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Halifax rolls out Canada Winter Games welcome mat

The Canadian Press

2/12/2011 9:06:46 AM

HALIFAX -- A city looking for a little redemption used its ties to the sea to welcome the country's best young athletes to the Canada Winter Games on Friday night.

As host city, Halifax wants to repair its reputation after infamously dropping out of the running four years ago for the 2014 Commonwealth Games over that event's $1.7 billion price tag.

The opening ceremonies were the first step in that process as the city put on a spectacle that paid tribute to the athletes with a nod to Nova Scotia's maritime history.

"This is going to be the biggest sporting event in our province's history," said Premier Darrell Dexter. "It's a great opportunity to showcase what we've always been famous for, which is Nova Scotia hospitality."

As the athletes entered the Halifax Metro Centre, faces of people painted in various provincial colours were projected onto screens fashioned to look like the schooner sails of the legendary Bluenose. A less-than-capacity crowd of spectators waved red sparklers as the athletes, led by Yukon, entered the arena.

Throughout the city Friday, young athletes in brightly coloured provincial uniforms could be seen in small groups, heading to hotels and checking out the local sporting venues.

In all, 2,700 competitors from 800 communities will take part in about 20 sporting events, including freestyle and alpine skiing at two hills north of Halifax.

Jamie Jewels, 21, a wheelchair basketball player from Donkin, N.S., beamed with pride at competing in her home province.

"It means the world to put the Nova Scotia gear on and come out and represent your province in your own province, it's a great feeling," she said.

Others were eager to get their competitions started.

"I'm super excited to be here," said speedskater Victoria Spence, 18, of Kamloops, B.C., who was her province's flagbearer. "We've travelled a long way and I'm ready to compete."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the athletes should be proud of the hard work that got them to the Games and that will get them to future international competitions.

"You take on each other, province against province, but never forget that you are getting ready to take on the world, to take on the best in the world because that is what this is all about," he said.

"Canadian athletes did that last year at the Olympics, do you remember?

"Do you remember when Canada won the most gold medals by any country ever at the Olympic Games?" he said to loud cheers.

New Brunswick Premier David Alward and P.E.I.'s Robert Ghiz also attended the opening ceremonies.

A number of acts from the province were on the bill, including The Trews, Grand Derangement, Jimmy Rankin and the Stanfields.

The beginning of the two-week event marks the first time Halifax has hosted the Games since the inaugural summer event in 1969.

"Some of these aspiring athletes are going on to bigger and better things ... like the Olympics," said Chris Morrissey, CEO of the Games. "You can't beat the experience of coming to an event like this."

At the Vancouver Olympics last year, 63 per cent of the Canadian athletes who won medals had competed at previous Canada Games.

In the days ahead, Alberta's men's hockey team will be vying for its sixth straight Canada Games medal. The team took home the bronze in 2007 while Ontario nabbed gold.

In women's hockey, Ontario is considered the team to beat as it looks for its fifth consecutive gold medal.

At the Canada Summer Games in Charlottetown in 2009, Ontario took home the Flag as the top scoring province, edging out British Columbia. It's an honour the province has won in 17 of the last 21 Canada Games.