[Editor's note - 6:23 p.m. ADT: The original story indicated the opening ceremony will take place from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The correct time is 8 to 10 p.m.]
Let the Games begin.
That’s a common refrain in Antigonish – known affectionately as ‘The Highland Heart of Nova Scotia,’ as it puts the finishing touches on preparations to host the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games.
“Things seem to be coming together really well, so we are going to be ready. I have to say that we couldn’t be happier with the way in which things have gone,” Carl Chisholm, Antigonish organizing committee co-chair, said.
In a brief pause, while jetting between venues on the St. F.X. campus Monday afternoon, just more than 24 hours before the opening ceremony at the Keating Centre, he praised the effort that so many people have put into helping prepare Antigonish and the university to take the national stage.
“It has been a phenomenal, phenomenal turnout of volunteers, who have helped get us to this point,” Chisholm added.
Only the second time the national Games will be taking place in Nova Scotia (1994, Halifax), the 2018 event will also mark the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics in Canada.
“I met a couple of the teams, already, and they said everything has been excellent,” Chisholm said, using the word “fantastic,” when describing the early response from those arriving for the Games.
“They were giving me high-fives and thanking us for having them.”
Organizing committee members met with chefs de mission Sunday evening.
“They are enthralled with what we have got done for them and how the venue looks, and how close everything is,” Chisholm said.
“They are beyond excited.
“So far, we have no complaints and we hope it continues that way,” he added.
A trickle of people who started arriving over the weekend in Antigonish has turned into a steady stream.
“Take a walk down Main Street. I couldn’t believe it – the sidewalks are full,” Chisholm said.
He noted the estimated economic impact, with businesses, such as hotels, bed and breakfasts and restaurants bustling, from Truro to Port Hawkesbury is seven to $10 million.
Chisholm noted, with a laugh, even the weather seems like it is going to cooperate.
“The long range forecast looks great,” he said.
More than 1,000 athletes will be amongst in excess of 4,000 visitors, including coaches, families, volunteers, and mission staff, who will make their way to Antigonish.
Opening day activities Tuesday at the Games will include an Athlete Experience Event – sponsored by East Coast Lifestyle and Sobeys – at picturesque Crystal Cliffs Beach in Antigonish County.
At approximately 7 p.m., the Law Enforcement Torch Relay will complete the final leg of its journey across the province with the Special Olympics Torch – known as The Flame of Hope – which will culminate with the lighting of the Special Olympic Cauldron during the Games’ opening ceremony.
That highly-anticipated celebration – one organizers said will reflect Nova Scotia’s place as ‘Canada’s Ocean Playground’ – is set for 8 to 10 p.m. at the St. F.X. Keating Centre.
“I think we are going to surprise a few people, with the opening that we have planned,” Chisholm said.
He added there has been a “tremendous amount of work” put into the ceremony, spearheaded by chair Mary Farrell and many volunteers.
Chisholm noted the opening will also include the unveiling of a cairn, one designed by artist and Town of Antigonish Councillor Andrew Murray, which will hold the lighted Special Olympics Cauldron during the Games.
“If you don’t do anything else during these Games, get out and see that cairn – it is phenomenal,” he said.
Chisholm noted Francis Arsenault and his team at South River Stone in Antigonish County have helped bring Murray’s vision to life in constructing the monument, with Glenn Arsenault of Arsenault Monuments fashioning the etchings.
“They have done a fabulous job,” he added.
After the Games, the monument, which includes stone from across Canada, will be permanently located at historic Cairn Park in Antigonish.
Although the opening is a sellout at the Keating Centre, there will be seats available to watch the festivities on the big screen at neighbouring ‘Coach K’ in St. F.X.’s Oland Centre.
“There are some free seats remaining,” Chisholm said, noting the 800 to 1,000 spots are on a first-come, first serve basis.
He added those seats will only be available until 7:30 p.m.
“If you are not there by then, you are going to miss out,” Chisholm said.
The five-day celebration of athletics, friendship and fun will include competition in nine sports; athletics, soccer, swimming, basketball, powerlifting, bocce, rhythmic gymnastics, golf and softball, which will get underway Wednesday morning.
Events are free and open to the public.
“Even if it is only for an hour or two,” Chisholm said, in putting out the call out for fans to come out and support the incredible athletes.
“It means so much to have fans cheering them on. Come out, show your support and help us fill the stands.”