As Winnipeg hosts the 103rd Grey Cup
By Jon Waldman
With so many major events having come through Winnipeg, it’s hard to believe that the festivities are far from over.
In fact, the biggest celebration of them all is now mere months away—the return of the Grey Cup to Winnipeg for the first time in nearly a decade; and the party that’s going to be ignited in the heart of the country is going to be unlike anything seen before.
The Grey Cup coming back to the River City, however, is hardly coincidental. As His Worship, Mayor Brian Bowman told Winnipeg Men, there is a distinct effort from City Hall and tourism bureaus to bring marquee events of this calibre to the city.
“Increasing tourism in our city and attracting major sporting events is a priority,” Bowman said. “The Grey Cup, the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada tournament, and the upcoming 2017 Canada Summer Games prove that Winnipeg is in demand as a great location for large-scale sporting events and will help attract more major events.”
Despite being a franchise that has been part of the CFL for decades, Winnipeg has only hosted the league’s championship game on three occasions: 1991, 1998 and 2006. Most often, the game has been held in Toronto, to the tune of 47 times in the trophy’s 103-year history. Unbalanced? Yep; but the CFL, to their credit, has made considerable efforts to share hosting among its member cities more often in recent years. You have to go back to the mid-late 1980s to find a time when one city hosted a Grey Cup multiple times in a short span (Vancouver, who hosted the game in 1986, 1987 and 1990).
Recent history also has good fortune on the side of the home team. For a three year stretch (2011-2013), the host city not only got to watch their boys hit the gridiron for the championship, but win the game as well; and with fingers firmly crossed, the Bombers were, at press time, in a playoff position with the opportunity to renew that suddenly new tradition among CFL squads.
Showing Winnipeg to Canada
And there is little doubt that Winnipeg will show that it is more than worthy of hosting a celebration of the Canadian game, not just at the Cup itself, but also the accompanying week-long festival.
“Winnipeg is a great city for this type of event. Winnipeggers typically like to get involved, volunteer, showcase all the great parts of the city in that regard,” comments Jason Smith, president of the Grey Cup Festival.
What will separate Winnipeg from other host cities is that the Festival isn’t all going to be centred at one venue. Instead, as Smith reports, a variety of facilities across Winnipeg will be hosting programs, including the University of Winnipeg, RBC Convention Centre, MTS Centre and, of course, Investors Group Field.
Bringing these venues on board went both ways. Some, as Smith explains, asked to host events, while others were approached, especially with specific programming in mind.
“We had a lot of venues stepping up, asking to be part of it,” Smith said, “but we also were looking at ways to engage the downtown and the city in a different way than was done in the past. We took a look at the events that take place at a typical Grey Cup and one of those is the street festival. We talked about how we could take this, broaden it out and showcase some of the downtown area and engage people. So we thought about the brand new soccer complex at the University of Winnipeg, we should try to move that into the festival, because that will allow people and families to go down to a free event, see the university campus and be involved in some indoor programs no matter what happens weather-wise.”
“In addition to the traditional concert series, happening Thursday-Saturday at the Convention Centre, that will feature national acts (including Queen City Kids, Dallas Smith and the Sheepdogs, among others), there will be programming through the later afternoon and early evening at the U of W campus, showcasing local and indie bands for free,” Smith says. “And we’re also doing a downtown restaurant passport, for people who come into town. We’ll be able to showcase the restaurants downtown in a ‘where to go’ format.”
Smith adds that the CFL is working with Festival organizers to conduct a Fan Festival at the Club Regent Event Centre prior to the league’s awards show. The fest will include interactive displays, player autographs and a chance to see the Grey Cup.
All of these events will help make the Grey Cup a memorable experience for Winnipeggers and the deluge of tourists who will be coming to the River City, regardless of who the Bombers play in the championship game.