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!



The Role of Arts & Culture in the Games

(1 Vote)

When you think back to the great games of the past, you will undoubtedly recall the photo finish of that 100-metre race or the dying seconds of that heart-thumping basketball final.  But you’ll also likely recall, with a mélange of emotions, the pageantry and spectacle of the ceremonies, medal presentations and torch relays.  You may even remember stories of unparalleled sportsmanship and human connection.  This is a story of the role that arts and culture play in enhancing the spirit of games, specifically, the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games in Wood Buffalo.

As the team of leaders of the Culture, Ceremonies and Protocol (CCP) division sat around an open-air table at the Fox Den Lounge on a pleasant evening in June, there was a palpable excitement in the air as they shared the scope and flavour of their plans for the biggest sporting event in our region’s history.

“We’re looking forward to celebrating the inclusivity of the Games,” said Cindy Amerongen, CCP Director.  “We’re showcasing the community in a different way, through the talents and spirit of the people.  Mayor Blake challenged us to deliver these Games in a way that illuminates what makes Wood Buffalo special.  We’re ready to do that by sharing the diversity of talent and cultures that reside here.”

Culture and arts will be prominent through the 10 magical days in August when several thousand young athletes from the western provinces compete. But culture and arts have also helped build momentum and awareness in the months leading up to the Games.   

A song penned by Sarah Canning was unveiled at the 100 Days Out celebration in April, a spirited and inspiring theme for the Games called “Alive”.

“I couldn’t get the word out of my head,” said Canning.  “The title of the song is literally about being full of life – taking advantage of the time we’ve been given and doing something with it.  I’m sure the athletes are feeling more alive, proud, and exhilarated as ever coming up to this competition knowing they’ve just about reached their goals through discipline and hard work.”

“The cool thing about our song is that it was written by a local,” said Kim Rizzi, Games Manager.  “We are rich in artistic talent in our community and I am glad we were able to look in our backyard to showcase our stars.  I think it is wonderful their families will come to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and walk through venues, listening to the song.  Imagine the pride.”

“Just knowing that the song was written, produced, sung and all the instruments were played by local musicians draws attention to the great talent in our community,” shared Amerongen.  “The song becomes both an anchor and a launching pad for the expression of culture and sport excellence at all events.”

“Alive” has figured prominently during the Carry the Spirit Torch Relay sponsored by Suncor.  Making its way through each of the rural communities, the Torch is a symbol of the inclusivity of the Games.

“The response in the smaller communities in the region has been phenomenal,” said Amerongen.  “There is so much excitement about being part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The Games torch will make its way from Keyano College to the Countdown Clock at Jubilee Centre on August 3rd, then make its grand entrance in a highly classified fashion at the opening ceremonies.

Produced by PRP (Patrick Roberge Productions) - an acclaimed group that has designed and executed some of the most brilliant event spectacles in Canada, including the Grey Cup halftime show - the Opening ceremonies (presented by CNOOC Nexen) and Closing Ceremonies (presented by CEDA International) will showcase the best that the region has to offer in terms of talent and enthusiasm.

“PRP is famous for creating living, evolving montages filled with colour, movement, sound, diversity and spectacle,” said Angele Dobie, who will be working on these two major bookends to the Games with Alan Roberts as co-chairs of the opening and closing ceremonies. 

“It is going to be a kaleidoscope of homegrown talent, an authentic Wood Buffalo experience.”

The response from the artists in our community has been very positive, with hundreds coming out for the dance auditions and many more signing up for other performance and exhibition opportunities.

“They are so excited to participate,” said Constance Scarlett, Co-Chair, Festivals, also Executive Director of Arts Council Wood Buffalo.  “We know that we have great artists in this region.  We’re excited to share that fact with the rest of Canada.”

In addition to seeing a strong contingent of performers during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, there will be a strong local presence in two Big Sky Spirit events on the CNOOC Nexen Stage at Shell Place. 

“There are two groups of athletes that come in for the Games,” said Amerongen.  “The first group gets to participate in the Opening Ceremonies.  The first Big Sky Spirit night on August 10th, in addition to being a pyrotechnic, high energy dance party will serve as the first group’s closing ceremonies in a sense.  The second Big Sky Spirit night on August 12th will welcome the second group of athletes.” 

Both Big Sky Spirit nights will be free to the public and sponsored by Syncrude.

The 2015 Western Canada Summer Games are expected to be a boon to the local economy and a wonderful opportunity to share the wonders of our region, with, not only the athletes, coaches and officials, but the additional 10,000+ people who are expected to travel here from all over western Canada.

“When the athletes close out their day of competition, they will head back to the Athlete’s Village at Noralta Lodge,” said Amerongen.  “We’ve lined up a variety of different things to give them a chance to relax, socialize and have some fun.”

According to Scarlett and her co-chair Diana Moser, local artists and organizations will be presenting activities in a big tent located in the parking lot.  The Village is expected to be a huge hit with the athletes who will be getting a room of their own, free WiFi, and the best that Noralta Lodge has to offer. 

