In 1967, Cal Miller was in Quebec City for the first Canada
Winter Games and he could not hide his disappointment.
The financial advisor to the Yukon team had just seen
the more experienced southern athletes outplay his athletes
from the North.
It’s a sentiment shared by Stuart Hodgson, the Commissioner
of the Northwest Territories, who watched his team
They lamented their teams’ dismal performance when
Miller got an idea – “the best idea since the invention of
“7-Up,” he recalled in a CBC Radio interview.
Miller suggested creating their own games for the
North. It would
provide a forum where athletes from the “circumpolar North”
could compete on their own terms, on their own turf.
After some discussion and a few phone calls, Hodgson
and Smith, as well as Canadian Minister of Indian Affairs
and Northern Development Arthur Laing, loved the idea.
A phone call later and the Governor of Alaska Walter
Hickel was on board.
Commissioner James Smith (Yukon), Commissioner Stuart
Hodgson (Northwest Territories) and Governor Walter Hickel
(Alaska) began the Arctic Winter Games in 1969.
All three men were concerned about the lack of
competition to which our northern athletes and coaches had
access and the fact that they were frequently exposed to
lopsided scores when they participated in the Canada Games
and other national events in the south.
Recognizing the differences of each Government and the
various goals that the Arctic Winter Games may have within
each jurisdiction, the Arctic Winter Games Corporation was
formed with a mandate to act as the guardian of the Games
and to ensure that the Games continued into the future.
The formation of the Corporation also provided a
mechanism for the member jurisdictions to provide political
input but keep politics away from the day-to-day operations
of the Arctic Winter Games.
The first Games were held in Yellowknife, NWT in 1970 with
the three contingents coming from Yukon, Northwest
Territories and Alaska.
In the next sixteen years there were some “observer”
teams from Greenland and northern Quebec.
Northern Quebec first participated in 1972 and
actually hosted the Games in Schefferville in 1976.
In 1980, 1982, and 1984, however, the Games were back
to the three original contingents.
After the 1984 Games in Yellowknife the AWG Corporation felt
that the games had lost much of their appeal and excitement
and that it was time to add another contingent.
This would make the competitions more engaging and
ensure that Ulu medals were not handed out for just showing
up. Queries were
made to see if there was any interest from northern British
Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
There were only two replies, one from the Sport and
Recreation Branch in British Columbia and one in Alberta.
B.C. was not able to obtain the support of their
government to participate.
Northern Alberta did and was invited to send an
“observer team” to the 1986 Games in Whitehorse and assess
if they would like to join in the future.
They sent about 40 athletes to these games.
Fairbanks was the only community from Alaska to bid on the
1988 Games and enthusiasm was somewhat measured.
In addition, there seemed to be limited support for
these Games from the State of Alaska.
With the games rotating every two years between
Whitehorse, Fairbanks and Yellowknife, there was less
enthusiasm to host the Games, diminished corporate support,
volunteer burnout and indifference on the part of the
participants who had seen it all before.
Fairbanks hosted a credible set of Games in 1988 but there
were organizational problems and a lack of enthusiasm and
support in the community as a whole.
The state was cutting back sharply on spending and
did not actually commit funds for the games until October
1987, only six months before the games.
On the positive side, Alberta sent 75 athletes to
Fairbanks and because their participation was achieving a
number of northern sport development goals, they were
invited to become a permanent partner in 1988.
During the 1988 Games, the Corporation convened a meeting
with the Government partners.
In attendance were the Honourable Gordon Wray (NWT),
the Honourable Piers MacDonald (Yukon), the Honourable Norm
Weiss (Alberta), The Honourable Lieutenant Governor Steve
McAlpine (Alaska), the Honourable Dave Nikerson (Government
of Canada, MP Western Arctic), Legislator Steve Frank
(Alaska) and Legislator Nillo Koponen (Alaska).
After much discussion on all aspects of the Games,
the Corporation was charged with developing a report
identifying and making recommendations on the major issues
facing the Games and report back on these within six months.
The Honourable Piers MacDonald agreed to host a
follow up meeting of political representatives to discuss
The meeting was held in Dawson
City, Yukon on August 25, 1988.
