Calgary 2026, Redefining Legacy

“Legacy is not leaving something for people, it’s leaving something IN people” –
Peter Strople

Calgarians will go to the polls November 13, 2018 for, what appears to be, a straight forward plebiscite on whether or not to pursue the bid for the 2026 Olympics.  True to form this has become a very polarizing issue with most polls (depending on whose you are reading) keeping things close to 50-50.  My problem with this is the lack of detail and the various ways facts are being presented.  I was a volunteer for the 1988 Olympic’s and they were (and continue to be) an enviable benchmark for every winter Olympics since.  However they were just as plagued with naysayers during the bidding process as these new ones are so lets move past that.

I find the lack of information on the “Return on Investment” (ROI) on the 1988 concrete legacy structures a little disturbing.  I know the Olympic Oval has been used many times for national and world competitions as well as a training venue for other national teams.  That’s almost thirty years of returns.  I know the bobsled/luge course is used winter and summer for a wide range of activities.  That has to be worth something.  I know the Olympic Plaza has been used for much more than “medal presentations” since 1988 so that has to be worth something.  However I am no accountant so that kind of ROI assessment should be done by people with bigger calculators and more in-depth spreadsheets than I have access to.

However an ROI on the legacy issue is a whole different matter.  Legacy is not only a concrete concept measured by structures but also an abstract concept measured by thought and memories.  An example of the abstract legacy of Olympic Plaza is held in every kids heart who has skated on the outdoor ice pond there, held in the memories of every parent who has taken their children there over the years and held in the realization of everyone who has attended an outdoor event there.  That legacy cannot be measured on the Olympic spreadsheet but can be measured in the joy of the Calgarians making use of it.

Since returning to Calgary I have listened or read the pro and cons of both sides.  The one area that seems to be missing is the abstraction of the living legacy created by the venues.  The grade ten class of today doesn’t remember the bobsled racing of 1988 but do recall the thrill of the class outing where they rook a ride down the chute.  That kind of legacy, again, cannot be measured on a spreadsheet but will provide a lifetime of value.

Picture of wheelchair curling after having released my rock
Juan de Fuca Wheelchair Curling Club, Victoria, BC

I have spend my life being told by others what I could and couldn’t do.  Fortunately I am a free thinker so many of those things I’m told I “couldn’t”, I do.  Twenty-five years ago curling rinks weren’t even accessible, now it’s a Paralympic sport.

What one can do is a matter of experience, not perspective.  Those who told me what I couldn’t do were approaching the issue from their perspective and lacked the experience, or desire, to look through new eyes to see potential solutions.  We need to get outside our individual silo’s and leave the groupthink in there so we can start being innovative again.

Fifty years ago I was told I would never be able to participate in organized sports.  In the

A fast break away during the 1967 first Canadian Wheelchair Games held at Loyola College, Montreal
A fast break away during the 1967 first Canadian Wheelchair Games held at Loyola College, Montreal

fall of 1967, as a 17 year old kid, I headed off to Montreal for the first Canadian Wheelchair Games.  Again something we were told could never happen but we didn’t listen and here we are fifty years later with wheelchair sports bigger than ever.  The legacy lives on.

For Calgary to host another good set of Olympic Games is going to require everyone to rethink the old.  We have to move past the paradigm of yesterday, get out of our “comfort bubbles” and start re-inventing our thoughts.  Legacy is more than a concrete structure and there are many legacy concepts that live on forever in out memories.  How do you put a price to that?

Victoria Summer Solstice Dance Festival , myself and Lori (my dance partner) performing in the Dance Victoria Summer Solstice Dance festival (2005)
Victoria Summer Solstice Dance Festival , myself and Lori (my dance partner) performing in the Dance Victoria Summer Solstice Dance festival (2005)

I was told I would never be able to perform as a dancer due to my wheelchair.  Thanks to interpretative wheelchair dance I performed professionally with a non-disabled partner (Lori) who was able to take her dance background and be innovative.  The arts and culture community has to be part of the Olympic 2026 bid process, after all the original Olympic Plaza has evolved into the heart of the Calgary arts and culture scene.

It is now surrounded by venues dedicated to the arts and culture of our community.  The abstract nature of the Plaza legacy helped contribute to that.  We have the the Theatre Calgary, Arts Common and Glenbow Museum all within a short stroll.  We have the new National Music Centre and now an architectural wonder in the new public library, all build to surround the Plaza with culture.  How do you measure that kind of legacy?

So before you vote in November, think about what you are voting for.  This isn’t the Calgary of 1988 but those memories live on.  Looking at it through new eyes can we create new legacy adventures for 2026, legacies that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.  Legacies that will live on in memory all the way to our own grandkids.

I believe Calgary is ready to take the next step into the new future…


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