“We’re taking an athlete-centric approach to the programming of the entertainment at the Village,” said Moser.  “In addition to having a movie night, there will be some improv and even several nights of gaming thanks to the Fort McMurray Gamers Association.”

After a full day of watching the competitions, on the six different evenings when athletes will be having their recreational time at Noralta Lodge, Inter Pipeline is presenting Party at the Plaza.  Happening in the heart of downtown in the newly minted Jubilee Plaza, the festival of fun is being fueled by local arts and cultural organizations.

“A number of different groups have come on board to program the Party at the Plaza,” said Scarlett.  “It will be an entrancing festival environment, complete with face painters, a café, and other elements that will make it an alluring destination during the Games.  The McMurray Experience will also be open by that time, giving visitors a great way to learn more about our region.”

In addition to a number of nights of homegrown musical talent, the Party at the Plaza will include an evening of films presented by the Fort McMurray Filmmakers Association, a dance-themed showcase presented by the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo and a variety night arranged by Métis Local 1935.

“It was important to provide a place where residents and visitors could celebrate the spirit of the Games and get a taste for the breadth of local talent and culture that exists in Wood Buffalo,” said Amerongen.  “This will be a grass roots, authentic taste of our region that promises to be enormous fun.”

A number of different late night options are being planned to ensure that visitors to our region can maximize their time in our community.  Liam is hosting the Visitor’s Village at their new facility on Prairie Loop Boulevard while the Boomtown Casino is planning a bevy of live music performers during the Games.

Visitors and residents will have a chance to view exhibits and displays in a number of locations including the spot for the vast majority of arrivals and departures, the Fort McMurray International Airport. 

“There is a wonderful exhibit that highlights the history of aviation in our region up on the observation deck,” said Angele Dobie.  “Heritage Park and the Marine Park will be equally engaging spots to get a feel for how our region grew to become the economic engine of our country.”

The Wood Buffalo Sport Hall of Fame at Keyano College will be a perfect destination to spend time finding out about the champions and builders who have left an indelible mark on our community.  And the MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery will be a quiet oasis to see an exhibit featuring the work of local visual artists exploring the theme of “Movement”.  Points North Gallery on Centennial Drive, near the Visitor’s Village, will also be getting into the spirit of the Games presenting a sports-themed exhibition.

“We’re excited to be partnering with the Wood Buffalo Food Bank Association to feature a Canstruction exhibition on the curling surface at the Suncor Community Leisure Centre,” said Amerongen.  “Teams of engineers, scientists and artists will collaborate to create massive sport-themed sculptures from food products that will be donated to the Food Bank at the conclusion of the Games.”

Literary artists have put together a collection of poems, short stories and prose in a very special edition of NorthWord edited by Will Collins, a Syncrude employee and an avid soccer players and coach.  Enough copies are being printed to ensure that every Games visitor will get one to take home with them as a lasting reminder of the excellent writers that we have in Wood Buffalo. 

“Everyone has come on board to ensure that the experience guests will have in Wood Buffalo will be second to none,” said Amerongen.

She shared that the Chefs du Mission have been very impressed with what they have seen during their several visits to the community.

“We’re going to be a hard act to follow,” she said.  “These will be a totally different Western Canada Summer Games than any that have happened before.  There is no question that we’re going to raise the bar.”

“What does success look like?” I asked Cindy Amerongen as our hour-long visit was coming to an end.

“Happy, engaged individuals who make connections,” she said.  “A sense of WOW about our region and the people who call it home.”

“From the participants’ perspective, giving them a chance to be a part of something this big and seeing their neighbours sharing their talents with thousands of guests.”

Arts Council Wood Buffalo has been integral in getting the creative community excited about being part of the fabric of the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games.  For its Executive Director, success is in surprise.

“The secret is going to be out,” said Scarlett.  “More people need to know about the diversity of talent that we have in Wood Buffalo.  These Games will be a wonderful platform to begin to shape a new narrative about the cultural richness of our community.”

There are certain elements of the cultural side of the Games that I’m not at liberty to share, as they are carefully strategized surprises and emotional punctuation marks that will keep the memories “Alive” long after the torch has been passed to Saskatchewan who will be hosting the next Western Canada Summer Games.  But I will predict that there will be many goose bump moments and added touches that will make you burst with pride over what we will accomplish as the host.

Tickets for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies are on sale now.  They will both be hallmark events that will go down in the annals of Wood Buffalo history as two of the most spectacular celebrations we will likely ever experience.  For more information visit the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games website at 

For the thousands of guests who will travel to Wood Buffalo in August, many for the first time, the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games will give them an authentic and unforgettable experience and a new understanding of this place we call home. 

- Photography by Rupinder Singh


Russell is a 19 year resident of Wood Buffalo, a community builder, facilitator, social media practitioner, actor, director and artist. He began his Middle Age Bulge blog as a way of capturing his journey to wellness. It has morphed into a daily journal about all aspects of life in the north. Russell works with The United Way of Fort McMurray and co-owns Birdsong Connections with his wife Heather.