Vancouver's Games most embraced by locals ever - why?

Post by Mike Klassen in ,


Thousands take to the streets in Vancouver
Did free attractions draw the crowds for Vancouver's Olympics? (click for larger)

On Friday, veteran broadcaster Brian Williams, CTV's "face of the Games" stated that in all the Olympics he had covered, he's never seen a city embrace the Olympics like Vancouver has. Yesterday, after a short tour of Holland's Heineken House I interviewed with Freek de Wette, Heineken's international sports sponsorship coordinator and director of the house. Heineken House is a premier destination at each Olympics, usually voted the "best pavilion" at each Games. Freek (pronounced 'frake') has been organizing Heineken House going back as far as Barcelona 1992, and according to him, Vancouver has been the most successful Games in terms of exciting the interest of local residents.

"In Athens, they were literally asking residents to take a vacation and leave the city," says de Wette. "In Beijing you didn't see as many people from the city celebrating. I know, because I've been to a lot of Olympics, there's no comparison with what's happening here in Vancouver."

In de Wette's mind the answer was clear. The 2010 Games gave those who didn't hold tickets for events something to do. What made the difference, is when people started to realize that there was so much to do. For FREE, that is.

Back in December, we predicted that the only way that Vancouver's Games would truly be deemed a success would be if Vancouverites and others in the region embraced the spirit. In my December 19th column for 24 Hours Newspaper I wrote:

Perhaps the best way that we get good value for our investment is to partake of the dozens of free events being staged during the Games. Think of the message we'd send to the world when thousands of us show up to celebrate in our own cities.

Indeed, to that point the widely held viewpoint was that "unless you've got a Vancouver Club membership and drive a Range Rover, the Olympics are out of your reach."

For weeks, my colleague Daniel Fontaine and I have put every spare moment into promoting the free activities, doing countless interviews with both local, national and international media. With their help, and yours, the message that everyone should get out and enjoy the free stuff was widely circulated. And when the line-ups got too long, people still wanted just to get out and feel the joy of celebrating with others.

It's been incredibly exciting to see this happen, and I think the world is getting that message I hoped for.

So what's next? Certainly beginning next week things will begin to feel considerably less exciting. The adrenaline will begin to wear off, and the public will be looking for ways to keep the buzz going. What we should do is consider the future for these kinds of large scale events for our city, our region and our country.

Like with Expo 86, Vancouver has proven again that it can be an incredible host. The debate should begin as to what kind of world event we should conduct next. For Canada, we have no choice but to make absolutely certain that a powerful consortium of provinces, territories and industry are at London 2012 and Sochi 2014. Canada has written the book on inspiring interest in the public, and we must continue to use the Games as a vehicle for attracting the best and brightest.

Like Heineken House, which is a veritable Dutch embassy at the Olympics, with passport services, politicians, royalty and athletes mixing with the public, and their national radio and TV networks in place, Canada must create a dynamic presence at future Olympics. We could have a collection of pavilions featuring the regions and our businesses, providing information about our universities and our artists. It would be a safe and welcoming destination for Canadian tourists, while inviting thousands from across the globe to know us better.

Instead of each province or territory working alone, we should make every effort to collaborate in this endeavour.

The idea of Where 2 Be for Free should live on as an example for future Olympics and major events. And we can trace it back to the success of Vancouver 2010.


I believe what Vancouver has done for the Winter Olympics and their city is great! I love the atmosphere and the way the games have brought Canadians and visitors together.

It's been a bit crazy with the crowds and queues, but a lot of it has been definetly worth it and inspiring and just plain fun.
I say you should have more year-round festivals and concerts that are free or have minimal costs to show that Vancouver is a fun,cultural and cosmopolitan city.

I'd just like to say how much I appreciate you having the brains to do something like this, I've been telling people to have a look, and I've left your link on some of my photo's I've posted on flickr. My "handle" there is: wade in da water, you can Google this. (my middle name is Wade, hence the title) I've got 3.5 days of photo's still to process.

you have done an excellent job in helping to get the word out about free events. So well, that business is sucking wind in most of the city outside the downtown venues. It is what it is.

Your next job... helping us get through the morning after.

I spoke with a colleauge in Salt Lake about the inevitable hangover. He advised me that they had attended the closing ceremonies and had to drive past the ski jump venue on their way home. The lights had been turned off.

It has been a great party and we will never be the same as a city. Let's hope we capitalize on all that we have learned about ourselves.

Yes, public, free events are always a must. Also, all cultural venues should have a "popular prices" season, for most of the people get contact with art and culture.This kind of initiative has been successful in many countries, and it is good for business, too.

You guys have nailed this for a few months. But beyond attendance at future Olympics, what can we learn about the vibrancy of downtown for these two weeks. Surely we don't want or couldn't sustain the energy, but if we tried to repeat the downtown ambiance for at least two or three summer events, it would be fantastic. For one, the summer jazz festival could be expanded further with more free sound stages in the downtown area. The draw would be fantastic. I think of the Sacramento Jazz Festival that draws over 100,000 fans each Memorial day weekend. Then there could well be other specialty type events that could draw so many to our wonderful city. Just need some thinking and work.

i agree that you've done an amazing job promoting the free events for this olympics and kudos to you for doing it on your own dime really. I think your journalistic effort and community minded-ness is recognized as having a pivotal effort on creating a successful turnout for the olympic period. i'd love to see you translate this into a full time paying gig :)


What you guys did to help make these olympics a success is the unwritten story. So many people I know were going to simply stay at home and watch it on the boob tube until they heard about how many free events there was going to be. you deserve a lot of the credit for this. Hopefully someone recognizes your efforts beyond those who have already posted here. Keep up the good work.

I have truly enjoyed receiving your daily Olympic insight. I have used much of the information you gave to make my visits into the city very time efficient.
What I really want to say...thanks for a job fantastically done!!

ps. I would like to thank the Vancouver Catholic School board for giving our students the past two weeks off as our Spring Break.

I would also like to add my thanks to the folks at City Caucus for putting this site together. When I first tried to find out what was going on via the official Olympic site, I got really confused and frustrated as the info was just in so many places. City Caucus did an awesome job of putting all the free stuff in one place and giving people the opportunity to comment on the various venues - this helped me to decide what I should see and what I should pass on. I have also enjoyed reading everyone's comments and opinions on what they have experienced - seems a great balance of folks who have really enjoyed every minute and folks that have been disappointed. That's what makes a GREAT discussion. Thanks City Caucus, I will certainly be checking the site after the games!

According to an entry on Wikipedia, there are some civic entities exploring the notion of Seattle, USA and Vancouver, Canada of co-hosting the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.

Go Canada go?

Remember, most free events are not free to someone. They cost lots of money to put on.

For instance, the Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee mentioned earlier, charges for its entertainment. They have a million and a half budget and still have financial problems.

Check out!

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