Welcoming the world
In the spring of 2015, after a special lighting ceremony at the pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico, the famous Pan Am flame arrived in Toronto. For the next 40 days, over 3000 proud torchbearers carried the flame through 130 Canadian communities and finally back to the city. In a spectacular opening ceremony, Canada welcomed more than 10,000 athletes, coaches, and delegates from the Caribbean and the Americas to the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. That summer, over a million Ontarians and visitors from across the country and around the world gathered to celebrate sport and culture.
The new Athletes’ Village near the Don River in Toronto served as a comfortable home-away-from-home for the athletes and officials from the 42 countries participating in Toronto 2015. The complex’s sustainable architecture was designed to become part of a new green community once the Games ended. The athletes competed in over 800 events in venues across Toronto and other municipalities in the Golden Horseshoe Region. Spectators across the province cheered them on, as competitors smashed more than 80 Pan Am records, and Team Canada achieved its best-ever Pan Am and Parapan Am results.
The Toronto 2015 experience included the PANAMANIA Festival, showcasing the diverse arts and cultures of Ontario, Canada, and the Americas through music, theatre, and dance. There was an Ontario Celebration Zone at Harbourfront Centre, La Franco-Fête at Yonge-Dundas Square, and a PrideHouseTO pavilion welcoming LGBTQ visitors to Toronto’s Church Wellesley Village. A pavilion at Fort York showcased Indigenous arts, culture, and sports, and was one of the largest Indigenous festivals organized in Canada. A citywide initiative known as the Pan Am Path was developed to create thematic art installations along recreational trails in Toronto neighbourhoods and to connect them together as one long 80km multi-use path.
You changed us
On a mid-August evening, an appreciative and diverse crowd filled Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square as the Parapan Am Games and PANAMANIA came to a close. “To the athletes, you thrilled us, you filled our hearts with patriotism, you filled our minds with wonder. We hosted you. You changed us,” said Toronto 2015 CEO Saad Rafi. The Games had showcased Toronto and Ontario to an international audience, attracting tourists, jobs, and business investments. Citizens and aspiring athletes will be able to enjoy the newly built housing, the improved transportation networks, and the world-class educational and recreational facilities for decades to come. The Games left a memorable legacy for the people of Ontario.
When the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games arrived in 2015, Ontario stepped into the global spotlight. But long before the crack of the starting pistol there had been hours upon hours of anticipation and preparation.
Hundreds of thousands of people dedicated themselves to building the infrastructure—physical, administrative, technical—so the dream of hosting an international sporting event in southern Ontario would become a reality. Thoughtful finishing touches were put on the venues, local transit plans were finalized, and businesses were eager to serve a surge of visitors. For municipal, provincial, and federal governments along with small local businesses and artists, the Games were an opportunity to exercise inclusive economic prosperity on a large scale.
Each day I visited with organizing officials and toured sites of importance, including the Athletes’ Village, the Indigenous Pavilion, Canada House, and PrideHouseTO. In addition to attending the opening and closing ceremonies, I had the opportunity to present medals at nine sporting events and attend a further 23 as a distinguished spectator.
I was also delighted to attend and participate in many of the PANAMANIA arts and cultural festival events associated with the Games, such as the world premiere of NIÁgArA: A Pan-American Story, directed by Veronica Tennant. It was also a pleasure to celebrate the world premieres of Robert Lepage’s 887 and Obeah Opera by Nicole Brooks.
The athletes and artists had to train hard, keeping their eyes on the prize in the months and years leading up to the Games, and over the course of the summer we saw and celebrated their dedication, discipline, and heart. But it was the incredible efforts of the thousands of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds who came out to show the world the proud and diverse face of Ontario that has become the legacy of the Games. This engagement from students to seniors was as significant a demonstration of social cohesion as I can think of.
It was so obvious that sport can be a powerful agent for change, often playing a major role in any drive towards a more sustainable society. This was a lesson I learned years earlier when as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), I attended the First World Conference on Sport and the Environment organized by the International Olympic Committee in cooperation with UNEP.
And true to form, the 2015 Games strove to be greenest ever with a focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility—giving Toronto and Ontario the opportunity to showcase and create a blueprint of climate solutions. The Pan Am and Parapan Am Games legacy in Toronto includes the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, a new aquatics and sports facility recognized as among best in world for Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design.
The Pan Am and Parapan Am athletes and volunteers inspired us all to rise a little higher, go a little faster, and grow a little stronger. When community comes together with sound policy, planning, and a vision to create an experience that not only provides inclusive economic prosperity, or demonstrates social cohesion, but to push the boundaries of environmental stewardship to the benefit of future generations, I can confidently say that a province, a city, a volunteer, and an athlete, are existing sustainably, showing the best of who and what we are in Ontario.Sustainability