Crowds shiver, cheer as Olympic torch relay finishes Ontario leg
KENORA, Ont. — An honour guard of candles encased in ice lanterns greeted the Olympic flame relay when it arrived in Kenora last night, for its last overnight stop in Ontario before it heads west.
The robust northern town’s streets were lined with ice lanterns perched on snowbanks and at the end of residents’ driveways. A long-winding path guided the days’ final torchbearer, Wayne Ficek, down to the shores of Lake of the Woods to light the community cauldron.
“It was almost surreal, it was an unbelievable moment,” said Ficek, a parole and probation officer who is active in wheelchair basketball and curling.
Many of the hundreds of residents awaiting the torch’s arrival carried candles with red plastic flaps to keep their flames from being extinguished by a biting northern Ontario wind. Even Kenora’s mascot, a fish sculpture known in these parts as Husky the Muskie, sported a pair of red Olympic mittens on his fins.
The ice lanterns are “a Kenora thing,” said resident Deb Spendlow, who said Kenorans place them on graves at the cemetery each Christmas Eve.
“It’s a big moment for Kenora because we’ll probably never see the torch again,” her friend Karen Rustige said, adding that she is thrilled she will be working as a police office at the Winter Games.
Mayor Len Compton elicited huge cheers from the crowd when he assured the throng hometown boy and Philadelphia Flyers centre Mike Richards would lead the Canadian men’s hockey team to gold.
Earlier in the day, about 140 kilometres to the east, thousands turned out to greet the relay as it snaked its way down Dryden streets, lined with telephone poles decked out in red and white ribbons and crowds of schoolchildren chanting “Let’s go, Canada.”
Banners reading “Dryden believes!” appeared here and there, and yards and snowbanks were dotted with metre-high inukshuks fashioned out of coloured ice blocks to match the Vancouver 2010 Olympic logo.
The celebration was moved indoors because of the cold, and about 2,000 people packed a high school gym while just as many crowded its hallways and the parking lot outside.
Glenda and Brent Darling took a day off work and drove an hour from Sioux Lookout, Ont., along with their children, Jessica, 8, and Charles, 5, and their nephew, Parker MacRae, 12, to see the flame.
Torch relay organizers said they planned the route so that 90 per cent of Canadians would be within an hour’s drive of the events, and the Darlings said the highway to Dryden was crowded with people from outlying areas, drawn by the flame.
“We appreciated anything from the national stage that makes it local,” Glenda Darling said. Her entire family dressed in multiple layers of patriotic gear, with Team Canada Tshirts and hoodies, topped by Canadian flag fleeceblankets tied over their shoulders like capes.
“It’s the community spirit, which is a stepping stone for the national spirit,” said Brent Darling.
Earlier yesterday, the Olympic torch relay passed through Upsala, Ont., where several dozen children and adults gathered on the side of the highway to welcome the flame.
As one torchbearer passed the beacon to the next, and with temperatures hovering around -16 C, children began singing O Canada and then crowded around the flame holding their own torches made of white painted cardboard tubes topped with red-and-orange tissue paper.
The relay hits Falcon Lake just west of the Ontario-Manitoba boundary this morning and will make its way into Winnipeg late in the afternoon, prior to a fireworks celebration at The Forks later in the evening.
The flame relay, a 45,000-kilometre Canadian trek which began on Oct. 30 in Victoria.
The Olympic flame will pass through more than 1,000 Canadian communities in the hands of 12,000 torchbearers, before arriving at Vancouver’s B.C. Place to light the Olympic Cauldron and open the 2010 Winter Games on Feb. 12.
Canada’s 2010 Olympic torch relay will be the longest in history contained within the host country.