At 45,000 kilometres, it will be the longest domestic Olympic torch relay route in Games history. And the federal government wants it to be a celebration the whole country will remember.
Minister for Sport Gary Lunn announced Thursday that just over half of the $24.5 million the federal government has earmarked for the torch relay for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics will be spent on local initiatives to support community celebrations. The remaining $12 million will go towards organizing the relay, which begins Oct. 30 in Victoria.
"We're doing a number of initiatives, getting out to the schools, and we have no doubt that it will be an amazing torch run in every region, every corner of the country, and people will be out there to celebrate it," Lunn said in Toronto.
He was joined by city officials, Games organizers, a few athletes and Olympic mascots Sumi, Quatchi and Miga, who thrilled the dozens of schoolchildren on hand for the announcement at a downtown square.
The government plans to provide support to feature local artists during the community celebrations, enhance programs, assist in promotions and create projects for young Canadians to commemorate the occasion.
"Cultural content, activities, sports stars, heroes, a chance to see the flame, the torch bearers, it's really a local celebration," said Jim Richards, program director for torch relays. "It brings the Olympics to their hometown for the day."
12,000 torch bearers
Twelve-thousand Canadians will have a chance to carry the torch. Relay sponsors Coca-Cola and RBC will select about 9,000 of the torch bearers, who will each carry the flame about 400 metres. The remaining spots are handed out through sponsors, suppliers and partners of the Games, including the federal government.
Celebration communities chosen by the organizing committee, known as VANOC, will bear most of the cost of hosting their events, with some budgeting as much as $250,000 for the day.
"We've worked with the communities now for over six months in terms of helping them understand that we'll bring the technical infrastructure, the lights, the sounds that's required," Richards said. "But these celebrations are really about their community, their local culture, their story.
"I think the federal government saw a great opportunity to assist the communities in developing the story and enhancing that story, and that's where we're going with this."
The torch will make stops in every province and territory during its 106-day journey leading up to the lighting of the cauldron at BC Place. The Olympics will be held from Feb. 12 to 28 in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., followed by the Paralympics from March 12 to 21.
The Paralympic torch relay is also national in scope, with city celebrations over a 10-day period.
Vancouver's Olympic organizers met with Public Works last Tuesday to ask for additional funds from Ottawa to help with French translation during the Games. It's not known how much they asked for, but a recent study suggested as much as $1.7 million is needed to adequately provide service in both official languages.
"I can't comment on that," Lunn said. "The only thing I can tell you is that the Games will be fully bilingual in both of Canada's official languages."
VANOC has had to handle recent criticism that French has not been given its due in the lead-up to the Games.
"We know the content elements that we control will be absolutely bilingual," Richards said. "We're pushing the envelope a little bit (with communities) in asking them to make sure that this is a pan-Canadian event representing that linguistic duality."