Great Expectations: Vancouver 2010, Vancouver '86

“Vancouver has been profoundly changed,” according to local talk radio host and former BC cabinet minister Christy Clark. We’re just over halfway through the 2010 Winter Olympic Games here in Vancouver, British Columbia and Clark’s comments will not be the only ones proclaiming a new era for the city. In the lead up to the games, Olympics advocates, including the provincial and federal governments, the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, and local real estate bureaus spent a lot of time and money trying to convince the public that hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games would bring great benefits to Vancouver and change the city. BC Premier Gordon Campbell predicted in the Vancouver Sun in January 2003 that “hosting the Olympic Games will provide lasting benefits for all British Columbians today and for generations to come,” (13 Jan 2003, p. C1). At least 63% of Vancouver electors were convinced.

As I watched the Olympic torch pass through Stanley Park on the opening day of the games last week, I wondered how Vancouver’s Olympics boosterism compared to the great expectations of the 1980s. Just a cursory glance at media coverage prior to Expo ’86 reveals very similar rhetoric with an emphasis on intangible, immeasurable economic benefits for the province. In May 1985, Expo supporter and local millionaire Jim Pattison told the New York Times “that Expo would generate nearly $3 billion in economic activity for Canada, mostly in British Columbia, and provide the equivalent of 60,000 one-year jobs.”

Historians will, no doubt, debate the significance and impact of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver for years to come. One thing we can see now is that the promotion of Vancouver through the Olympics is part of a much longer historical trend of boosterism in British Columbia.

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