1987 Jeux Canada Games staged in Cape Breton 30 years ago
The 1987 Jeux Canada Games were held here 30 years ago.
Lynnette Kokocki Chiasson will occasionally flip through the pages of the 1987 Jeux Canada Games programs she has and still feels the pride of representing her province.
Chiasson was the lone Cape Breton athlete on Nova Scotia’s women’s volleyball team that competed at the event staged in Cape Breton, Feb. 14-28, one of the biggest sporting events ever held on the island. Close to 2,000 athletes from across Canada competed in 17 different sports.
“Especially being here in Sydney, it meant the world to me,” said the 47-year-old Mira resident, originally from Whitney Pier. She coaches girls volleyball both at Sydney Academy and with Volleyball Cape Breton.
Chiasson started playing volleyball at Whitney Pier Junior High School. After suiting up for Sydney Academy, she played a year of senior volleyball before trying out for the Canada Games team in Halifax when she was 18.
“It was long trips back and fourth to Halifax every weekend,” she said. “My mom would take me, my grandmother — whoever would take me, would take me. If not, I’d get the Acadian Lines bus up.”
The Nova Scotia volleyball team didn’t medal at the event, but Chiasson said her fondest memory was the time she spent with her teammates at the athletes’ village at Breton Education Centre.
“We did everything together. We went everywhere together. There was never a moment that somebody was by themselves,” she said. “Within our team, there was myself and a girl from Bridgewater who were kind of the outsiders because everyone was from the Halifax/Dartmouth region, but the team just welcomed us with open arms and never had any problem with billeting either one of us out if our parents couldn’t take us. It was great.”
Some sports highlights included the Nova Scotia men’s basketball team that pulled off a 91-76 upset win over Team Quebec in the gold medal game in front of 1,200 fans at Breton Education Centre gym. The Nova Scotia squad included Keith Donovan and Charles Ikejiani of Glace Bay and Scott Borden of Sydney. Also, weightlifter Jim Dan Corbett of New Waterford captured a bronze medal in the men’s 52 kg class.
Dr. Carl (Bucky) Buchanan, president and CEO of the Games, said the idea to host the event in Cape Breton started with Dr. Donald Arseneau in a letter to the editor in the Cape Breton Post. Arseneau suggested something special should be planned with Sydney’s bicentennial approaching.
Dr. Don- ald Campbell, president of the then University College of Cape Breton, Judge Allan Sullivan and then premier John Buchanan asked Carl Buchanan to attend the 1981 Canada Summer Games in Thunder Bay, Ont., and put together a bid to host the summer games. He found out later that the rotation had changed, and Cape Breton put a bid in for the winter games instead.
The Cape Breton bid won out over other bids from Halifax, the Annapolis Valley, Amherst and Truro.
“When I look back on it, I think we gave the community something to be proud of and the
community should have been, because all of our events were sold out,” said Buchanan. “You couldn’t get a ticket for curling. The Canada Games Complex was used for hockey and boxing and it was jammed every game. The basketball was in New Waterford and was sold out and Nova Scotia won the gold.”
Three levels of government shared the funding for the Games, and the event had a budget between $17-18 million. A group called Friends of the Games helped bring in $3.5 million from corporate sponsors and ensure a frugal operation in the end.
When the Games were over, the area was left with Centre 200 in Sydney, which would eventually be a catalyst in getting an American Hockey League team, the Cape Breton Oilers. Also, counting equipment and funds, more than $1 million was given as a legacy to the university, along with the Canada Games Complex. Other facilities like local high schools received new hardwood flooring for their basketball courts, glass backboards, and bleachers. Other sports equipment is still being used today.
Another legacy was the experience gained by the volunteers. About 6,000 people lent their time to the Games.
“Our volunteers, without question, benefitted greatly,” said Buchanan. “We went on to host the world juniors and different events of that magnitude that even to this day, most people would be on a roster somewhere or people you’ve met, that if you called them today to volunteer for something, that’s the connection that we had.”
The figure skating competition at the 1987 Jeux Canada Games at Centre 200 in Sydney. A total of 17 different sports and close to 2,000 athletes from across Canada competed at the event.
The Canada Games Complex hosted both hockey and boxing events during the 1987 Jeux Canada Games.
A packed house at the Sydney Curling Club watches women’s curling.
Team New Brunswick and Team Newfoundland compete in the men’s basketball event at Breton Education Centre gym in New Waterford.