In honour of the 25th anniversary of the Special Olympics World Winter Games 1997, the Town of Collingwood has proclaimed Feb. 26 as Special Olympics Day.
Collingwood partnered with Toronto to host the sixth Special Olympics World Winter Games, held from Feb. 1 to 8, 1997. The massive undertaking saw nearly 2,000 athletes from 73 countries competing in five sports, plus more than 5,000 volunteers involved.
“It was an event that changed lives and changed our community,” said Mayor Brian Saunderson in a statement.
It was also the first and only time that Canada hosted a Special Olympics Games and only the second time that the Special Olympics took place outside the United States (in 1993, Salzburg, Austria, hosted the games).
Patty Federer, who was the alpine commissioner at the time, is spearheading the 25th anniversary event. She is hoping to recruit as many volunteers who were present at the Special Olympics in 1997 to don their green volunteer jackets (if they still have them) on Feb. 26 to honour the occasion.
“Even if you can’t find your volunteer jacket, wear something green and come out and celebrate the volunteers,” said Federer. “That’s what we are trying to do, a local celebration of volunteers who were there.”
Locally, Blue Mountain Resort and Highlands Nordic held alpine and Nordic skiing, as well as snowshoeing, which was a demonstration sport at the time, while indoor sports — namely figure skating, speed skating and floor hockey — took place in Toronto.
According to Federer, there were approximately 600 local volunteers helping at Blue Mountain alone.
“So in a small town, like every third person in town was connected to this event,” Federer laughed.
Peter Dunbar, who was the head of parks, recreation and culture for the town at the time, said the event was ““unachievable” without the volunteers.
“It was a very collective, loving thing,” he said.
A moment Dunbar remembers fondly is one morning when he was standing at the base of Blue Mountain in between the several stages set up, he looked around and the whole place was in tears.
“Everybody was so happy to be involved and seeing the athletes happy and hugging each other, it was a tremendous moment,” said Dunbar.
Federer’s favourite moment was one morning, the Macarena came on over the speakers, and everyone on the hill and in the village broke out into a spontaneous Macarena dance, including 30 police officers.
Following the games, Federer founded the Blue Mountain Special Olympics Alpine Team and Blue Mountain Resort has been a proud sponsor of the team ever since.
She has since attended numerous Special Olympics around the world as a technical delegate and this year, Federer will officially be inducted into the Collingwood Sports Hall of Fame.
Laurie Roest, who is a volunteer with the Blue Mountain Special Olympics Alpine Team and now the team manager, also volunteered at the Special Olympics in 1997 as part of the award’s committee. Her son, Rob, has been a member of the ski team since its inception.
“To tell the truth, it was a fabulous experience,” said Roest.
On Feb. 26, a recognition of the anniversary will be made during the opening ceremonies of the 24h Blue Mountain Ski Relay.
The Thornbury Pipe Band will lead a parade of people, including Federer, the mayor, and a few members that are participating in the 24-hour event. The Blue Mountain Special Olympics Alpine Team will also be in attendance showing their support.
Those who are unable to attend on Feb. 26 are encouraged to wear green and upload messages and photos to any social media platform using the hashtag #Collingwood1997.