The bid for the 1996 Olympics: Not this time, Toronto

The 1996 Olympic Games were coming to North America, but not in the region that Toronto was hoping for.

Failed bid for Olympic Games left some Torontonians in tears, while others sipped champagne

Will Toronto get the 1996 Olympics?

33 years ago
Duration 0:37
On Sept. 17, 1990, Toronto was a day from learning if it would host the 1996 Games.

The Olympic bid was being watched closely at home in Toronto to see which way it would go.

In 1990 the city sought to host the 1996 Olympic Games. All together, taxpayers, governments and private business had spent more than $10 million to try to make that happen.

The night before the voting would take place in Tokyo, the Canadian delegation was pulling out all the stops. External Affairs Minister Joe Clark was there, as was Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander, working a room full of members of the International Olympic Committee.

'They may not pick us'

Paul Henderson, the three-time Olympic yachtsman leading Toronto's bid committee, believed the city had a "terrific" shot at landing the Games.

"They may not pick us, but I hope they do," he said.

But after five ballots on Sept. 18, 1990, it wasn't Toronto that the IOC announced as the victor. 

No Olympic Games in Toronto in 1996

33 years ago
Duration 1:44
Toronto's bid for the 1996 Olympic Games fails.

"The International Olympic Committee has awarded the 1996 Olympic Games to the City of Atlanta," said IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.

The runner-up was Athens, while Toronto placed third.

Back home in Toronto, the thousands of people who had gathered at the SkyDome for the announcement looks of disappointment on their faces.

Yet there were some in the city who actually drank champagne when the city's bid went down the tubes. They did not want to see the Olympics in Toronto.

"It's given us the chance to stand up and be very clear about what Toronto's agenda should be, in terms of putting people before corporate interests," said Ruth Mott, a member of the Bread Not Circuses Coalition, which opposed the city's Olympic bid.

'We lost the Games because of it'

Torontonians who opposed the city's bid for the 1996 Olympics are seen celebrating after the IOC announced that the Games would be held in Atlanta, Georgia. (The National/CBC Archives)

Henderson said this kind of pushback "certainly didn't help" Toronto's efforts to land the Games.

Tony O'Donohue, a city councillor, said it was the likely cause of the bid's failure.

"We sent out mixed signals internationally that we weren't really with the Games and that really did us a lot of damage," he said. "I think we lost the Games because of it."

Toronto tried again for the 2008 Games, which also did not succeed. The city has still not had a successful Olympic bid to date.

A sign is pulled down at Toronto City Hall on Sept. 18, 1990, after the city lost a bid for to host the 1996 Olympic Games. (The National/CBC Archives)