N.W.T. government asks Yellowknife to host 2026 Arctic Winter Games

Skiers Derek Deuling and Sasha Masson at the Arctic Winter Games trials in Whitehorse in December 2015. (Derek Crowe  - image credit)
Skiers Derek Deuling and Sasha Masson at the Arctic Winter Games trials in Whitehorse in December 2015. (Derek Crowe - image credit)

The territorial government is proposing Yellowknife host the 2026 Arctic Winter Games and, at a council meeting Monday, the City began considering whether it can.

At this week's governance and priorities meeting, Gary Schauerte, the director of sport, recreation and youth with the department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) told the mayor and councillors that having the capital host the 2026 games would help with economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic and would showcase arts and culture in the territory.

The 2026 games had first been slated for Yamal, Russia but the AWG committee suspended Russia's hosting citing the war with Ukraine.

The N.W.T. had been scheduled to host the AWG in 2028, but since the international committee was no longer considering Russia's hosting bid, the committee wrote to MACA Minister Shane Thompson and asked if the territory would move up in the hosting rotation and take over the 2026 slot.

In Schauerte's presentation, he told the city that Yellowknife is the only municipality under consideration because of the short notice and pressures the games would put on facilities, as well as costs the city would have to incur if it does decide to host.

Councillors lukewarm

Schauerte said Yellowknife already has hotel accommodations available and suggested schools be used for additional space. He said the visitors would bring economic benefits and a chance to showcase the capital to newcomers.

Some council members said they weren't sure the benefits would be worth it.

The main concerns they cited were costs, space and staffing resources.

For this year's AWG in Wood Buffalo, the municipal contribution is around $5.4 million and total expenses exceed $13 million.

For next year's games in Mat-Su, Alaska, total costs are around $9.9 million.

The N.W.T. last hosted the games in 2018 with co-hosts Hay River and Fort Smith.

The territory provided the towns with $3.5 million, plus an additional $1 million of "in-kind" support. Schauerte said that would be the starting point for negotiating the territory's contributions for 2026, though he added the necessary approvals would still have to follow.

He also said he expects about $1.5 to $2 million of federal support would be available.

'I can't see this being a priority'

Mayor Rebecca Alty said the financing will be a challenge for the city and she suspects supporting the games would be a challenge for the territory too, "since every time we ask for a bit more funding for our drinking water or to properly dispose of waste and sewage or recreation, they say there's no money in the budget."

If there is that money in the budget, Alty said she would be keen to have a conversation about ways they can increase recreation across the N.W.T.

Alty pointed to the aquatic centre and the new water line as big upcoming projects taking up significant city capacity.

"Every time we add a new project, something else falls off and I can't see this being a priority that is higher than anything else on our work plan right now."

She added that on average, sports tourists spend less than aurora tourists, so if visitors for the games held the majority of the capital's hotel capacity in March, visitor spending might actually decrease.

Councillor Stacie Smith said she is "very concerned" with Yellowknife's ability to accommodate the games. In response to Schauerte's suggestion that visitors' stay in schools over March break, she pointed to recent complaints about accommodations during AWG trials in Yellowknife.

 

City analysis coming in the spring

City manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett said that city staff would provide an analysis of costs and resources that would be necessary for Yellowknife to take on the 2026 games.

Recalling the last time Yellowknife hosted the AWG in 2008, Bassi-Kellett said as well as opportunity for the capital the games brought unforeseen challenges.

Hosting the 2026 games, she said, would be "a great opportunity, but we want to go in eyes wide open."

Bassi-Kellett said that city staff would report back to council with the analysis report in the spring.