Ontario wins gold with Pan Am Games


The Celebration Zone at Toronto’s Harbourfront features ziplines, performances from the likes of Bruce Cockburn and the Cowboy Junkies, and lots of Pan Am Games paraphernalia. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor

TORONTO, ONTARIO — If you really want to get a sense of how big the 2015 Pan Am & Parapan Am Games are for Ontario, look no further than Toronto Harbourfront.

I’m standing at Ontario’s Celebration Zone on the shores of Lake Ontario on a bright, uncomfortably hot sunny day with only one or two lonely clouds in the sky. The newly built area is teeming with activity. On my right is a giant white structure housing a stage. On stage is a band I’ve never heard of, but they’re good. On the left is a similar structure featuring the logo of the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, filled with people sipping drinks and chilling in the shade. Behind me to my left is a young boy rock climbing under the gaze of his watchful dad.

Above my head, a girl whizzes by on a 400-foot zipline, her high-pitched squeal giving off a perfect doppler effect as she soars over me and the crowd. All around people are snapping pictures of the CN Tower or the buskers. There are people everywhere. Within 20 minutes of being in the Celebration Zone, I have spoken to people from India, Trinidad and Tobago, and Germany.


Anyone can be a star during the 2015 Pan Am Games — thanks to the red carpet provided by the Toronto International Film Festival. The Games have delighted fans at Ontario’s Celebration Zone. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

For Ronald Holgerson, president and CEO of the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation (OTMPC), this vibrant slice of life is a sight for sore eyes, a crowning achievement that will showcase the province to the world.

“It’s very exciting, it’s going to be 38 days of excitement until August 16th. It’s a lot of work, but it’s all for celebrating Ontario, so it’s happy work,” says Holgerson, who explained the OTMPC is producing the Celebration Zone on behalf of the government of Ontario but it is without any sponsorship. “The Ontario Celebration Zone is free except for food and wine. There’s an adrenaline rush jump-off-the-cliff sort of experience. There’s over 500 performers appearing on stage, there’s a big, big stage on the main pavilion, then we are using the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, and then on Monday and Tuesday evenings the Westjet Theatre. So it’s full of entertainment. There are two eating service areas where people can really enjoy the culinary treats Ontario offers.”

Holgerson says another step the province has taken to ensure continued interest from tourists are with television commercials and media outreach.

“We’ve done several things in our role of promoting Ontario as a tourism destination, a preferred global tourism destination in our mind,” says Holgerson. “You may have seen one of the television ‘Invade and Get Ready’ TV commercials. Those commercials were shown in our consulates and embassies throughout North America, South America and the Caribbean. We did a special event in Brazil with an athlete. We are welcoming international media and helping them find other stories. So while they’re shooting various athletes and various team sports, they’re also looking for other stories to tell.”

Larger Event Than 2010 Vancouver Olympics

While Toronto is carrying the name of this event, all of Ontario is winning gold at these games, which are expected to showcase the region to an international audience attracting tourists, jobs and new business investments. Check out these statistics from OTMPC:

  • The 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games will be the largest multi-sport event ever held in Canada, spanning 5,300 square kilometres and 15 host municipalities. The games are creating more than 26,000 jobs in construction, operations and tourism, and are helping to grow Ontario’s real GDP by $3.7 billion. The Globe and Mail says these games are coming in at around $2.5 billion.
  • There will be more than twice as many athletes in Toronto than participated in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics.
  • More than 10,000 athletes, coaches and delegates from the Caribbean and Central, South and North America will compete in 51 sports at more than 40 venues, spread across several municipalities in the area in and around Toronto.

Toronto is hosting Goalball, Judo, Karate, Powerlifting, Taekwondo, Wheelchair Rugby and Wrestling events. Other regions that will benefit are Niagara (Canoe/Kayak Slalom and Sprint, Rowing), Bruce Peninsula, Southern Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe (Mountain Bike, Shooting), Haliburton Highlands to Ottawa Valley (Slalom).


