P.E.I. host communities ready to show off their Canada Games spirit

Cyriah Richard is one of two goaltenders selected to play on the female hockey team for the 2023 Canada Games.  (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)
Cyriah Richard is one of two goaltenders selected to play on the female hockey team for the 2023 Canada Games. (Brittany Spencer/CBC - image credit)

Cyriah Richard has a little note pinned to her wall. It's a promise she made to herself many years ago.

She's had it since she could first fit into skates, and it says: "I hope I will be in the Canada Games."

Today, it's a dream come true.

The Tignish 17-year-old will compete against the nation's top hockey talent next month when the Canada Winter Games begins on Prince Edward Island. Better yet, she's playing on home ice.

"I always dreamed of playing in the Canada Games. I cannot wait," Cyriah said.

Her mom, Tina, added: "Since she was about three she's said: 'I'm going to play in the Canada Games.' It was her goal."

Cyriah said she found out she would be one of the team's two goalies last October. Since then, she's been training hard, and got to carry the torch during the final leg of the relay through Tignish.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

After years of chasing that goal of one day making it to the Canada Games, finding out she now has the chance to play in her western P.E.I. hometown makes that dream even more special. Hosting events in smaller Island communities means more people will have the opportunity to be part of the games who might not otherwise, she said.

"Everyone comes to support you. I know there were a lot of people walking behind me when I was carrying the torch that came to watch my hockey games, but I also didn't know some people… [They] just did it because they love the sport."

She said her hope is to inspire other young athletes from small towns to go after their goals.

Submitted by Tina Richard
Submitted by Tina Richard

Cyriah's mom, Tina Richard, is also Tignish's recreation director. She said she remembers the excitement back in 1991 — the last time the winter games were held on P.E.I. — and watching athletes from across the country come to compete. She said the opportunity to host an event in her hometown is an even bigger thrill.

"It's exciting for everybody," Richard said. "We'll have people from two to 100 years old out here at this rink watching, because people from Tignish love hockey."

Tignish will be hosting one of the female hockey games, something Richard said is a perfect fit for the community.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

"We have a lot of girls playing hockey and it would be nice to see other girls competing at that level, and know they could do it in a few years time and maybe it would be their turn to make it on the big stage."

'We're excited to have that level of competition'

Richard said hosting events will also be a boost for businesses within P.E.I.'s smaller communities during the off-season. She said accommodations in western P.E.I. have been booking up and restaurants are preparing for crowds.

Apart from P.E.I.'s two cities of Charlottetown and Summerside, Canada Games events are also being hosted in O'Leary, Tyne Valley, Abram-Village, Three Rivers, Stratford and North Rustico.

Erica Wagner owns Backwoods Burger, which has locations in Tyne Valley and the rinks in O'Leary and Tignish. She said business always slows down in the winter, and having a boost like this is more than welcome.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

"It's such an opportunity for us to reach people from all across the Island," she said.

"Sometimes it seems like — when you're a member of smaller rural communities — that everything is sort of very centralized to Charlottetown and those areas. So spreading the wealth across Prince Edward Island, showcasing all these different communities, is really awesome," she said.

Wagner's neighbour in Tyne Valley is Dillon's Convenience & Pizzeria, which is a popular spot for locals. Manager Betty Enman said she hopes the Canada Games will bring some new faces to the community as well.

"Hopefully a lot of people will learn [about] our little treasure here in Tyne Valley," she said. "In wintertime it's 'get in and get out, get to town and get home again.' But with the Canada Games, and being able to go to these smaller communities, you see the beautiful aspects of them, you meet the people."

It's such an opportunity for us to reach people from all across the Island. — Erica Wagner

She said she also hopes it will inspire people to come back and visit again.

Tyne Valley Mayor Jeff Noye said there are still some final touches that need to be added to the rink there. But overall, people in the community are excited to welcome new faces into the rink. He expects all 350 seats to be full.

"We're excited to have that level of competition come and to show off our great facility and our local businesses and just our town itself," Noye said.

'Spread the excitement'

"It's pretty exciting to see them getting enthusiastic about welcoming the nation to their community," said Wayne Carew, chair of the board of the 2023 Canada Winter Games Host Society.

"That was our mandate, to create Island-wide games."

Submitted by Wayne Carew
Submitted by Wayne Carew

Carew said that while not all communities on the Island had the facilities necessary to host a competition, many will be hosting cultural events instead. He said many communities were part of the touch relay across P.E.I., and others, like Souris at P.E.I.'s northeastern tip, will be hosting festival events during the games.

He said a full schedule of festival events will be announced next week.

"We're trying to spread the excitement and the buzz right across Prince Edward Island... It is gratifying to hear back from those communities because they're all in," Carew said.

The 2023 Winter Canada Games will run at venues across P.E.I. from Feb. 18 until March 5.