The vision for the 2022 Ontario Winter Games can truly come to life now that an general manager and organizing committee are fully in place and working on what is expected to be one of the largest sporting events hosted in the region post-pandemic.
Cindy Burwell was recently named general manager for the games. She's returning home to Renfrew after a 21-year absence.
Burwell spent the last two decades living in Geneva, Switzerland and just completed a two-year role as the coordinator for the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Geneva International Airport. It is precisely that experience that caught the eye of Reeve Peter Emon and the games' selection committee, who hired Burgess because she stood out among the 97 applicants for the job as general manager.
During a zoom conference call with Emon in Renfrew, where he is a member of Renfrew Town Council, and Burwell in Geneva, he had nothing but praise for the Renfrew native.
“What really made Cindy stand out was not only did she successfully manage more than 20 major events and projects associated with the 100th Anniversary of the Geneva Airport, but she exceeded key performance indicators, in spite of COVID,” he said. “She is a Canadian who was chosen above European applicants to lead the 100th anniversary of the Geneva Airport and that certainly speaks volumes of her qualifications.”
He added that her enthusiastic and positive attitude will help attract the right people and that includes more than 700 volunteers who will help make the event a success.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated all facets of life for the entire world, and forced the cancellation of thousands of large public events over the last 15 months, Burwell is confident the worst of COVID will be behind us when the first event begins the weekend of February 24-26, 2022, and concludes the weekend of March 3-6.
“Of course one of the first things we thought of was the impact of COVID, but with the recent announcement that more than 65 percent of all eligible Ontario residents will have had at least one shot of vaccine by early September, we are confident the games will proceed,” Burwell said. “We have included members from the local health unit to advise us on all safety protocols for the two weekends the games take place.”
As the general manager, she will not only be leading hundreds of volunteers, but she will be working closely with a 16-member committee that is charged with delivering a unique sporting experience.
The province provided a template, dating back to when the games began in1970, and that will help guide Burwell and her committee when they do planning for an event that will feature 27 competitions being staged in eight municipalities, stretching from Deep River all the way to Ottawa and down Highway 60 to Barry’s Bay.
Ottawa is able to provide facilities for speed skating and bowling, and Burwell is in preliminary talks with the Ottawa Senators regarding the use of their facilities.
“This is an Ottawa Valley event and our goal is to have participants in some form in all parts of the region,” she said.
More than $1.3-million has been budgeted for the games and the province is kicking in $900,000 and the remaining $400,000 will be raised through corporate sponsorship, fundraising, merchandise sales and athletic fees. Both Burwell and Emon said having Ottawa MPP Lisa Macleod as the Minister of Sport is a huge boost for the area.
“We have met with the Minister and her staff and they are so excited about the chance to showcase the Ottawa Valley and Ottawa,” Emon said. “The Minister has allocated three staff members to assist in a supportive role and both her and our own MPP and Minister of Natural Resources, John Yakabuski, have told us if any roadblocks should arise to let them know in order to help out anyway they can.”
Emon is not worried about raising the additional funds to make the games a success.
“Renfrew County has proven time and time again that when the call goes out for big events like the International Plowing Match or Expo 150, each of which attracted tens of thousands of visitors, the residents and local governments always step up to the plate.”
Burwell took on the role of general manager in early April, which involved dozens of meetings with government and sporting representatives, as well as sitting down with her 16 committee members to understand their particular roles and responsibilities. She has also met with the mayors of the 17 local governments and as well as including Chief Wendy Jocko, head of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan and Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay.
“This will be a unique opportunity to showcase the beautiful Renfrew County region to the rest of Ontario, while fostering pride in our region as we celebrate together as a community,” Emon said. "With over 3500 athletes, coaches, managers and officials staying here, it will also be a real economic boost for the area with a real possibility of a $5-million injection into the local economy.”
Both Emon and Burwell are excited not only about hosting the games, but they view this as a rare opportunity to inspire younger people to get involved with athletics. The athletes will range from 11 to 20 years old, and Emon said their performance will show local youth the advantages of sports and personal excellence.
“When the games wrap up, we hope to have a nice profit and use that money to establish some sort of legacy to the games,” he said. “It may be youth bursaries or any number of things, and our committee will worry about down the road. But we want to host the best Winter Games in its history and we encourage all residents to get involved and help shine a light on one of the best areas of Ontario to live.”