The Arctic Winter Games (AWG) are biennial games initiated in 1970 to provide northern athletes with opportunities for training and competition, and to promote cultural and social interchange among northern peoples (see also Inuit, Aboriginal peoples). Although the Games originated in North America, they have grown to include athletes from other parts of the world, including Greenland and parts of Russia, including Magadan, Sápmi and Yamal.

Background

At the first Canada Winter Games in Québec City (1967) Cal Miller, financial advisor to the Yukon team, was disappointed by the performance of northern athletes. With limited access to training opportunities and sporting facilities, northern teams struggled to compete with their southern counterparts. Fellow spectator and commissioner of the Northwest Territories, Stuart Hodgson, echoed Miller’s concerns stating, “We just weren't in the same league… Our people did it as a sport, whereas the people in the south had sponsors and everything under the sun backing them up.”

As a means of supporting northern teams, Miller, Hodgson and Bud Orange (Member of Parliament, Northwest Territories) proposed a winter games competition for northern athletes. Miller called Yukon Commissioner James Smith, who arranged for a meeting with Miller and Arthur Laing, minister of Northern Affairs. Miller later recalled walking into Laing’s office boasting that he had “the best idea since the invention of 7-Up” – creating a northern circumpolar sporting and cultural event. Miller also discussed the idea with Walter Hickel, governor of Alaska. Hickel fully supported the idea, and helped found the Arctic Winter Games Corporation (AWGC) on 18 January 1968.

The first games were held in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in 1970. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau opened the Games, welcoming roughly 500 athletes from the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska. Since then, the Games have taken place every two years, alternating among participant jurisdictions.

Growth of the AWG

At the second AWG in 1972, the three founding participants (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska) were joined by athletes from Northern Québec and Greenland. The Soviet Union and Labrador also sent observers. In 1976, Northern Québec hosted the AWG in Schefferville – the first time the games took place outside of the Yukon, Northwest Territories or Alaska. However, in 1980, 1982 and 1984, the Games returned to the founding participant jurisdictions.

After the 1984 Games, the AWG Corporation reached out to other northern contingents in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as a means of including more athletes and increasing the level of competition and the appeal of the Games in other parts of Canada. However, Alberta was the only province to send an observer team of about 40 athletes to the 1986 Games. They became a permanent partner in 1988 and first hosted the Games in 1994.

In 1992, Russian athletes from the province of Magadan competed in the Games for the first time; athletes from Greenland also returned to compete in the AWG. During this year, the Games’ budget increased to approximately $1.2 million. As a result of the Games’ increasing international appeal, the AWG Corporation changed its name to the Arctic Winter Games International Committee (AWGIC) in 1993. Nuuk, Greenland, became the first city outside North America to host the Games in 2002.

The AWG now regularly includes representation from the Yukon, Alaska, northern Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Greenland, Nunavik, Magadan, Sápmi and Yamal.

AWG International Committee

The Arctic Winter Games International Committee (AWGIC) is the ruling body of the Games and is responsible for promoting the philosophy of the Games, choosing a host city and controlling the visual image of the Games. The committee consists of a president and board of directors, who meet four times a year to evaluate and discuss host bids, AWGIC policies, sporting events to be held, sport-specific rules and the general preparation of the host city for the Games.

The directors are appointed by the country they represent and are all volunteers. There are currently 12 directors on the committee, representing Alaska, the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Yukon and Nunavut. The current president, Jens Brinch, is from Greenland.

The AWGIC is funded by annual levy to the five governments with directors on the committee: the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon, Alaska, Alberta and Greenland.

Sport and Culture

The number and type of sports events vary slightly from year to year, depending on the number of athletes competing in each event and access to sporting facilities. While the AWGIC tries to select sports unique to the North, other sports are included if there is wide participation among the participant jurisdictions or if there is the potential for development of the sport. The sports commonly supported by AWG host cities include:

Alpine skiing

Arctic sports, including One-Foot High Kick, Two-Foot High Kick, Alaskan High Kick, Kneel Jump, Sledge Jump, Triple Jump, Arm Pull, One Hand Reach, Head Pull, Knuckle Hop, and similar Inuit games.

Badminton

Basketball

Ski-biathlon

Snowshoe-biathlon (see also snowshoeing)

Cross country skiing

Curling

Dene games, including Finger Pull, Snowsnake, Stick Pull, Hand Games and Pole Push, (see also Dene Nation)

Dog mushing (see also Dog sledding)

Figure skating

Gymnastics

Ice hockey

Indoor soccer

Snowboarding

Snowshoeing

Short-track Speed Skating

Table tennis

Volleyball

Wrestling

In addition to sporting events, the AWG host city develops a cultural program that lasts the duration of the Games and that displays visual arts and crafts indigenous to northern communities (see also Aboriginal art and Inuit art). Each contingent brings a small group of performing artists to the Games as a means of expressing their distinct culture. The AWG culminates in a cultural gala.

Hodgson Trophy

Named after one of the AWG founders, Commissioner Stuart Hodgson (Northwest Territories), the Hodgson Trophy is awarded to the contingent whose athletes best exemplify team spirit and fair play. Team members also receive a distinctive pin in recognition of their achievements.

The Hodgson trophy is a piece of Inuit artwork from the Canadian Arctic (see also Arctic Circle). The centrepiece is an engraved narwhal tusk. A soapstone bear reaching for the top of the tusk symbolises the spirit of competition. The figure of a walrus is carved into the soapstone base of the trophy and wraps itself around the tusk.

The Hodgson Trophy is on display at Sport Yukon Hall of Fame in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Host Cities

The cities that have hosted the AWG since its inception in 1970 include:

Yellowknife, NT (1970)

Whitehorse, YT (1972)

Anchorage, Alaska (1974)

Schefferville, QC (1976)

Hay River and Pine Point, NT (1978)

Whitehorse, YT (1980)

Fairbanks, Alaska (1982)

Yellowknife, NT (1984)

Whitehorse, YT (1986)

Fairbanks, Alaska (1988)

Yellowknife, NT (1990)

Whitehorse, YT (1992)

Slave Lake, AB (1994)

Chugiak and Eagle River, Alaska (1996)

Yellowknife, NT (1998)

Whitehorse, YT (2000)

Iqaluit, NU and Nuuk, Greenland (2002)

Wood Buffalo, AB (2004)

Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska (2006)

Yellowknife, NT (2008)

Grande Prairie, AB (2010)

Whitehorse, YT (2012)

Fairbanks, Alaska (2014)

Nuuk, Greenland (2016)

Hay River and Fort Smith, NT (2018)