Dispatches from Vancouver: But Where Would We Put Our Cauldron?
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Dispatches from Vancouver: But Where Would We Put Our Cauldron?

Stephen Johns is camping out in Vancouver and reporting back on the 2010 Winter Olympics—with a focus on how they’re transforming one of Canada’s major urban centres.

Photo by Stephen Johns/Torontoist.

As the Vancouver Olympics wind down, and as Canadians prepare for what’ll be one of the biggest television events in our nation’s history, an errant Torontonian wandering the streets of Vancouver can’t help but look around and wonder, “Could we do this?”

The short answer is yes, of course Toronto could host the Olympics—albeit the summer games, not the winter ones, since the absence of anything even vaguely resembling a mountain nearby is presumably an insurmountable obstacle. The city came close to winning the 1996 Summer Olympics (eventually awarded to, and subsequently ruined by, Atlanta) but after finishing a distant second to Beijing for the right to host the 2008 summer games, Toronto’s momentum was thwarted by Vancouver’s successful bid. But Toronto would appear to be the logical choice to become Canada’s next Olympic host city; really, other than Quebec City (which failed to land both the 2002 or 2010 Winter Olympics), there aren’t a lot places that could do it that haven’t done so already.
So there’s a chance—a good one, even—that Toronto will host an Olympics some year soon. The 2015 Pan Am Games will presumably allow the city to test the major international athletic competition waters. But with all due respect, the Pan Am Games are like Blue Mountain to the Olympics’ Whistler, and the urban transformation the games would necessitate would be exponentially bigger than what BlogTO imagined might be necessary for 2015. Vancouver has undergone a major (if not quite total) transformation since being awarded the Olympics in 2003. Parts of the city are virtually unrecognizable. Its urban infrastructure has been dramatically upgraded; the new Canada Line, which links downtown Vancouver with suburban Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport, is the sort of thing Toronto would need if it ever hosted the Olympics. And, of course, Vancouver got a few new world-class athletic facilities, the crown jewel of which, Richmond’s stunning speed skating oval, has received several prestigious architectural awards.
Toronto would need venues. In particular, it’d require a main Olympic stadium: Rogers Centre, with fewer than sixty thousand seats, presumably wouldn’t be big enough (Barcelona’s Estadi Olímpic de Montjuïc, which had just under fifty-six thousand, was the second smallest Olympic stadium since the Second World War). Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre could accommodate a lot of events between them, but Toronto would still want an iconic venue to capture the world’s imagination like Beijing’s Bird’s Nest did two years ago. Infrastructure would have to be upgraded; an athlete’s villege would have to be built. Off-hand, one of the few things the city wouldn’t need is a new club district, since the existing one is well-equipped to deal with the general mayhem that’s consumed Granville Street these past two weeks. But that’s the Olympics for you: they don’t come easy, and they certainly don’t come cheap: Vancouver 2010 cost anywhere between three and six billion dollars, depending on how you crunch the numbers.
The logistics of hosting an Olympics are mind-boggling, the price tag even more so. Could we do it? Absolutely. It’s hard to imagine how Toronto might change if a successful bid should ever occur, much like it’s difficult to recognize parts of the “new,” post-Olympic Vancouver. It’s an intriguing proposition—and it’s a conversation that’ll likely occur at some point, since the Summer Olympics haven’t visited Canada since 1976. A Toronto Olympics would be incredible. But would it be worth it?
Whether it’s something we want is another matter, one that’s best left until the euphoria’s died down and we’re able to evaluate Vancouver 2010 with clearer heads—which we’ll be doing soon.