Learn Why Toronto Is the No. 1 Place to Visit In Canada for 2015

Read Vacay.ca’s Top 20 Places to Visit in Canada article  


Another city that’s winning is Hamilton. The Steel City is hosting soccer matches at the CIBC Hamilton Pan Am Soccer Stadium. Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger says the big winner will be amateur sports.

“Like the world road cycling in 2003 and the cycling legacy they’ve created, we have an opportunity to have the Pan Am Games create a legacy for encouraging participation in amateur sports,” says Eisenberger. “We have a number of athletes from Hamilton competing in these games — artistic gymnastics, triathlon, basketball, cycling, racquetball, fencing and 800 metres, my hope is to attend as many events as I can, highlighted by the soccer matches being held here.”

Another region that is expecting increased interest from the games is York, Durham and Headwaters (Water Polo, Badminton, Baseball, Boccia, Boxing, Equestrian and Golf). Kerri King, tourism manager for Durham Region says the Pan Am Games will give the region an opportunity to show all the great things it has to offer.

“Durham Region is one of the fastest growing sport tourism destinations, and the Pan Am Games have provided us with a wonderful opportunity to showcase our local venues,” King says. “We are so proud to have three of our venues hosting competitive events. We are also looking forward to hosting our first annual Durham Festival.” That festival takes place from August 13-16, just as the Parapan Am Games come to a close.

Games Will Leave a Legacy

One of the biggest criticisms of major events like the Olympics is that money heads out the door as soon as the athletes and television cameras do, leaving nothing for the community. Bread Not Circuses famously opposed the 2008 Toronto Olympic bid (eventually won by Beijing), believing the games were too expensive and were a detriment to affordable housing. That organization has a point — the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia are known for being one of the most expensive and corrupt games ever, with the price tag at $9.4 billion.


Hundreds of free concerts in downtown Toronto keep fans entertained and the good vibes going all throughout the Pan Am Games. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

It seems organizers have taken these concerns into account and are at least trying to involve the community as much as possible. According to a press release, Athletes’ Village — the largest infrastructure project for the Pan Am Games — will be transformed into a sustainable, mixed-use community with affordable and accessible housing, a new YMCA, a First Nations healthcare centre, a residence for college students and new transit connections. Beyond 2015, the Games will provide housing, transportation, educational and recreational legacies for decades. At least, that’s the plan.

There have also been several initiatives launched that should make the city look better for years to come. One of them was the Pan Am Path Art Relay, which transformed Corktown Underpass Park into an outdoor art gallery with 23 new public works. The event is the latest leg of the Pan Am Path Art Relay that seeks to celebrate the city’s greatest assets: arts, nature and diversity — while also creating a meaningful legacy of the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games for residents. The organization is planning more events in the city.



Cost: Free.
• 17 celebrity chef cooking demonstrations and two cook-offs
• 62 tastings and pairings will showcase Ontario’s regional cuisines and locally-grown products
• 400-foot zipline, 40-foot rock-climbing wall, adrenaline jump
• 38 nightly concerts, featuring up-and-coming and legendary Ontario musical artists performing in every genre from hip hop and indie rock to country and classical: Bruce Cockburn, Cowboy Junkies, Down With Webster, Elliott Brood, Great Lake Swimmers, Hannah Georgas, Hollerado, k-os, Lindi Ortega, Ron Sexsmith, The Glorious Sons, The Strumbellas, Tim Hicks and many more.
• Ontario’s Celebration Zone will offer entertainment throughout the day, including over 50 theatre and dance performances, Aboriginal, Francophone and ethno-cultural community showcases, book readings, art installations and comedy performances to entertain audiences of all ages and interests
• Weekly Ontario Fresh Market on Wednesday’s featuring Farmers, wineries, food and craft vendors
• More than 100 kid-friendly activities, including circus acrobats, children’s theatre and hands-on science adventures
• Ontario innovation showcases, where kids of all ages can try the coolest toys from Ontario’s digital media sector or take part in multi-player video game tournaments
• Daily morning workouts, “try a sport” opportunities and fly-boarding demonstrations every Saturday

To see a full weekly schedule, click here.

Looking for more information on Pan Am Game events? Check out Epic Is On Magazine.


Rod has previously worked for Canoe.ca and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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