Manitoba

From free competitions to daily fireworks, how to rock the Canada Summer Games

It's being billed as the hottest summer in half a century: The 2017 Canada Summer Games are about to start up in Winnipeg.

The Games offer plenty of options beyond watching the sporting events

Niibin, a magical creature created by the summer heat, is the mascot for the 2017 Canada Summer Games. (CBC)

It's being billed as the hottest summer in half a century: The 2017 Canada Summer Games are about to start up in Manitoba.

After months and, for some, years of preparation, about 2,000 athletes, coaches and mission staff touched down in the Winnipeg airport on Thursday and settled into the Athletes Village, preparing for opening ceremony on Friday before competition starts Saturday.

It's also the 50th anniversary of the Games, so get ready for extra-special celebrations, including an 11-day free festival at The Forks with fireworks every night.

The Games start on July 28 and conclude on Aug. 13, with dozens of competitions in 16 sports held in Winnipeg, Gimli and Kenora, Ont.

Once you've got tickets for your favourite sports, there are still a handful of ways to get involved. Here are just a few to think about if you want to check them out.

Team Manitoba

Each province only gets to host the Games every two decades or so, meaning home-turf — and home-crowd — advantage doesn't roll around often for the athletes.

This year is Manitoba's turn, and the province has more than 300 athletes in the Games. If you want to go cheer them on, now's your chance.

Barry Moroz, chef de mission for Team Manitoba, said the province has medal potential in every sport.

"We have some sports that are younger athletes, but there could be a breakthrough here and there," said Moroz. "But for the majority, I think there's real medal potential in all of them, and I really, really believe that."

Areas where Manitoba is expected to fare especially well include athletics — a.k.a. track and field — and the canoe-kayak events, Moroz said.

"We have some experienced competitors there," he said. "I think they're going to do exceptionally well."

Manitoba baseball and basketball teams also have a good track record at previous national events, he added.

No matter what, you can count on seeing top-notch sport in any of the gold medal events, said Evan Andrew, the director of sponsorship and marketing for the Games.

"These athletes really are our next generation of international, national and Olympic stars," Andrew said. "The Canada Games are typically these athletes first opportunity to participate in a multi-sport environment."

Free events

If you're looking for a fun, free activity for the family, you can find it in all three communities hosting events.

In Winnipeg, you can watch mountain biking at the all-new Bison Butte, a man-made hill designed as a legacy project for the Games by the dad of one of this year's Manitoba mountain bikers (he's also an engineer, don't worry).

The butte is technically part of Fort Whyte, and it's one of the few places where spectators can see competitive mountain biking inside city limits, according to Andrew.

"That one can be really neat because we've got a really great track and … the hill is very visible," Andrew said. "So you can see the mountain bikes taking on the course there on that hill, which is a different spectator opportunity than you typically see."

Rebecca Man, left, and Chloe Penner, right, make up Team Manitoba's female mountain bike team for this year's Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg. (Travis Golby/CBC)

If you want to get out of the city for the day and still see the Games, there are free events at the two satellite venues, too.

Sailing races are taking place in Gimli from Sunday, July 30 to Friday, Aug. 4. The sport is also one of the three sports in the Games that are open to able-bodied and para athletes — but more on that later.

In Kenora, you can watch the rowing events for free. They run from Monday, Aug. 7 to Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Kenora Rowing Club.

Games festival programming at The Forks will be free, too.

Para athletics and Special Olympic athletes

"Something that's really neat and unique to the Canada Games is that both para-athletic and Special Olympic athletes compete within our events," Andrew said.

Within the Games, three sports include para-athletic events: sailing, swimming and athletics.

Athletics events run Monday, July 31 and Tuesday, Aug. 1 as well as Thursday, Aug. 3 and Friday, Aug. 2.

Para-athletes will compete in sailing from Sunday, July 30 until Friday, Aug. 4, and in swimming on Tuesday to Friday, Aug. 8 - 11.

Licensed venues

If watching athletes kick butt isn't complete for you without a beer in hand, there is a place for you in this year's Games.

The beach volleyball venue at Sargent Park Volleyball Centre in Winnipeg is licensed, Andrew said. Temporary seating has been brought in for spectators to get comfy and maybe even just the teensiest bit rowdy.

"Assuming the weather holds up for us and the sun is out, we think it'll be a really great atmosphere — bit of a party atmosphere there," he said.

Andrew added beach volleyball is traditionally one of the Games's most highly attended events, so you might not have needed the added temptation of a cold brew.

"The popular one all the time is beach volleyball for a lot of reasons," Moroz said. "The competition's great. And, I mean, it's different right? Ever since it became an Olympic sport it's garnered a lot more attention and stuff, and at this level it's really, really good."

Beach volleyball events run from Sunday, July 30 to Friday, Aug. 4. A standard ticket will cost you $10, but children under 12 get in for $5.

The Canada Summer Games festival grounds will also be fully licensed, Andrew said.

Entertainment

So sports really aren't your thing. That's fine. You can still get involved in the Games, should you want to.

The Canada Summer Games festival starts on Saturday and goes until Aug. 12 at The Forks, with breaks on July 31 and Aug. 1, 8 and 9.

Each night of programming is dedicated to a province — Manitoba's is Aug. 7 — and every lineup ends with fireworks. The whole festival is free and being touted as accessible and family-friendly.

Music on the main stage and satellite stage will start between 4 and 5 p.m. every night, with family activities earlier in the day.

The whole thing kicks off with the opening ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, which will be followed by performances from the likes of Kardinal Offishall and Skydiggers and fireworks at 10:30 p.m.

With files from Caroline Barghout

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