Dispatches from Vancouver: Imagine That All This Could Be Ours
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Dispatches from Vancouver: Imagine That All This Could Be Ours

Stephen Johns camped out in Vancouver and reported back on the 2010 Winter Olympics—with a focus on how they transformed one of Canada’s major urban centres.

Granville Street on any given night during the games. Photo by Stephen Johns/Torontoist.

As storybook endings go, Sidney Crosby’s overtime winner against the United States was about as good as they come. His goal, which is destined to join Paul Henderson’s in the annals of Canadian folklore, put an incredible exclamation mark on Vancouver 2010, which overcame uneasy beginnings (a “downhill slide from disaster to calamity,” according to the Guardian‘s Lawrence Donegan) and turned into a triumph in virtually every sense of the word—and for Canada yielded a record fourteen gold medals after the country had twice previously failed to win a single one as Olympic hosts.
Our collective national hangover might’ve worn off, but the good vibes emanating from British Columbia will linger on. Evaluating the Games so soon after their completion is a difficult proposition; Crosby’s goal has merely compounded the challenge. But for Toronto, which could very well end up being Canada’s next Olympic host city, a relevant question can still be asked: is hosting the Olympic Games a challenge we’d want to undertake?

It’d be easy to say no: the Olympics are expensive (Vancouver’s cost anywhere between three and six billion dollars, depending on who you ask), they’re disruptive, and they’re inescapable. Yet these last two weeks have us feeling positively radiant about the Olympic movement in general. Come to think of it, why wouldn’t we want to host them ourselves if given the opportunity? CTV’s excellent, around-the-clock coverage captured all the competitive high points, but it simply couldn’t convey the overwhelming goodwill that swept through the Lower Mainland. It’s a cliché, but you had to be there to experience it for yourself. Is that justification for spending billions of dollars on a massive corporate athletic event? Should “because it’s awesome” be a policy initiative? Of course not. But there’s a lot to be said for what the Olympics did for our national self-esteem. The incomparable Stephen Brunt argued in Saturday’s Globe and Mail that these Olympics were “an opportunity, a platform, an excuse, to let loose pent-up feelings of national pride, to express, without apology, with a spirit of joy, a national identity, hitting emotional notes beyond the usual touchstones of climate and geography, of politeness, tolerance, universal health care and hockey.” His sentiments might be a tad bit threadworn, but they cannot simply be dismissed.
Nor can the effect that the Olympics had on Vancouver. The Games put the city under the glare of the international spotlight, and Vancouver responded magnificently—especially when everything that could’ve gone wrong seemingly did early on. The positive vibes went a long way towards counteracting the crass commercialism that’s sadly emblematic of the modern Olympics, and instead infused the experience with energy and enthusiasm. Imagine Toronto having that same opportunity to showcase itself to the rest of the world? This is all hypothetical, of course; it’s worth noting, however, that Canada’s first two Olympics happened twelve years apart (Montreal’s infamous Summer Games in 1976, Calgary’s Winter Games in 1988), so the discussion might have to occur sooner than expected.
The idea of hosting an Olympic Games is bound to inspire conflicting feelings. But having experienced Vancouver 2010, and having allowed ourselves to get caught up in the euphoria of the events and the medal ceremonies and Sidney Crosby’s goal, the thought of Toronto doing so is—right now, at least—one we could embrace.