Red Deer’s great sports year of 1994

Although the event is still four years away, there is a lot of justifiable pride and excitement over Red Deer being named as the host city for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

A look back to more than 20 years ago, to the year 1994, shows how much of an impact hosting major sports events can have on a community like Red Deer.

The roots of the banner year of 1994 actually go back to 1991 when the $23 million coliseum, the Centrium, was completed on the Westerner grounds.

The acquisition of this major sporting and exhibition facility was a huge boost to Red Deer’s ability to host national and international events.

Shortly after the Centrium was completed, Red Deer was named the host city for the 1994 Labatt’s Brier.

Red Deer had been able to edge out the competing communities of Brandon, Charlottetown, Kamloops and Victoria because of the quality and size of the Centrium. Red Deer’s location, halfway between the two metropolitan centres of Calgary and Edmonton was another major advantage.

The Red Deer Brier Society did an excellent job of preparing for the national curling championship.

Well over $1.2 million was raised. More than 1,000 volunteers were recruited. When the Brier commenced on March 6, 1994, Red Deer was ready.

More than 130,000 tickets were sold, second only to the record set at the Saskatoon Brier in 1989 when 151,000 tickets were sold.

As often happens, there was some razzing by a few in the sports media. They took delight in nicknaming the event as the ‘Redneck’ Brier.

However, very quickly, the only red that was apparent was the red on those reporters’ faces.

The Red Deer Brier was a smashing success. The ticket sales were not the only thing that was outstanding. An estimated 1.5 million viewers watched the final championship game on television.

Moreover, while many national sporting events are run at a financial loss, the Red Deer Brier made a profit of $650,000, more than triple the original estimate of $200,000.

In the fall of 1994, the second big sporting event was held at the Centrium – the Sun Life Skate Canada International Skating Competition.

This was the first international figure skating event ever held in Red Deer.

As such, it attracted several figure skating stars from across the globe, including Canada’s own champion, Elvis Stojko.

The event was another enormous success, in a large part due to the hundreds of volunteers who were recruited to help.

Once again, Red Deer garnered very favourable national and international media attention.

At the end of December and into January 1995, the main games of the World Junior Hockey Championship were held at the Centrium.

Other matches were played in other Alberta communities including Calgary and Edmonton. In all, 28 games were played with a total attendance of 128,467.

The real cap to the success of the tournament came when Canada won its third straight world junior hockey championship at a sell-out game at the Centrium.

Unfortunately, there was one incident that threatened to mar the success of the event.

Members of the Russian, Czech and German teams had their hotel rooms robbed.

However, full compensation was quickly offered to the players for their losses.

For many years, Red Deer basked in the glow of the wonderful successes of the 1994-1995 national and international sporting events.

Red Deer had truly earned a major spot on the Canadian sports scene. Moreover, the enormous volunteer commitment to all three events led to the official designation of Red Deer in 1995 as ‘The Community of Volunteers’.