Daniel Fontaine reflects on Vancouver’s amazing Olympic Games 10 years later - and the small role he played in them.
I remember exactly where I was when the big announcement was made.
It was July 2, 2003 at Rogers Arena (then known as GM Place) where thousands had gathered to find out if Vancouver and Whistler would win the big prize and host the 2010 Olympics. The envelope was opened by IOC President Jacques Rogge and he uttered those famous words “the 2010 Olympics have been awarded to…Vancouver”.
It took only a millisecond before the assembled crowd at Rogers Arena broke into a massive cheer, with high fives and hugs happening all around me. While there was no shortage of vocal critics of our Winter Olympics bid, for that moment it felt like everyone was collectively celebrating a big win.
In the seven years that followed, 2010 Olympics CEO John Furlong and his team did their magic in preparing our city to host the world. They built venues, trained thousands of volunteers and choreographed amazing opening and closing ceremonies. It’s difficult to argue that the spirit and energy generated at those Winter Games has yet to be replicated by any subsequent host city.
Next month British Columbia and Canada will be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Games. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a decade since we saw Alex Bilodeau make his way down Cypress Mountain and secure a gold medal for Canada. It feels like just yesterday Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue captured our hearts as they took home gold in the ice dancing competition.
The 10-year anniversary has special meaning to me for a number of reasons.
First, I had the opportunity to work at 2010 LegaciesNow, which helped to ensure not only Metro Vancouver and Whistler benefitted from us hosting the Games. This was something former Premier Gordon Campbell championed, and I believe the initiative was instrumental in getting rural BC better connected to this event.
If that wasn’t enough, in 2006 I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as Mayor Sam Sullivan’s Chief of Staff to travel with him to Torino, Italy for their Winter Olympics. It was the first time in history a quadriplegic mayor would get on stage during the closing ceremonies to take part in a long-standing tradition of accepting the Olympic flag on behalf of the next host city. It was both a memorable moment and a point of pride for all Canadians, as Sullivan did his memorable twirl in a customized wheelchair.
While it might surprise you, it was neither of those front-seat experiences I remember most fondly. Rather, when I think of the 2010 Games, I remember the role I played in helping get the public engaged in this mega event.
If you were in Vancouver during the run up to the Games, you might remember how negative some of the public felt toward them. People complained about overpriced tickets, events sold out months or years in advance, and the huge cost. Street protests by Games opponents helped fuel the anger.
Weeks before the Games began, the public was pretty ambivalent, if not downright grumpy about them. There was a distinct lack of buzz in the streets – at least compared to what I had witnessed at the 2003 announcement.
The City of Vancouver bore some responsibility for this antipathy. They literally told the public it would be better for them to watch the competitions on their TVs than come downtown. At the 12-, 6-, and 1-month countdown to the Olympic Torch’s arrival, the city did not bother to even issue as much as a news release about it.
It was this “grumpy” feeling that spurred the idea of creating the 2010 Where to Be for Free Guide. Back then my online co-conspirator Mike Klassen and I were running CityCaucus.com, a popular blog focused on local municipal politics.
A few months before the Games, we thought we could at least use the CityCaucus.com platform to help dampen – even in a small way – the negativity being expressed in the host city.
Our simple guide would allow the average person on a limited budget to experience the Olympic celebration. When the final edition was published, our “2010 Free” Guide detailed over 50 different venues, which included international, provincial and corporate pavilions, municipal celebration zones in Surrey, Richmond and other cities, a Zipline experience and the Bombardier streetcar.
Mike and I had no idea how wildly popular the guide would become.
Only a few weeks after we launched, the website went viral. Before then, we attracted a few hundred site visits per day. Suddenly it was getting thousands, then tens of thousands of hits daily. By the time the Olympic Torch arrived in Metro Vancouver, CityCaucus.com began averaging over 100,000 pageviews per day.
Mike and I were being interviewed by every major news outlet regarding what people could do for free. A story on Global News Hour triggered a mad rush to read the guide. After the site hit 150,000 views that evening, it suddenly crashed, sending Mike into overdrive trying to resuscitate it. Thankfully, it was only down for 20 minutes.
The Guide’s popularity even triggered a personal invitation from the Office of Prime Minister Harper to meet with him for a sneak preview of the Canada Pavilion before it was open to the public.
I wasn’t blind; I’m sure PMO staff were hoping a favourable profile in our Guide would help squelch negative press that swirled around the Canada Pavilion. It did, and the venue was a huge hit.
When all the dust settled, hundreds of thousands of people flocked downtown daily, many of them clutching printed copies of our downloadable guide. During the weeks surrounding the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, our little blog had over 2.5 million pageviews!
Even 10 years later, it brings a smile to my face thinking how that guide Mike and I created gave so many people the opportunity to join in one of our country’s greatest celebrations.
The 2010 Games were truly an amazing time to be in British Columbia and in Canada. It brought the country together in a way few could have imagined. Many of us will be stopping to mark the tenth anniversary soon, and asking what it meant to our community.
As for me, I’ll be cherishing the good memories, but I will also be asking the inevitable question – what comes next?
Without leaders like Jack Poole at the helm spearheading our successful bid for the Games, will we ever want to play host to the world again? If so, what would it look like? A lot different, I bet, and it is something I’ll be writing about in a future column.
Happy anniversary, Vancouver 2010! Go, Canada, Go!
Daniel Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer for a non-profit seniors care organization based in Burnaby. Currently, he’s the cohost of #BCPoliTalk, a podcast/webcast focusing on politics in BC. Before that, Fontaine was a former weekly civic affairs columnist for 24 Hours Newspaper, Fontaine has been a political commentator on Global TV and CKNW radio. In 2008 he co-founded one of Canada’s most popular civic affairs blogs. In 2012, Fontaine was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for public service.
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