Ontario Winter Games Legacy Fund is coming and there is good news

Renfrew – The Renfrew County 2023 Ontario Winter Games legacy project is coming and it promises to be a positive influx of money to promote sport and accessibility locally.

“It will be a good news story,” promised Peter Emon, the chair of the games and warden of Renfrew County.

Although the games, held in February 2023, concluded over 13 months ago, there has been little talk of the legacy project which is something the Ontario government asks each games committee to provide. When contacted by the Leader, Chair Emon said they are still working on finalizing the numbers, but there will be good news coming from the “Sport for all Legacy Fund” which had been announced before the games began.

He did confirm the games finished with a surplus and not in the red. However, just how much money is left for the legacy fund is still being determined through provincial auditors.

“We are still wrapping up,” he said. “Our report has to be audited.”

The invoices are all in and he said there will be a surplus, so the province will release the money from the transfer project agreement.

Mr. Emon said there will be a presentation about this to Renfrew County council, he anticipates in August. There will be a full accounting of the games at that point, he said.

Although some in the community might have perceived there was a lackluster level of support locally for the games, the chair said this is not the case.

“We had over $300,000 in sponsorships,” he said, adding this is much higher than other Ontario Winter Games have had.

The legacy project is something the games organizing committee is mandated to do. Early on in the planning stages, the local organizing team stated they would spend the legacy project funding on upgrading accessibility at facilities so sport is open to all in Renfrew County. Another initiative would be helping athletes to be able to participate in community events where finances are a barrier. The legacy project will be divided among these two streams, he said.

Mr. Emon said he is hopeful the legacy project will continue for many years. Just how the money will be spent will be decided when the final amount is presented, he said. There could be the option of spending the money in the next few years or investing it and having the legacy fund continue.

“Do we hand out the money and deplete the fund or invest and replenish it?” he asked.

If the money is to be invested, he hopes there would be an annual fundraising event to add to the fund, but this will still be determined.

Prior to the games, Chair Emon was very upfront about the challenges faced by the Games. Hitting right in the middle of a pandemic, the games were postponed and there was mixed support at Renfrew County council to hosting the event in the first place. Many councillors voted against supporting the games and because of the carry-over of the games from 2022 to 2023 due to COVID measures, some committees had multiple chairs and difficulty finding chairs or volunteers.

The Games were also plagued by increased costs the world encountered during the COVID pandemic.

The Renfrew County games were envisioned as far aback as 2018 when a bid was prepared to host them. The province provided funding of about $1.4 million for the games and local municipalities were also asked for donations of cash or “in kind” help.

With the opening ceremonies in Renfrew, where many events were also held, that municipality was a centrepiece for the games. Mr. Emon is also the reeve of Renfrew, a position he has held for several years.

Over a year after the games, just how widespread the support was for the games was is debatable. There was not a lot of local enthusiasm, perhaps in part because the participants were mostly from other parts of Ontario and there were very few local athletes.

However, the Ontario Winter Games was one of the larger events held in the county in recent decades. Perhaps the biggest event prior to this -- and still the biggest local provincial event in recent memory -- was the 1994 International Plowing Match, which attracted a large crowd of locals and had its own legacy project -- the introduction of the 911 system and signage in the county. The only other major event was Expo 150, Renfrew County’s 150th anniversary which was celebrated over several days in 2011.

During the leadup to the games, Chair Emon was upfront about the challenges faced by the games, but now, 13 months later, he is happy to look forward to bringing in the legacy fund.

“The Winter Games had a surplus,” Mr. Emon said. “That was my biggest worry.”

There was a lot of hard work by the volunteers to make this happen, he stressed.

“I am proud of the group. It is a credit to the 18 members of the committee,” he said.

Full details on the legacy fund will emerge when the report is presented, likely this August

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader