Canada’s Sports Hall Of Fame opens doors to first inductees in new Calgary home

CALGARY – When triathlete Peter Reid first saw Canada’s Sports Hall Of Fame, his jaw dropped.

“The building as I drove up to it was almost a bit of a shock,” he said Tuesday. “It was “Oh my God, look at this thing.’ It’s a masterpiece just driving up to it and then you walk in.”

Reid, hockey player Ray Bourque, football player Lui Passaglia, soccer player Andrea Neil, para-Alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft and International Olympic Committee member Richard Pound were the first class of inductees to enter the new Hall, which opened July 1 at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

It’s been at least six years since athletes and builders could be inducted into a physical building where mementoes of their careers were displayed.

“Walking around this building, they’ve done an incredible job and deserve a lot of credit, the people involved, to have this dream come true,” Bourque said prior to the induction dinner.

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“I’m very proud to say it’s fun to be part of the special group that comes in in the first year, to be able to see this final project and knowing you have your place in it.”

The previous Hall in Toronto was demolished Jan. 31, 2006 to make way for BMO Field. The Hall was struggling to survive even before that, however. The last class to have an induction ceremony in the Toronto facility couldn’t be found in the Hall’s records.

It’s been a long road to find a suitable home for Canada’s Sports Hall Of Fame and its now-520 members.

“I think for at least a dozen years or so, we have not had a physical facility to actually induct people,” Hall chairman Roger Jackson said. “It’s wonderful to not only have their names now on the wall and audio visual elements about their careers, but every athlete inducted has for one year their own locker.

“It’s a locker-room concept. They have a year to promote who they are and what they have done and accomplished.”

Passaglia, a kicker for the B.C. Lions, says he’s donating a jersey to display in his locker and wants to get a game football in there too.

“If I kept any of my game kicking shoes over the years, I’ll maybe send that a long to,” he said. “You never think about being inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. If I would have known that, I would have kept a lot more artifacts.”

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The Sports Hall Of Fame celebrates Canadians’ achievements across all sports. Each class of inductees represent a variety of athletes and builders, from people like Herman (Jackrabbit) Smith-Johannsen, the founder of cross-country skiing in Canada, to racehorse Northern Dancer.

“This history of 500-odd people is incredible to be a part of,” Neil said. “It’s nice it’s been brought home to a solid foundation.”

The 2010 inductees were gymnast Kyle Shewfelt, Formula 1 driver Jacques Villeneuve, wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc, speedskater Clara Hughes, hockey goaltender Patrick Roy, freestyle skier Jean-Luc Brassard, football executive Bob Ackles, and Roger Jackson, an Olympic champion in rowing.

Founded in 1955, the Hall once shared space with the Hockey Hall of Fame at Toronto’s Exhibition grounds. When hockey’s shrine moved to a new location in downtown Toronto in 1993, attendance declined.

The Hall went through a turbulent time after the federal government cancelled plans to move it to Ottawa 12 years ago. Athletes, coaches and builders continued to be inducted annually, but the only way to see the Hall’s content was on its website.

Calgary beat out nine other cities to become home to the Hall, which was paid for by the federal government ($15 million), provincial government ($10 million) and the City of Calgary ($5 million).

The Hall of Fame, located at COP on the west side of the city, is in the process of raising $20 million privately for its operational expenses.

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“A lot of Canadian sports heritage is here,” Passaglia observed. “You get the essence of the fibre of Canadian sport in this building with the individuals that are here and the teams that are here.”

A quick look at the 2011 inductees:

Ray Bourque – The defenceman from Montreal spent almost 21 of his 22 NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins. He won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in his final season. Bourque was inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame in 2004. Both the Bruins and Avalanche have retired his No. 77 jersey.

Lui Passaglia – A kicker for the B.C. Lions for 25 years, the Vancouver native won three Grey Cups and kicked for over 3,900 points. Passaglia made 875 field goals with 90 per cent accuracy during his CFL career.

Andrea Neil – The Vancouver midfielder led Canada to a fourth-place finish at the 2003 World Cup. She’s played in four World Cups and in 132 international matches for Canada. In six years with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Neil also won United Soccer League W-League championships in 2004 and 2005.

Lauren Woolstencroft – Born missing her left arm below the elbow as well as both legs below the knees, the Calgarian is the first para-Alpine skier to be inducted. She won eight Paralympic gold medals, including five at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

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Peter Reid – The first triathlete to be inducted, the Montreal-born Reid won three world Ironman titles in Kona, Hawaii, and 10 Ironman races overall. The distance is a 3.86-kilometre swim, a 180-km bike and a marathon run without stopping and Reid ran them in less than nine hours.

Dick Pound – Inducted as a builder, the former Olympic swimmer has been a power broker in the Olympic movement domestically and internationally. The Montreal lawyer negotiated the International Olympic Committee’s lucrative television deals during his 33 years as an IOC member. The former IOC vice-president also served as president of the World Anti-Doping Agency from 1999 to 2007.

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