In 1967, Cal Miller, Financial advisor to the Yukon Team is in Quebec City for the first Canada Winter Games and watches the more experienced southern athletes outplay his athletes from the North. At the same time, Stuart Hodgson, the commissioner of the Northwest Territories, is witnessing something similar with his team. It was then that Miller suggested creating their own games for the North – to provide a forum where athletes from the "circumpolar North" could compete on their own terms, on their own turf.
Commissioner James Smith (Yukon), Commissioner Stuart Hodgson (Northwest Territories) and Governor Walter Hickel (Alaska) began the Arctic Winter Games in 1969. All three men were concerned about the lack of competition that our northern athletes and coaches had access to, and the lopsided scores they were frequently exposed to when they participated in national events in the south.
The first Arctic Winter Games was held in Yellowknife, NWT in 1970 with three contingents coming from Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska.
Northern Alberta first sent an ‘observer team’ of 40 athletes to the 1986 games in Whitehorse, Yukon. That number almost doubled by the next games in Fairbanks, Alaska. A few months later Northern Alberta was accepted as a full partner, and it was agreed that an invitation to participate would also be extended to Greenland, Northern Quebec, and potential trade partner, Russia.
It was also decided there would be an increased focus on the Cultural Events & Arctic Sports indigenous to the north - as well as the addition of Dene Games. These changes brought immediate and positive results to the games, including an increase in team competition, as well as the benefits of international volunteer recruitment, fundraising, sponsorship & television coverage.
In 1993, the name of the Arctic Winter Games Corporation was changed to the Arctic Winter Games International Committee, and three years later the games shifted their focus to youth. By the 2000 Games in Wood Buffalo Northern Alberta, the only adults included were in Culture, Arctic Sports, and Dene Games. These games also featured two new guest units, the Sami People from Northern Scandinavia and the Province of Yamal, Russia.
In 2008, the 20th Arctic Winter Games returned to where they began - Yellowknife Northwest Territories. Many past participants joined in the birthday celebration as they cheered on our northern youth sharing in the spirit of the Arctic Winter Games. Five generations of young people have come together to share sports, culture and friendship, and the focus of the Arctic Winter Games is still the same today as it was in 1970:
“to involve as many athletes as possible, either in the Games themselves or in team trials - and to provide a forum of competition for those other than elite athletes with competitive opportunities in the south”
March 6-13, 2010 the 21st Arctic Winter Games will be hosted in Grande Prairie, Alberta Canada.