Thursday November 30th, 2023 - 01:44:52 AM

Olympic Torch Ignites Chatham-Kent
Austin Wright - December 22, 2009

Mayor Randy Hope on stage wielding the torch
Mayor Randy Hope had been looking forward to this photo-op all year, but the daily newspaper ran a photo instead of somebody out in the cold with no shirt. To remedy this disappointment, the Maple City Star is pleased to publish Mayor Hope's triumphal moment on stage with the Olympic torch and cauldron, as Chatham-Kent made VANOC proud.
After over a year of preparations, the Olympic Torch Relay came through Chatham-Kent this week. Mayor Randy Hope announced the torch event in November of last year, but he scheduled his press conference at the exact same time a very important meeting of 22 Ontario mayors was held in Toronto to discuss the troubled auto manufacturing sector.

An editorial in the Chatham Daily News at the time referred to Hope's bad judgment on the matter, in a rare demonstration of dissent from their normally slanted stance that's been a complete endorsement of Hope's nondescript term in office.

"Hope's decision to remain in Chatham for a glorified photo opportunity while his peers were discussing serious economic strategy is insulting to anyone who lives and works in this municipality," stated the unidentified editorial author in "Hope's auto absence an insult".

trampoline jumper
Various events happened throughout the day. Here, a jumper hangs in mid-air on the trampoline.
Nevertheless, this event was about bringing together the people of Chatham-Kent to celebrate civic and national pride, and show support for our athletes. Mayor Hope's decision to use the announcement for political gain should in no way detract from the occasion itself.

In order to show my personal support for the torch's historical visit to our community, I answered the call for volunteers to assist the events in various ways. This also provided some insight into the process of volunteering for the municipality in an official capacity.

Volunteers are a critical resource that allows special events to happen affordably in the municipality. I decided to forego some of my own enjoyment of the torch ceremony to help other families have fun instead.

All municipal volunteers must submit an application and agree to a police check. Normally there is a fee for the mandatory police clearance, but it was waived for the torch run due to the sheer volume of people needed. I've been busy serving the community for the past few years, so had no trouble supplying a dozen references and passing the criminal record inquiry.

Austin Wright volunteer duty
Here I try to force a smile in the cold, after a full day of volunteer duty.
It wasn't until a few days before the torch arrived that I was contacted to attend one of the three orientation sessions. On a bitter cold Saturday morning, a hundred volunteers met at the Kinsmen Auditorium to learn the procedures and be assigned duties.

The weather forecast for Tuesday wasn't looking too much better. Volunteers had a special parking designation, and would be provided with ample breaks - hot food and drinks were available for free.

My plan was to dress as warmly as possible, and use my off-time to observe the events and take photographs. I had been emailed with the schedule, indicating a total of 3 hours duty for the day. Tuesday arrived with sun, light winds, and temperatures that were unseasonably warm - undoubedly better than earlier forecasts.

Upon signing in at noon, we were given ID badges, volunteer armbands, and a red toque. My first posting was at the barricade erected on Tweedsmuir at Queen, with instructions to let nobody through.

It turned out to be a busy post, as many performers were not aware that the arena was accessible only from Lacroix Street. We tried to be as helpful as possible directing people to the proper entrance.

One of my detainees was mayor Hope, who had come down to check out progress at the site. I took the chance to fill him in on some event details, and advised that the municipality was treating its volunteers well - better than the mayor in fact since they fed us. I assured Hope that I wasn't giving him a hard time, he just couldn't get where he was going from Queen Street.

Canadia Cowgirl rider
The Canadian Cowgirls escorted the torch to the stage in colourful style.
After a couple of hours, a new crew came down to relieve us. We were supposed to be on duty for no more than an hour without having an hour break to warm up, but a fairly large number of volunteers didn't show up, resulting in extra duties for the rest of us who chose to make up the shortfall.

It wasn't -13 degrees as forcast, and I was doing okay so I went directly to a new post. At Lacroix Street, many people were coming through, and each of them had to be interrogated and directed to the proper place.

Once it started getting dark, I got my first quick break, which I took advantage of to snap some photos and grab some hot food and coffee. It wasn't until I tried opening the creamer that I realized my fingers were colder than I thought. The temperature was getting decidedly chilly. My fears of having dressed too warmly were a distant morning memory.

From there I was assigned a post at Dunn, across from the fireworks setup and right along the path to be taken by the torch. As the time neared, the roadway began swelling with people.

Olympic torch
The last torch-bearer of the day parades the flame down Tweedsmuir.
Around a quarter to seven, the torch procession turned on to Tweedsmuir, led by RCMP vehicles with flashing lights. Coke had a couple of brightly-lit vehicles, followed by RBC. In a unique touch, Chatham's own Canadian Cowgirls provided an escort to the torch runner. The crowds erupted with patriotic cheers as the torch passed.

Volunteer duties kept me from attending the main ceremony, but I could hear it on the PA and watch the huge TV monitor that VANOC set up. The cauldron was lit from the torch, and we were treated to some local talent, along with speeches. Mayor Hope praised the proceedings, and thanked everyone including the volunteers.

Finally, the flame was put in a lantern and the cauldron extinguished. Attendees were treated to a grand fireworks display. The stage and exhibitions, which were provided by VANOC as part of the Olympic Torch Relay, were then disassembled for festivities in Windsor the next day.

Attendance was pegged around 7500 people, which is higher than organizers anticipated. We noticed that many people came and left during the course of events, and torch routes through city streets were said to be packed, so cumulative totals could have been much higher. Even my elderly father made it down, as did my kids and wife, who was especially moved by the portion dedicated to breast cancer victims since she is a survivour having fought the disease for 15 months herself.

It was a long day of volunteering, and it did get quite chilly by evening. I went home at 10:00 after nearly 10 hours of unexpected continuous service, where I was grateful to have a nip of Drambuie waiting to help thaw my bones. Had the weather been much colder, there would have been some logistical problems keeping volunteers warm.

Overall, it was a great experience to volunteer for this historic occasion and make it more enjoyable for others. I had the pleasure of working with some great individuals, all of whom dedicated their time to make the local portion of the torch run a success.

A crowd-pleasing fireworks display ended the festivities.


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