Arctic Winter Games open with outdoor ceremony

Last modified: January 29, 2023 at 11:10pm

The week-long 2023 Arctic Winter Games began in Fort McMurray on Sunday with an 80-minute outdoor opening ceremony.

Inuvialuit hockey player Kyra McDonald carried the NWT flag as Team NT entered the stadium alongside athletes from Alberta North, Nunavut, Nunavik, Greenland, Scandinavia, Alaska and Yukon.

The flame was transported to its cauldron via dog team at the ceremony’s climax as fireworks erupted over the stage.


Organizers pressed ahead with a full-length ceremony after forecasting a wind chill factor of -24 on Sunday evening, high enough to remain above the event’s temperature cut-off. Daytime highs could drop as low as -26C without wind chill later this week.

NWT athletes await the 2023 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony
NWT athletes await the 2023 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony. Ollie Williams/Team NT

The ceremony suffered occasional technical difficulties, from feedback to freezing microphones. Most of the main dignitaries, from Wood Buffalo’s mayor to Canada’s sports minister, appeared in pre-recorded video messages.

Some athletes and coaches filtered out of the stadium before the ceremony’s close as the cold conditions bit, but this year’s “time to shine” catchphrase repeatedly received an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd.

Counting athletes and coaching staff, more than 300 participants from the NWT are in northern Alberta for the games.

While a handful of events began on Sunday, the games explode into full swing on Monday with Northwest Territories athletes involved in 16 different sports.

Team NT’s day begins with curling, hockey and table tennis at 9am, and concludes with volleyball beginning at 7pm.

Some of the first ulus – the Arctic Winter Games’ traditional form of medal – can be won in the Arctic Sports events of triple jump, two-foot high kick and head pull, and the Dene Games discipline of stick pull.

Team NT figure skaters ahead of the opening ceremony
Team NT figure skaters ahead of the opening ceremony. Ollie Williams/Team NT
Team NT's male curlers in action on the opening day of Wood Buffalo 2023
Team NT’s male curlers in action on the opening day of Wood Buffalo 2023. Ollie Williams/Team NT

Ulus are also available on Monday in biathlon, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and short-track speed skating.


Flagbearer McDonald and her hockey team begin their campaign against Alaska at 6pm.

In Sunday’s action, Team NT’s female curlers defeated Alberta North 7-4. The male team lost 2-10 to the same opponent while the juvenile male futsal team was defeated 6-0, again by Alberta North.

Bus delays

Earlier on Sunday, organizers promised improvements to bus transportation for athletes.

Several teams reported waits of two hours or more for a bus from the athletes’ village – an oil sands lodge at least 40 minutes away from of most venues – to Sunday training sessions or competitions.

Multiple events on Sunday started later than scheduled, in part to allow time for busloads of athletes to arrive. (Some teams also reported that the organization of the bus system after the opening ceremony rapidly disintegrated.)

“Today is opening day. Like any games, you’ve got the kinks to work out,” host society general manager Nicole Clow told reporters.

“We’ve had some transportation delays but we’re working with the transportation company. We are doing our best and there are first day hiccups that we’re working through.

“We’re confident that tomorrow morning, things will be smoother.”