When fans are on the edge of their seats next summer during the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games, they will be new ones.
With the aging bleachers serving as a backdrop, July 31, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser announced $500,000 in funding for upgrades at St. F.X.’s Oland Stadium, which will focus on the installation of new seating.
“We are here today for a terrific announcement that will impact the campus and the larger region of northern Nova Scotia in a very positive way,” the St. F.X. alumnus said, calling it “special news.”
Fraser made the announcement on behalf of his colleague Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA). ACOA is providing the funding through its Innovative Communities Fund (ICF).
The new bleachers – and the required safety standards they will meet – will help St. F.X. and the region in its effort to secure and host large-scale sporting events.
“The support of our federal government has been a key component in our process of upgrading and improving the Oland Stadium facility,” St. F.X. President Kent MacDonald said, describing the facility as “the health and wellness heart of northeastern Nova Scotia.
“Students, athletes, and families from around the region engage in physical activity, sport and attend community events here.”
Fraser also talked about not only the “immediate return” coming from hosting the national Special Olympics, but also the long-term “economic impact” an improved Oland Stadium will provide.
“This is not just a one-time investment,” he said.
Fraser added such investments in the university and the community “matter so much.”
MacDonald noted hosting the national athletic competition next summer – only the second time it will take place in Nova Scotia – will have a great “spillover effect” that will be “deep and measurable” at so many levels, including economically.
“It is so important,” he said of the campus facilities.
MacDonald added this work – and the ongoing renovations, which also include seating, at Oland Centre – will benefit more than just St. F.X. students and staff.
He noted more than 160,000 people, other than the aforementioned, “came through our doors” last year to use the facilities.
“It is an integral part of our community,” MacDonald said.
Warden Owen McCarron of the Municipality of the County of Antigonish described the announcement as a “fantastic way to start our week” on the Monday afternoon.
He noted the federal funding is another milestone in bringing the community “one step closer” to hosting the Special Olympics; not to mention providing Antigonish and the university with a better opportunity to host more large-scale events.
“It adds to our foundation of being a place to come, to visit and to compete,” McCarron said.
Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher talked about the “effect on us as a community.”
“It is not just an investment in St. F.X., but also all of Antigonish,” she said.
Boucher noted the effects will be experienced “not just directly, but also indirectly, in terms of economic development.”
She also talked about the focus on accessibility – one shared by St. F.X. and Antigonish municipal units – such projects provide, as part of making the community a “much better place to live.”
One year away
One of the more than 1,400 athletes that visitors in those new seats will be cheering on is Theresa Borden, a highly-decorated member of the Eastern Highlands Special Olympics team.
“I will leave it up to you to guess how old I am,” she quipped to laughter, in noting her participation in Antigonish dates back to its inception, locally, in 1979.
In a career that spans four decades, Borden has competed in three national games, where she earned one gold and one silver medal.
“I know the pride a host community feels,” she noted.
Borden said this investment will help us “put our best foot forward.”
“I am excited that we will be able to show our pride in Antigonish,” she added.
Games’ co-chair, former Antigonish mayor Carl Chisholm, noted competition is scheduled to start one year from the day the federal announcement took place.
“It is plus, plus, plus,” he said of the new seating.
Chisholm noted it will be the first time the national Games will take place outside a major centre.
“This goes to show that we are going to do it [host], and do it well,” he said.
Chisholm joked organizers are now turning their attention to Mother Nature in an effort to secure great weather for next summer.
“We are working on her,” he said.
Chisholm noted the local Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games’ organization would be launching a website – one focussed on recruiting volunteers – in the coming days.
“We are looking for help and we encourage people to join us,” he said.
MacDonald said construction on the new seating is expected to start during the winter.