1970 The First Arctic Winter Games

The initial idea for holding athletic competitions in the north, exclusively for northerners, can be traced back to an incident during the Canada Winter Games held in Quebec City during the Centennial year of 1967. Stuart Hodgson, Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, accompanied Team NWT and while watching a Team NWT member compete in badminton Hodgson had to leave the auditorium for a few minutes, when he got back the game was already over and the Team NWT athlete had been soundly defeated by a better trained and more experienced athlete from the south.

Hodgson realized that it wasn’t because we had poor athletes in the north but that southern athletes not only had much better facilities in which to train but also came to the Canada Winter Games with a lot more competitive experience. With this realization came the idea that there should be northern games for northerners and that the spirit of those games should be one of friendly competition between neighbours.

The first Arctic Winter Games were held in Yellowknife (map) in 1970. Five hundred athletes, coaches and officials descended on Yellowknife creating a logistical nightmare for organizers of the Games, they were expecting far fewer competitors. Those first Games took on a much higher profile than expected and Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau even agreed to officially open the games.

Participants in those first Arctic Winter Games come from Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories. At the second Arctic Winter Games held in Whitehorse in 1972 athletes from Northern Quebec and Greenland also attended while the Soviet Union and Labrador sent observers.

Over the years the games alternated mostly between Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories. They have become more sophisticated, the level of competition is much better and yet Stuart Hodgson’s vision of friendly competition hasn’t changed.