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Impact: Michelle Toner

Meaghan Szpak
BY Meaghan Szpak
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Michelle Toner is the General Manager of the 2018 Wood Buffalo Alberta Winter Games.  The games are happening this February and will involve thousands of athletes, technical officials, volunteers, coaches and chaperones.  Michelle sat down with Russell Thomas to discuss the details of the games and their impact on the community as a whole.

Originally from small town Cape Breton, Michelle never thought she would end up pursuing a career in sports. 

“Coming from a small town, you don’t necessarily see what all the options are for career in life,” said Michelle. 

It wasn’t until she made the move to a few bigger cities, including Halifax, Toronto and Windsor, that she realized the opportunity for a career in sport. 

This led her to pursue an education in Sports Management, which was the first step in the journey to her current position as General Manager of the 2018 Wood Buffalo Alberta Winter Games.

The 2018 Wood Buffalo Alberta Winter Games will involve close to 2,000 athletes, ranging from 11 to 17-years-old, competing in approximately 20 sports throughout the region.  They will also include 400 technical officials, and 400 coaches and chaperones.

“All of the people that need to come together to make it happen, it was definitely an eye opener for me,” said Michelle.

One group that is critical in making the event possible is volunteers.  With upward of 2,000 volunteers needed to organize the event, it is a great opportunity for anyone looking to be involved in the games in some capacity. 

“I really think it provides this opportunity to be part of something that is just bigger than yourself and just bigger than your own community,” said Michelle.  “... They get to contribute to being ambassadors for our community and it gives people the opportunity to really speak to the great things that go on in this community.”

With the large influx of individuals involved, one thing that the Games has to be conscious of is the economic impact on the community. 

“If you look at the reason why a community hosts an event like this, really it’s about economic impact.  It’s about impacting the community, the people who live there, and the businesses that operate there.”

Michelle says that the Games are looking to only use resources that they need, and be as fiscally responsible as possible.

The games also works closely with the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance, who measure the economic impact in three phases- the bid phase, mid-planning phase, and on-site during the games.

Another consideration in planning was whether the Games would be able to be held in Wood Buffalo following the 2016 wildfire, nicknamed “The Beast.”

“Some people didn’t agree with that fact that we were going to host the Games in that maybe energy should have been spent on other things,” said Michelle.  “But I think for a lot of people sport creates such a unification and a bringing together that having this event made people feel okay that we were where we were in our community.”

With the Games quickly approaching, Michelle did share what she is most looking forward to–the opening ceremonies.

“The opening ceremonies and seeing those 2,000 athletes walking into an outdoor venue, crisp winter night, music blaring, and the excitement on their faces,” said Michelle.   

“That’s what I live to see, those kids getting medals around their necks, making new friendships, and then just really the pure innocence and enjoyment of sport–there’s nothing like it.”


IMPACT is a collaboration of The United Way of Fort McMurray, FuseSocial, Shaw TV Fort McMurray and 91.1 The Bridge.  It is heard on Tuesdays at 10:30 am. It is rebroadcast on Shaw Cable 10.