$375,000 Renfrew County Ontario Winter Games Legacy Fund announced

Pembroke -- The Renfrew County Ontario Winter Games 2023 Legacy Fund was announced on Monday evening, with $375,000 in funding distributed over six years provided for youth, sports clubs and major sports infrastructure facilities.

The exact amount of funding was announced late in the event by a well-known local athlete who has made a name on the international stage and always proudly noted she came from Eganville and the County of Renfrew.

“I am so excited and honoured to say that from the 2023 Ontario Winter Games the Ottawa Valley Community Foundation will be awarded $375,000,” said Melisa Bishop-Nriagu, at the legacy fund announcement event on Monday night at the County of Renfrew building. “I will say as an athlete, back in the day when I was a youth, this is something I would have used, I would have applied for growing up and trying to make my Olympic dreams come through.”

The legacy fund will be distributed over several years with $80,000 allotted for distribution annually with $20,000 going to athletes, $20,000 to clubs and $40,000 for facilities.

The Olympic athlete, who began her career in the county in the Eganville area, is now a mom of three and joined via ZOOM. She said how honoured she was to participate in the 2023 Ontario Winter Games.

“That is something I grew up participating in as an athlete, but to come back and to speak there and be at the opening ceremonies and see the athletes and how excited they were and the volunteers, it gave me a different perspective,” she said.

Athletes see one side but this allowed her to see how big a production the games were.

“I am so, so proud of our community for hosting and pulling off something so big,” she said. “I think this is just the start of what our little community can do.”

Games Chair Peter Emon, the current warden for the County of Renfrew, outlined the various grants through this fund which will be administered with the partnership of the Ottawa Valley Community Foundation, previously known as the Pembroke Petawawa District Community Foundation. He said there will be $80,000 in grants given annually from the games fund and he is hopeful the money will continue to grow.

“The money will be dispersed over a five-year period, probably a six-year period and we are hopeful we can trigger the community to keep donating to that fund,” he said.

He noted applications for the fund will be open throughout Renfrew County and this will begin next year. While details are being worked out, the guiding principles were unveiled on Monday.

“Our applications will be accepted in early 2025 and our criteria will be fully further expanded,” he said.

The youth sport grant for youth up to age 21 will be $20,000 annually.

“It is for youth who demonstrated a financial need in order to compete in sport,” he said. “There will be grants for up to $1,000.”

Sports clubs will be eligible for $20,000 in grants with four clubs annually receiving up to $5,000 to help sports teams and clubs or organizations.

“Example, team travel to a major tournament as a qualifier,” he said. “If someone wants to go to Sweden or Switzerland, I am more than happy to go as a chaperone. I will even pay my own way.”

Major sports infrastructure grants will be $40,000 annually,

“Two grants per year up to $20,000,” he said. “Specifically for new builds or infrastructure improvements in existing sports facilities to improve accessibility.”

Games A Huge Success

Chair Emon said the games were an opportunity to share the county with visitors and were a huge success.

“We wanted to show off our community and its many joys to our visitors and to the world,” he said. “And we wanted to reinvigorate our community to enjoy the world we live in. We are really lucky. We have good lives.”

The games were a huge success with smiling volunteers and clean venues, he said.

“You folks, our volunteers, our community did it,” he said.

Warden Emon thanked the province for support throughout the process, even when the games had to be postponed and when they needed more money due to increased costs.

Having the partner with the Ottawa Valley Community Foundation is very important, he said.

Games Manager Cindy Burwell said the games were “the best games ever” and the most organized. She attributed this to the volunteers on the committee working behind the scenes as well as volunteers on the ground.

“Over 1,300 people from across the county stepped up to support these games,” she said.

There was also cooperation from others, including those in charge of transportation to the food vendors. As well, the many sponsors made the game a success, she said.

“Collectively the County of Renfrew put on the best games ever,” she said.

She said it has been 15 months since the last athlete left the county, which is hard to believe.

County of Renfrew CAO Craig Kelley said the idea of the Ontario Winter Games started with a text from then Calabogie Peaks Manager Jim Hemlin who proposed hosting the games. A meeting was held and a plan to bid for the games was launched.

Despite challenges, including the pandemic causing the postponement of the games from 2022 to 2023, the event was a success, he said.

“We estimate the games added $4 million to our economy in two weeks,” he said. “More importantly, the games were being held at venues across the entire county, meaning many communities shared in the pride and benefits from hosting these events.”

The games were always intended to have a legacy and the creation of this fund was due in large part to the many sponsors, he said.

Community Foundation Partnership

Matt Bradley of the Ottawa Valley Community Foundation (formerly the Pembroke Petawawa District Community Foundation) said in 2007 community members were seeing the closure of many service clubs and this was the impetus for the foundation.

“We already knew governments could not do it all,” he said, so in 2008 the foundation was formed.

“This is part of a growing movement to support local communities,” he said, noting all funds stay local.

There are many funds in the foundation, including palliative care, Pembroke Waterfront Fund, funds for children and many others, he said. Since the foundation was formed, the catchment area has grown.

“We support social needs and capital projects from Arnprior to Deep River, from Pembroke to Barry’s Bay,” he said.

The name change recently reflects the wider scope of the foundation, he explained.

“We are honoured to be the stewards of the excess money coming from the beautiful games, the Ontario Winter Games held in Renfrew County,” he said. “We will ensure those monies are properly invested and distributed in accordance with the vision of the games committee.”

More information can be found on the foundation at www.givingthatgrows.com

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader