The Canada Winter Games Torch Relay officially hit its closest stop yet to its final destination as it passed through the Town of Blackfalds Tuesday afternoon.
Just 10 minutes north of Red Deer, where the 2019 Canada Winter Games will be held Feb. 15- March 3, the Roly Mclenahan torch was passed between six central Albertans with strong connections to sport, including Robert Thompson – who had the most votes of any torchbearer nominee – Rachel Weppler, Chris Overacker, Byron Hackett, Heather Buelow and Mayor Richard Poole.
It was Buelow, owner of Dancer’s Edge Studio in both Lacombe and Blackfalds, however, that had the biggest crowd of supporters lining the side of Broadway Ave. and Womacks Rd., cheering “We love you, Miss Heather,” and waving purple and silver pom poms.
“We shut down the studio tonight. We really wanted to promote sports in both Blackfalds and Alberta, so we said let’s get on out and cheer on Miss Heather and they did and it filled my heart so much,” Buelow said.
“It was everything I hoped it to be and even more.”
While some naysayers might say dance isn’t a sport, she said it was important to promote being active, and what better opportunity than with the Canada Winter Games just a few minutes south on the QEII.
“I’m such an advocate for sport, whether it be dance or hockey, biathalon – whatever it is. For (the games) to be in Alberta is huge and we need to get kids up and moving all the time so this is just another way to promote sports.”
She handed off the torch to Mayor Poole, the last of the torchbearers, who was able to bring it all the way to the Abbey Centre – the only point in the country where the Great Canadian Trail goes indoors.
“I can’t describe how much fun, how exciting it was…There were people on both sides, a lot of people looking around, waving, cheering. We had lots of fun,” he said, following the celebration ceremony after the relay. “We’re absolutely thrilled. The entire town is ready to turn out for the games.”
Just one of about 50 communities across the country where the torch will stop, Blackfalds actually had a direct hand in Red Deer’s bid for the games.
Originally, the town was supposed to host badminton at the Abbey Centre, but had the event pulled from them in mid-2016 due to construction of the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre. The decision resulted in some hurt feelings amongst council members at the time, but Canada Games Chair Lyn Radford explained it was a decision made purely because of logistics.
“When the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre became available, we thought that was a better alternative, particularly for our wheelchair accessible athletes – it was a lot easier to transport them back and forth. Even though badminton doesn’t have that component, we have to make everything equal for those athletes to enjoy everything,” she said.
“Blackfalds definitely enhanced our bid process and we thank them for being so neighbourly and so gracious when we had to make the change.”
As for where 2019 Canada Games preparations are at with just over two weeks to go before the opening ceremonies, all she would say is that an update would be coming Friday, and that it would be a proud moment for her as chair.
While the stop in Blackfalds is now in the books for the torch relay, there are several more stops it will make, including Jan. 31 in Olds, before being passed off to Lacombe on Feb. 2.
The relay will start at 11:30 a.m. at the Michener House Museum and will then take a 4.64-kilometre trek through the community. A ceremony will be held following the relay at the Lacombe Memorial Centre.
Check out the Lacombe Globe’s Jan. 31 issue for more photos.