History

Cancelled but not forgotten: The 50th anniversary of the Arctic Winter Games

Games were started in 1970 to give northern athletes more opportunities for training and competition
  • Apr 07, 2020
  • 667 words
  • 3 minutes
Expand Image
Advertisement

More than 500 athletes, trainers and officials launched the first Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife in 1970 — but the event will have to skip its 50th anniversary due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The biennial games were designed to provide athletes from the North with opportunities for training and competition. Athletes for the first games came from the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska. Athletes are now included from more places across the Arctic Circle, including other Canadian provinces, Greenland and parts of Russia. 

In 1967 Cal Miller, an advisor to the Yukon team at the first Canada Winter Games, was disappointed by the performance of the northern athletes. He noted that athletes from the south had greater access to training facilities, equipment and sponsors. 

Miller, along with the commissioner and with the MP of the Northwest Territories, proposed a competition just for northern athletes, which took about two years to come together.

Expand Image
Northwest Territories competitors arriving in the capital after one of the many charter flights organized to bring people together from all parts of the North American Arctic for the 1970 games. (Photo: Arctic Winter Games International Committee)

Sports included in the games differ from year to year and often include games unique to the North, like dog mushing, and traditional Inuit games such as the knuckle hop and one-foot high kick. Indigenous sports began as demonstration events but now hold official status. 

Alpine skiing, badminton and snowboarding are also common features at the games.

Expand Image
For the plane event, shown here at the 2002 games, competitors must hold themselves as stiff as possible for as long as possible, while teammates walk their planked bodies around the room. (Photo: Arctic Winter Games International Committee)
Expand Image
Wrestlers compete at the 2016 Arctic Winter Games. (Photo: Dida G. Heilmann/Arctic Winter Games International Committee)

Along with the sports, a cultural program is offered during the games, with visual arts and crafts connected to the participating communities. A cultural gala ends the run of the games. 

At each Arctic Winter Games, the Hodgson Trophy — a piece of Inuit art created from a narwhal tusk in 1978 — is awarded to a contingent whose athletes best represent fair play and team spirit. Each team member from the winning contingent receives a pin. Instead of being awarded the actual trophy to take home, the contingent and winning athletes receive a photo of the trophy.The trophy itself remains on display in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Expand Image
A cultural dance exhibition at the 2006 Arctic Winter Games (Photo: Arctic Winter Games International Committee)
Expand Image
The Opening Ceremonies for the 2006 Arctic Winter Games. (Photo: Arctic Winter Games International Committee)

In 2020, the 50th anniversary Arctic Winter Games were set to be held in Whitehorse, but were cancelled due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 just one week before the games were to begin. More than 2,000 volunteers were set to assist. 

“The Arctic Winter Games has been an important part of developing athletes and communities across the North for 50 years,” says John Flynn, international committee president. “We are all looking forward to the next 50 and thank our partners for putting our Arctic Winter Games family’s safety first.”

The cancellation was recommended by Yukon’s acting Chief Medical Officer of Health, Catherine Elliott. 

“In a setting like the Arctic Winter Games, even a suspected case would be devastating. It is with a heavy heart that I have had to make this recommendation. It is the responsible recommendation, and it is very unfortunate,” says Elliott. 

The 2020 games will not be rescheduled. The 2022 games will be held in Wood Buffalo, Alta.

Watch this video from the Arctic Winter Games International Committee of the first games in 1970:

Advertisement

Related Content

Arctic Frontiers conference 2019

Environment

Five key takeaways from the Arctic Frontiers conference

The uncertainty and change that's currently disrupting the region dominated the annual meeting's agenda

  • 2651 words
  • 11 minutes

Environment

Four things to know about Arctic policy and sustainable ocean management in Canada and Norway

The Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society teamed up for two days of talks on the future of the Arctic and the “blue economy” in Norway and Canada

  • 1179 words
  • 5 minutes
Heinrich Scherer's 1702 chart of the North Pole

People & Culture

Why the North Pole matters: An important history of challenges and global fascination

In this essay, noted geologist and geophysicist Fred Roots explores the significance of the symbolic point at the top of the world. He submitted it to Canadian Geographic just before his death in October 2016 at age 93.

  • 5167 words
  • 21 minutes
Assassin's Creed Odyssey landscape

Mapping

Inside the intricate world of video game cartography

Maps have long played a critical role in video games, whether as the main user interface, a reference guide, or both. As games become more sophisticated, so too does the cartography that underpins them. 

  • 2569 words
  • 11 minutes