At this meeting it was unanimously agreed that the
Arctic Winter Games were an important event and positive
experience for the participants and the host communities in
Some of the commitments made at this meeting were:
Continued financial support from all governments
The corporation would develop a Hosting Manual
The corporation would increase its focus on cultural events
indigenous to the north
More focus was to be placed on marketing and media exposure
More emphasis was to be placed on Arctic Sports as these
events are unique to the north
Dene games events would be introduced into the Games
Alberta was accepted as a full partner and would work to
increase their team size by 1996
Alberta would be prepared to host by 1996 and may consider
1994 if requested
The Honourable Gordon Wray was given permission to invite
Greenland and Northern Quebec to gauge support for their
joining the Games in Yellowknife
Alaska suggested that the Corporation should seek
participation from Russia as there was a growing interest in
Russian trade and economic partnerships developing.
The Honourable Gordon Wray agreed to follow up on the
request. He was
successful into attracting cultural participants from the
Russian province of Magadan to participate in the 1990 Games
Team size per contingent would remain the same
Arctic Winter Games would continue on a two year cycle as it
was felt a three year hosting format may make people more
complacent with an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude
The Corporation would arrange to hold meetings with the
ministers at each set of Games to evaluate the benefits and
to plan for the future
The 1990 Games in Yellowknife were
considered a great success due to the support of the
Honourable Gordon Wray, the Government of the Northwest
Territories and the major support of the City of
decisions put in place from the Dawson City meeting produced
the following immediate and positive results:
Team competition was enhanced
The excitement of having Greenland and Russia participate
enhanced corporate fundraising and volunteer recruitment
Magadan had some participants in Arctic Sports and some
CBC carried the Games highlights on the national network for
the first time
A highlight package also appeared on CNN and was seen across
the United States and in some other countries.
The 1992 Games in Whitehorse saw
the first sport participants from Russia (Magadan) with the
assistance of the Government of Yukon.
It was a challenge for everyone to ensure their
participation at these games.
Their participation, however, helped attract national
media, both print and television, to cover the Games.
The Whitehorse Host Society also had increased access
to corporate sponsorship due to the added attraction of the
In 1993, the name of the Arctic Winter Games Corporation was
changed to the Arctic Winter Games International Committee.
The Arctic Winter Games logo was also changed at this
officially joined the International Committee as a full
partner in September 1993.
In 1994, the Government of Alberta received approval to
bring participants from the province of Tyumen in Russia to
help build upon the economic exchange programs between the
After the 1994 Games, it was decided that the Russian teams
would have to fund themselves completely if they wished to
continue to participate in future Arctic Winter Games.
At the elected officials meeting
in 1994 two key decisions were made:
It was agreed that if there was not at least three
jurisdictions competing in a sport category during the Games
that the sport would be eliminated.
Up to that point there had been times when only two
jurisdictions entered a particular sport resulting in a less
than entertaining and meaningful competition.
The International Committee was requested to assess the
impact on the Arctic Winter Games of the NWT splitting into
two territories in 1999.
The 1996 Games in Chugiak Eagle
River were also pivotal Games.
The Host Society did an enormous amount of promotion,
attracted some major sponsors and had expanded media
coverage throughout Alaska.
Their games ended with a substantial surplus and as a
result were able to establish several legacy funds in the
the elected officials meeting, the Arctic Winter Games
Strategic Plan was also approved.
It was also during this meeting that the addition of
Nunavut was approved and that the 2002 Games would be hosted
in Nuuk, Greenland and/or Iqaluit, Nunavut.
The political leaders also approved a move to a youth
The 1998 Games in Yellowknife included fewer adult
2000 the only adults included were in Culture, Arctic Sports
and Dene Games.
Chukotka, Russia was invited to participate in the 2000
Games to be held in Whitehorse, Yukon.
The 2000 Whitehorse Games were significant as the Host
Society was able to attract large private sponsorship and
significant media coverage for the Games.
CBC became a significant sponsor in both television
At the request of the political leaders, the Arctic Winter
Games International Committee approved a split venue Games
in 2002. Nuuk,
Greenland and Iqaluit, Nunavut hosted the first split
community, split country Games.
Although the games were unique and exciting it was
realized that the resources required for such an event, both
human and monetary, were stretched to the limit.
In June of 2002, at a Ministerial meeting hosted by the
Government of Alberta, the government partners approved a
new Games Strategic Plan.
The eighteenth Arctic Winter Games was held in the Regional
Municipality of Wood Buffalo In Northern Alberta.
The Games featured two new guest units, the Sami
People from Northern Scandinavia and Province of Yamal,
Russia who replaced Chukotka for these Games.
The 2004 Arctic Winter Games was a success for the
participants, spectators and the Municipality of Wood
Games had the largest Media presence ever with television,
radio and print media from all the participating countries.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough in Alaska hosted the nineteenth
Arctic Winter Games in the municipalities of Homer, Kenai
This was the first time in Alaska history that a games as
large as the Arctic Winter Games has been held outside of
the major cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks.
The 2006 Host Society made the 2006 Games a truly State
event with the assistance of the three community hosting
sites, the City of Anchorage and both the State and Federal
of the private sector business community who supported and
sponsored the Games were state businesses whose offices were
in Anchorage, Alaska.
The 20th Arctic Winter Games was celebrated in
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, the home of the first
Arctic Winter Games.
Many past participants joined in the birthday
celebration as they cheered on our northern youth sharing in
the spirit of the Arctic Winter Games.
Five generations of our young people have come
together sharing our sports, culture and friendship.
The opening ceremonies was attended by Prime Minister
Harper and featured the AWG torch being passed from
generations of past participants to one of the Fathers of
the Games, Commissioner Stuart Hodgson, who lit the 2008
Arctic Winter Games Flame.
These Games were a significant celebration for all
The 2010 Arctic Winter Games in Grande Prairie, Alberta
welcomed 2000 Athletes, Coaches and Mission Staff as a new
community joined the Arctic Winter Games family.
An Economic Impact Study done by the Government of
Alberta concluded that more than 182 person years of
employment and $7.29 Million in income was generated by the
operational and visitors’ expenditures associated with the
Arctic Winter Games in the Grande Prairie Region in 2010.
Whitehorse had the privilege to show case their facilities and an
abundance of great volunteers as they hosted the 2012 Games.
It was the first Games where all the results were done from
each venue. Every hotel space in the city was filled for the
Fairbanks, Alaska hosted the Arctic Winter Games in 1988 and did not get
the opportunity to host again for 26 years. The community
came together and went all out to host the 23rd Arctic
Winter Games in 2014. The AWG is the world’s largest
circumpolar multi-sport and cultural event. It is a
celebration of athletic competition, culture, friendship and
cooperation between circumpolar (northern) contingents.
Athletic competition features sports that enjoy worldwide
popularity alongside traditional Arctic Sports and Dene
Fairbanks showcased a significant cultural component featuring visual
arts, dance, ceremonies and galas with participants from
across the circumpolar region. The 2014 Arctic Winter Games
Torch is a significant legacy for the community and was paid
for with donations of $2014.00 by citizens of Fairbanks and
the Fairbanks North Star Borough. It includes engraved
plaques with the history of the Arctic Winter Games in
Alaska and personal engravings of all the citizens who made
the $2014.00 donation to build the torch.
The 2016 Arctic Winter Games were hosted in Nuuk, Greenland.
It was the biggest event of its kind in the history of
Greenland. Fifteen sports were held in Nuuk with the
hockey competition being held in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
In 2018 the Games will be hosted in the South Slave
Region of the Northwest Territories. The towns of Hay
River and Fort Smith are looking forward to providing a
unique experience to the participants and visitors as the 21
sports will be split between the two towns.
The focus of the Arctic Winter Games is still the same today
as it was in 1970, to involve as many participants as
possible either in the Games themselves or in the team
selection trials, and to provide a forum of competition for
those other than elite athletes with competitive
opportunities in the south. The cultural component of the
Games adds the unique opportunity for fellowship for the
participants and host communities.
One of the most important functions of the AWGIC is its
responsibility for nurturing and protecting the
extraordinary impact that the Arctic Winter Games have on
the north. The Games achieve these results because they
bring together, in one community, a multitude of visiting
athletes, coaches, cultural participants, volunteers, media,
visitors, officials and community leaders from around the
circumpolar and northern world for seven days of athletic
competition, cultural exchange and social interaction.
The success of the Games is directly related to a program
that combines athletic competition, cultural exchange and
social interaction. Athletic competition features sports
that enjoy worldwide popularity alongside exciting northern
and traditional Aboriginal events. In combination with the
selection trials run by each contingent, the Arctic Winter
Games are a significant part of northern sport development.
Cultural programming at the Arctic Winter Games includes
participants from all contingents who come together to learn
from one another and to celebrate and demonstrate their
unique artistic talents. Combined with the important
opportunity provided for performing and visual artists from
the host region to showcase their talents to the world, the
Games are a significant part of northern cultural
The Arctic Winter Games promote an
atmosphere of social interaction that strengthens cultural
awareness and understanding, increases community pride,
enhances self-esteem and promotes volunteerism. The Games
also help develop stronger economic, political and social
ties and provide international exposure to the community in
which they are hosted.
Every thing about Arctic
Winter Games is available on our website at
This includes, Hosting Manuals, Sport
Selection Criteria, reports, studies (economic
and social) and the history of the Games.
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