets straight is where Michelle Farrow comes in.

As volunteer workforce coordinator, she is key to logging a bank of volunteers to ensure a helping pair of hands to check tickets, bring water to refs or helping get time and scoring sheets to the right places.

Farrow readily admits she is passionate about volunteering and about calling Wood Buffalo home, and this opportunity lends perfectly to both. 

“My job is to engage people in an unforgettable experience while they learn and connect with visitors, the community and each other.  I look forward to seeing how we all come together to share this amazing place.”

With an estimated 14,000 visitors, 2,500 athletes and national broadcasting courtesy of Sportsnet, she knows this event is unprecedented; the largest multi-sport event ever to happen in the region, and being a part of it will prove to be an unforgettable experience.

“The sheer magnitude of the event is simply amazing,” she enthuses.

“We haven’t just raised the bar for the Western Canada Summer Games, we have set an entirely new precedent, 2015 Wood Buffalo increases the caliber for the Canada Games and encompasses components that surpass most Olympic standards,” notes Kim Rizzi.

A former Team Manitoba basketball athlete herself, Rizzi is not only the face of the Games, but also the force behind it as the general manager. Sports are in her blood.

“What we are hosting in Fort McMurray and Anzac is unparalleled. We want to show Canada what this community really is all about.

Farrow also recognizes that many who call Fort McMurray home want people across this country to know that Wood Buffalo is a beautiful, vibrant region where people care about people.

“Our Shell Games volunteers are at the heart of this event, reaching all stakeholder groups, athletes, special guests, spectators, and each other.  They really are the first and last impression of our beautiful home,” acknowledges Farrow.

“This event will create thousands of ambassadors for Wood Buffalo.  That’s the legacy I want to help create.”    

The opportunities afforded thanks to hosting the Games are ample; the economic impact, national coverage with Sportsnet, community capacity building, catalyst for capital projects, customer service training, 14,000 ambassadors for our region; the list goes on,” adds Rizzi of why the Games are in fact a big deal for this community.

“However, the part I feel is really special for our community is the collaboration from all sectors and backgrounds of the region. Every organization that gets involved, every new volunteer that registers, every idea, every plan; these are all notes for what’s been a harmonic journey.” 

With thousands of people involved – there are even more than 70 sub-committees to ensure the Games go off without a hitch – all is overseen by two co-chairs: Heather Kennedy and John Wilson.

There are multiple benefits for the municipality in hosting such a pinnacle event in the world of sports, and one is economic benefits, explains Kennedy.

“We have had such strong support from the municipality, and the mayor and council who know that while there is an economic benefit to putting on these Games that is in the millions of dollars; for our staff and volunteers the opportunity to learn and grow as people and in our skills and the ability to put the phrase ‘the energy of our great northern community’ in a whole new light is priceless.”

She recognizes the Games are a great opportunity to showcase this city, a city that means much to her and her family all the while celebrating sport and the athletes’ commitment to their sport.

Kennedy has many well wishes for the games: for visitors to have fun and see Wood Buffalo in a new light; for the athletes to have excellent competitions and meet their goals; and for the many dedicated volunteers and staff to know they were part of something big and special and that they made a difference.

“My roots run deep within this outstanding community; Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo - it’s home. It’s where I raised my family and built a life,” says Wilson. “I am so proud of everything this community offers and being a part of this incredible process is something I’m so grateful for.”

The Host Society Board of Directors, staff, volunteers, sponsors and community partners have worked so hard and diligently to create what he is confident will be the experience of a lifetime for the region.

The wonderful thing about this region, he points out, is the evident pride of its residents. Everyone who calls Wood Buffalo home is proud to do so because there is so much to be proud of.

“Hosting the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games gives our community the opportunity to shine; to boast the incredible amenities, infrastructure and our northern spirit to 14,000 anticipated visitors.”

Wilson admits that while the experience of the Games will be different for all those involved, he hopes that overall, the legacy left for everyone is a welcoming and enjoyable time visiting this region.

“I’m confident Wood Buffalo’s world-class sporting venues, elaborate cultural program for all 10 days, as well as experiencing the vibrancy of our community will leave a lasting impression for all.”

Rizzi echoes those sentiments, admitting she has always had a special place in her heart for the north, calling Iqaluit home for six years.

“Having the opportunity to experience McMurray and do what I love: sporting events was a win/win for my family and I. Showcasing everything this region has to offer and providing the experience of a lifetime for our athletes, fuels me every day in this role.”

With all recognizing the Games as an incredible opportunity to showcase Wood Buffalo as a vibrant family-oriented community, they also offer a tremendous opportunity for residents, visitors, volunteers and athletes alike to meet new people and make many new friends; something Farrow eagerly anticipates.

“I can’t wait to hear the stories and see first-hand the friendships that this kind of experience will foster,” says Farrow. 


One of those people who arrived in Fort McMurray for a short time – six months - but eight years later is still here. Love this place, the people, the outdoor escapades and the incredible heart of the community. Work hard, volunteer lots and would rather sit and chat with someone than do housework. Passport always at the ready to jet off to some wonderful global locale. So much to see and do.