Officially, Niagara Falls is hosting two sports during Canada Summer Games -baseball at Oakes Park and golf at Legends on the Niagara.
But unofficially, the destination is going to be hosting all the athletes, coaches, trainers, volunteers, and their families during the two-week event, said Mayor Jim Diodati.
“I promise you, every one of them will not leave Niagara until they’ve made a trip to Niagara Falls,” he said.
“For some of them, that’s going to be the high point of their trip here.”
Diodati was part of the group that welcomed the first athletes from Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick who descended from a 737 aircraft at Niagara District Airport in Niagara-on-the-Lake Friday afternoon.
“The look on their faces … they were beside themselves,” Diodati said.
“A lot of these kids have never left the island, never mind come to Niagara.”
He said while Niagara Falls is on the “bucket list” for people around the world to visit, it’s also on the radar for many Canadians, too.
“It’s amazing when I talk to people even from as close as Ottawa who have never been here, and I’m surprised, and they’re like, ‘I know, I take it for granted.’ Sometimes you need an excuse to come here,” said Diodati.
“The Canada Games gives a lot of those people that want to get here at some point an excuse to come here now. We’re excited because we like to roll out the red carpet and we offer fun and excitement and memories.”
After winning the bid in 2017 to host the Games and being delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic, Niagara will launch the Games Sunday.
Thousands of athletes and coaches have arrived in the region for the multi-sport event which runs until Aug. 21.
Sports will take place across Niagara from Grimsby to Welland and free festivals will be held in every community.
Called the 13 For 13 Cultural Festival, celebrations will be held in a different Niagara municipality every day, beginning Sunday until Aug. 20.
Each of Niagara’s 12 municipalities and Niagara Region have been paired with a Canadian province or territory to help showcase that part of Canada’s cultural heritage, entertainment, food and art.
Niagara Falls has been paired with Northwest Territories and the festival will be held Aug. 13 at Queen Victoria Park.
The event will include an artist market, with items for sale and live demonstrations. There will also be painting and storytelling, performances by local artists, and Juno Award recipient from the Northwest Territories, Leela Gilday.
The falls will be illuminated, showcasing the beauty of the aurora borealis and fireworks will cap off the night.
The Niagara Falls Illumination Board will illuminate both the Canadian Horseshoe and American Falls in various colors nightly for 16 days, having started Friday to Aug. 21 in celebration of each province’s athletes and to recognize the local support for the Games.
Diodati said he feels a connection to Northwest Territories, having visited with family.
“I’ve toured the area, and I’ve been to Virginia Falls. I’ve been on the Nahanni (National Park Reserve). Of course, Yellowknife.”
He said the concept of the festival is “neat,” as it brings together the 13 Canadian provinces and territories with the 13 municipalities in Niagara (including Niagara Region), and that a turtle, the official mascot (Shelly) of the Games, has 13 pieces on its shell, along with its connection to Turtle Island and the Indigenous community.
“It just seemed like it organically meshed together – this was meant to be, that Niagara was supposed to host these Games, after COVID, in a way that we welcome all the country back in a peaceful way.”
For details on the events, go to niagara2022games.ca/13for13/.