The 2022 Canada Games torchbearers have been selected to help carry the spirit of the games across the country, with 13 of them chosen to carry the torch through Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero says she is thrilled to begin the NOTL portion of the relay from Queenston Heights as it travels through town July 30.
When her executive assistant, Victoria Steele, brought to her attention that applications were open to be part of the torch relay, she says, she agreed right away that she would love to be part of it.
She applied, “just like everybody else in the region,” and was not only accepted, but given the first leg to run, walk or roll.
NOTL torchbearers are to meet in the morning at the Meridian Credit Union Arena to be transported to Queenston Heights for a 10 a.m. start, and a route that will end up back in Virgil.
Disero says she hasn’t done any running in a long while, having stopped when she started to have back problems, but she walks regularly.
Each leg of the relay is one kilometre or less, and she’s confident it won’t be difficult — although she doesn’t know how heavy the torch will be to carry.
She will hand off the torch to George Webber, who takes the second leg, from the end of the Bruce Trail to the corner of the Niagara River Parkway and York Road. He passes the torch to Peter Fenwick, who carries it to the corner of York Road and Sheppard Crescent. The route continues along York Road and up Four Mile Creek Road, carried by Ross Robinson, Jane Martin, Ken and Emily Seibel, Julian Caverley, Carter Simpson, Neveah Ferrara Horne, Tim Taylor, Linda Chang, John Easton and Wade Stayzer, eventually ending back at the arena.
“I’m super excited about doing this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Disero.
She’s also pleased to have the two sports events in NOTL, tennis and sailing, as well as one of the 13 For 13 Cultural Festival, a new initiative for the 2022 games. Held on select evenings between Aug. 7 and 20, the festival event will see each of Niagara’s municipalities, as well as Niagara Region, collaborate with one of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories to showcase the unique cultural heritage, entertainment, art, and culinary experiences of each pairing, with no admission charge. NOTL will be paired with B.C. Aug. 10.
All 12 Niagara municipalities are included in the relay. The torch arrived by ship in Port Colborne Friday night, exactly 50 days ahead of the opening date of the games, which run Aug. 6 to 21. In keeping with Canada Games tradition, the torch relay began with a lighting ceremony for the Roly McLenahan Torch in Ottawa at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill June 6. It then traveled from Ottawa to Montreal by way of the Trans Canada Trail, and embarked on a CSL ship to Port Colborne.
Over the next seven weekends, the torch will travel to every corner of the region, before completing its last leg in St. Catharines July 31. By the time the torch arrives at the Meridian Centre for the Aug. 6 opening ceremony, it will have traveled through 21 communities in both Ontario and Quebec, covering approximately 1,200 kilometres by foot, bike, horse, and boat.
It will begin its Niagara leg from Albert Street in Thorold Saturday, June 25, arriving in NOTL July 30, and wrapping in St. Catharines the next day.
Disero will be one of about 150 people to carry the torch through Niagara.
Rotary Clubs across Niagara are offering a fundraiser for the games and for their clubs, by selling one-of-a-kind Niagara games T-shirts to friends and family members who want to run with the torchbearers during the relay.
Webber, who takes the torch down the escarpment from Queenston Heights to the end of the Bruce Trail, says he filled out the application form, wanting to be part of the relay, and was both surprised and delighted to be accepted.
He says he has not been doing a lot of walking recently — the extent of his community involvement indicates why he doesn’t have time — but he and his wife Audrey Pellett have started getting outside and walking three or four kilometres a day so he can be physically fit when his turn comes. “You don’t want to be gasping for breath when you have to hand it to the next person,” he says.
“I get the easy part, and I could always roll down the hill it if I have to, but I can’t drop the torch,” he jokes.
Webber is also volunteering with the committee that is planning the 13 For 13 event. He is a member of the town’s inclusivity, equity and diversity committee, has done some inclusivity training for the town, and is using his interest and expertise to look at accessibility issues for 13 For 13 Festival, which in NOTL will take place in Simcoe Park, and will include an arts and artisan display and sale.
His main role is to make sure the event is accessible to all, “so that individuals who may have some sort of disability are not left to struggle. Diversity is more than race and gender,” he says, “it’s about accessibility, about having an inclusive event that allows everyone to participate, without having difficulty moving around.”
That includes reaching out to accessibility experts “to see whether what we’re planning on doing is the right thing to do.”
Webber is a busy community volunteer, also with a position on the board of the NOTL Museum. He first got involved, he says, when he was on the education committee of the Voices of Freedom Park, and that role “led to exposure to the museum,” first with a temporary board position, and next as vice-president. In that role, he is working on a variety of projects, he says, “not the least of which is the expansion the museum,” and also increasing membership, “which has been successful, even through the pandemic.” The museum did an amazing job in continuing programming for community engagement, he added, and in continuing its fundraising efforts.
Another project he is also undertaking, in consultation with James Russell, is to tackle fundraising for the archeological project to unearth gravestones in the Negro Burial Ground. Russell, who is based in Toronto, is focused on research “to find who these people are, and who their families are. I could be the public face here, working collaboratively with town council and staff, and putting together a strategic plan in terms of how to go about this.”
But as busy as he is, July 30 is a date on his calendar he is really excited about, and he’s going to continue walking every chance he gets to be ready for the big day. He says he is especially grateful to the Rotary Clubs across the region who are making it possible for not only the successful torchbearer applicants to take part in the relay, but others to run along the route with them. He will have his wife taking part beside him, his family and friends, “and maybe even one or more grandchildren out there with me,” he says, ensuring the spirit of the games and the magical experience of the torch relay is shared. “It’s going to be a family event for us.”