2026 Winter Olympic bid divides Canmore
Town gathering feedback from residents as it crunches numbers, working with Calgary
Residents of Canmore, Alta., are split on the the town being part of a possible Calgary 2026 Winter Olympic bid, hosting some events and athletes in the mountain town, as it did in 1988.
Some say they would welcome the games back to town but others are worried about how much it would all cost, and if the community and the environment could handle it this time around.
In 1988, Canmore — home to many winter Olympians — hosted nordic ski events including cross-country skiing and biathlon at the Canmore Nordic Centre, which was built for the games and remains a world class facility. The Town of Canmore is currently spending $200,000 exploring the pros and cons of a bid and asking for feedback from the public, including an online survey and open house held earlier this week.
"Calgary wasn't going to be doing community engagement in Canmore nor were they providing advice to us that is independent from the advice they are receiving, so there are things we needed to do on our own," said Lisa de Soto, chief administration officer with the Town of Canmore.
"We got funding to do that community engagement and to send a few of us to South Korea to experience the Pyeongchang Games and take part in the International Olympic Committee's knowledge transfer program," said de Soto. Canmore Mayor John Borrowman will be part of that visit.
Last June, the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee estimated that hosting the 2026 Olympics in Calgary would cost around $4.6 billion. There's no estimate yet on the cost to Canmore for its involvement.
"I think it's fantastic," said Ryan Weibe, packing up his cross-country skis at the Nordic Centre. "It would bring lots to the economy here in town and to Alberta on the whole."
For others, throwing their support behind a bid comes with conditions.
"I think the possibility is really good, I think our bid will be better accepted than the other bids that are out there, but we have to have the community behind us to really pull it off," said John Reeves, who coaches at the Nordic Centre.
"Most people are worried about the cost. We don't want to see us stuck with a deficit," said Reeves.
"I think it would be wonderful to have another Olympic event in Canmore," said Cynthia Anderson, at the Tin Box gift store.
"As long as we don't exceed a budget that would allow us to welcome the world and still be profitable without a large debt at the end," she said.
And like many, she has concerns around the environmental impact a bigger, more modern games would have on the Bow Valley, and next door in Banff National Park, where Lake Louise is being considered by some as a possible ski and snowboarding venue.
"As far as Banff National Park as an Olympic venue, I don't agree with that concept, but they'll most likely allow it. Parks are for future generations and they are to be protected and to bring in such a large event would be detrimental," said Anderson.
Others are opposed to Canmore being involved in an Olympic bid altogether.
"The Olympics are massively different now, massively more expensive and we have few success stories of communities successfully hosting a winter games and coming out ahead in the long run," said resident Jim Pissot, at an open house held by the town this week.
"My wife and I have been watching the Olympics for the last several days on the TV and as a Canmore resident I think that's where the Olympics belong, on TV, not in Canmore," said Pissot.
Some residents say Canmore is a different place now than in 1988, feeling pressure from all sides from ongoing development, traffic and tourism — challenges that hosting a games would exacerbate. Even a couple of those involved in helping bring the '88 games to town are opposed to it this time around.
"Where is our limit? We may already well be beyond it now," Pissot added.
A survey on the town's website is open until Feb. 23 for residents to give feedback.
"The next steps are to hear from the provincial and federal governments that they are behind this bid," said de Soto.
The town will report back to the community in May or June with a decision.
In late June, the Canadian Olympic Committee will decide whether to endorse a bid from Calgary. A corporation would then need to be formed that would assemble a formal bid.
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