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Canada Games Opening Ceremony

What an honour it was for the crew of the Picton Castle to light the cauldron at the Canada Games opening ceremony on Friday night!

The ship is still in Cape Town, but back in Nova Scotia we were invited to be part of the opening ceremony for the Canada Games, Canada’s biggest multi-sport competition for young athletes from every province and territory. The Games are held every two years, alternating between winter and summer, and Halifax is hosting the winter Games this month. To welcome the athletes to Nova Scotia and kick off the two weeks of competition, the opening ceremony on Friday night had a distinctly nautical flair and the organizers decided they wanted the crew of a tall ship to be involved. It was a call we were thrilled to receive! We assembled a team of alumni crew currently in the local area who responded quickly and enthusiastically to the invitation.

After some rehearsal in the days leading up to the big event, Friday night arrived. During rehearsal there had been just a few people in the arena at the Halifax Metro Centre, mostly production staff and performers, getting things ready for the show. Friday night was different – when we walked in through the backstage entrance the atmosphere was electric. Groups of athletes were assembling backstage, all dressed in their provincial uniforms and carrying flags and noisemakers. We made our way to the dressing room that we shared with the rest of the torch team, passing people with headsets rushing around, the big trailer with all of the broadcasting equipment and countless volunteers marshalling athletes and performers. The audience was starting to fill in, we could hear the sounds of thousands of footsteps in the stands over our heads.

At 7pm the event began and the noise in the hallway outside our dressing room reached a crescendo as the parade of athletes began. The team from Manitoba had assembled just outside our door and our conversation in the dressing room was drowned out by shouts of “Mani-Mani-Mani-Toba-Toba-Toba-Mani-Toba-Mani-Toba!” The athletes entered the stadium from the tunnel just down the hall from us, so we watched the procession on its way, giving a particularly loud cheer ourselves as Team Nova Scotia, the last team to enter the stadium, passed by us. Once the athletes were all seated, we knew it was time to put on our matching outfits and get ready to be called for our entrance.

Admittedly, we were a bit nervous as we stood just outside the tunnel where we’d make our entrance, but mostly we were excited. Waiting with us was the band Grand Derangement and also Jimmy Rankin and his band. Grand Derangement performed first, there were a few speeches, then Jimmy Rankin took the stage. During his performance, the four Canada Games torches were brought into the stadium, down the aisles through the audience and onto the floor of the stadium, carried by young people representing Nova Scotia’s founding Acadian, African, Gaelic and Mi’kmaq cultures. When Jimmy Rankin’s song was finished, Paul Tingley, Paralympic gold medallist in sailing from Halifax, made his entrance carrying the Roly McLenahan Canada Games torch. This was our cue to enter the opposite end of the stadium and get into place under the cover of darkness.

As we took our positions, we could see the audience begin to rise to their feet, a standing ovation for Paul and the torch started by Team Nova Scotia. When Paul reached the centre of the stadium floor, the four Canada Games torches came together to light the torch he carried, earning a giant roar from the crowd. By the time Paul got to where he would start to pass the torch to our crew, the entire audience was standing and cheering. Receiving the torch from Paul Tingley was Erin (World Voyage 4, Summer 2006, Caribbean 2007), who passed it along the floor to Kathleen (Summer 2004, World Voyage 4, Summer 2006), Alex (Summer 2006, World Voyage 5), Ryan (World Voyage 4, Summer 2006, Atlantic Voyage) and Erin (Atlantic Voyage, Summer 2009). Erin handed it up to me on stage, then I carried it across to Bub (Summer 2009), who started passing it up to Helle (Summer 2002, World Voyage 3, Summer 2004) and Danie (World Voyage 3, Summer 2004, World Voyage 4, Summer 2006) who were standing in the metal scaffolding, designed to resemble a ship’s mast. Julie (Summer 2006, Summer 2007, Summer 2009, World Voyage 5) was on a separate truss ladder at the level of the cauldron in the crow’s next and when Danie passed the torch up to her, the volume of cheering in the stadium was almost deafening and cameras were flashing like strobe lights. Timed perfectly to the music, Julie reached out at just the right moment and ignited the giant flame in the cauldron!

Being on stage with thousands of people cheering, doing something that makes them feel proud and inspired, is a real rush. Not quite the same rush as furling the flying jib out at the end of the jibboom when the wind pipes up, but despite not currently being aboard this gang of alumni crew pulled together to make this a success. It was an absolute pleasure to be invited to participate in the opening ceremony – many thanks to the organizers of the Games, the producers of the show and to all of the Games volunteers who made this such a fun and exciting experience. Best of luck to all of the athletes who will be competing here in Nova Scotia over the next two weeks!

For anyone who missed it, you can see the opening ceremony online here (skip ahead to 4:47 to start the torch part): http://watch.tsn.ca/2011-canada-games-on-demand/opening-ceremony/#clip416741

Julie lights the cauldron
just before going on stage at the Canada Games opening ceremony
the crew with Paul Tingley just outside our dressing room
the whole torch team after our performance at the Canada Games opening ceremony
waiting behind Jimmy Rankin and his band to go on stage

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