National curling championships a sports tourism victory for RRC

Encouraging local sports tourism has been named a priority for the municipality and Fort McMurray’s athletic community.

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The leadership of MacDonald Island Park says the island has been on the sports tourism radar for years and is getting more attention.

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Hundreds of athletes, coaches and their families just spent a week at the 2024 New Holland Canadian Under-21 Curling Championships. Baseball Canada is hosting championships in Fort McMurray during the next three summers. Jodie Cooper, director of sports and recreation with the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo (RRC), says there are preliminary talks with existing and potential partners in the sports world.

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“It’s about building relationships and relationships built on trust, giving national sport governing bodies the confidence to come into our region, and knowing that we’re going to do not just a great job at event logistics and hosting, but really provide a memorable experience,” said Cooper in an interview.

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Encouraging local sports tourism has been named a priority for the municipality and Fort McMurray’s athletic community. Kevin Weidlich, president of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism (FMWBEDT), told council at a meeting last month that building a community’s tourism reputation takes time, but the groundwork is being laid.

The region is being promoted at trade shows and conferences for the sports industry. Most sports facilities were built or upgraded within the past 15 years. There is a sprawling trail system maintained year-round. The airport can handle international flights. 

Cooper said Fort McMurray’s name is starting to pick up traction slowly within Canadian sports. Forming partnerships with local sports organizations is important if there is a desire to host a large athletic competition in the community. Last weekend’s national curling championship was made possible by a partnership with the RRC and the Fort McMurray Oilsands Curling Club.

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Baseball Canada has been the largest recent partner with the RRC. The organization has already hosted four national championships in the city, with the most recent competitions happening last summer. The Fort McMurray Giants baseball team also compete from the island.

“We’re starting to have those conversations of what that future relationship looks like between Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo and Baseball Canada, and is there something beyond those horizons,” said Cooper. “Those conversations are in their preliminary stages.”

curling
Curlers at the 2024 New Holland Canadian Under-21 Curling Championships at MacDonald Island Park on March 26, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

As for multisport events like the 2023 Arctic Winter Games, which was spread across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, the island often hosts the major or larger events. The bulk of the athletic and cultural events at the island were held at the island, as well as venues such as Keyano College and Centerfire Place.

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Other past sporting events, such as the Western Canada Summer Games and the Alberta Winter Games, also had most of their events hosted at MacDonald Island Park.

The spinoff to these events benefits the rest of the community, said Cooper. The recent curling championship was also the first time many athletes from across Canada saw the northern lights. Cooper said she was told some teams downloaded apps forecasting the auroras.

“These events give us the opportunity to tell our story,” she said. “They give people a reason to come to our community and experience our facilities. There’s the economic benefit of going to our restaurants and staying in our hotels. All that’s driven through a sports tourism initiative.”

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