Now that the Arctic Winter Games are over, there will naturally be a time of reflection.

Some people will marvel that Hay River and Fort Smith actually managed to do something that might have seemed beyond its capacity.

The organizers’ audacity in thinking the region could do it was impressive. Actually doing it goes way beyond impressive.

Everybody will have their own way of looking at the games, and be most impressed by one thing or the other.

There’s one thing that impresses us above all else. We really are almost in disbelief at the number of people who volunteered to help out with the games.

Between them, Fort Smith and Hay River have roughly 7,000 people. Yet, about 1,500 residents volunteered for the Arctic Winter Games.

Simple math – or a calculator – will show that is just over 21 per cent of the population.

You simply have to transfer that 21 per cent to other communities to get a sense of its impressiveness.

We have to go no further than Yellowknife, which has a population of about 19,500. So if 21 per cent of the population there volunteered for an event that would be about 4,100 people.

The calculations get even wackier if you look at cities. For instance, Edmonton with about a million people would have to gather together 210,000 volunteers – perhaps for some really, really big event – to match what Hay River and Fort Smith have just done.

When it was first announced that Hay River and Fort Smith were bidding on the Arctic Winter Games, the estimated number of required volunteers was said to be somewhere around 2,000. We remember that number because we distinctly recall thinking that it would be next to impossible to get so many people involved.

Even if the original number had been 1,500, we would honestly still have considered that extremely unlikely, getting close to impossible.

We have no solid explanation for the number of 1,500 volunteers in Hay River and Fort Smith, which undoubtedly includes some people from other smaller communities in the South Slave.

There is probably something to be said about how an event like the Arctic Winter Games is more important and noticeable in smaller communities than in larger places.

It is also likely that community spirit might be greater in smaller communities.

And something could be said for the fact that an event like the Arctic Winter Games happens so rarely in small communities that more people are attracted to get involved just for the unusualness of it all.

Perhaps there is a bit of truth in all of those things.

But there is no greater truth than mathematics. Numbers don’t lie.

So no matter how someone might explain it to us, we can’t get past the numbers.

If you tell us that 21 per cent of a community needs to get directly involved with a project to make it a success, we would still say the project is doomed to failure because 21 per cent is virtually unattainable.

And yet Hay River and Fort Smith did just that.


Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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