It’s a story of a little town that could. The Fort Smith Royal Canadian Legion erupted with overjoyed screams and whooping cheers as fists thrust into the air and bodies jumped up and down last Tuesday when TSN’s Sportscentre announced the town had won $25,000 as a finalist for the national Kraft Celebration Tour.
Fort Smith – with a population of about 2,500 – beat out Whitehorse’s bid for the prize thanks to a landslide of 253,022 public votes placed online over a 24-hour period, beginning on July 8 at 10 a.m.
The money will go toward efforts to build temporary ice surfaces to get Fort Smith athletes on the ice this winter after a fire damaged the local arena in May.
Whitehorse, home to approximately 27,000 people, gathered 35,566 votes on its quest to replace the Yukon Curling Association’s aging facilities.
Fort Smith volunteer Pam Walsh was a major player in applying for the tour, which has handed out over $1,000,000 to Canadian communities in need of funds over the past four years, and in keeping the momentum going.
Town councillor Kevin Smith presented Walsh with flowers after the announcement, in honour of all her hard work.
Walsh was up bright and early on July 8 and standing at the Fort Smith four-way stop handing out flyers reminding people to vote. She said many community members stayed up all night on their computers, voting over and over again.
“It was intense. Many of us were at the college all day, just clicking and clicking,” an out-of-breath and beaming Walsh said moments after receiving the good news. “But you know, I had a sixth sense that we would win; but you can never be sure and I didn’t want to get my hopes up…I’m just so happy. This is wonderful. I want to thank all of Fort Smith and everyone else – I know we had friends and family across the country voting for us, too.”
Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck tweeted his congratulations to the Northern town minutes after TSN broke the news.
“Way to go Fort Smith,” he wrote. “Take that Whitehorse.”
Luke James, 16, of Fort Smith walked into the Legion where over 70 people had gathered to hear the live broadcasted results just as the cheers were starting.
“I knew it was good news then,” he said. “We had the whole community behind us, though, so I had a good feeling we’d get it. Everyone I knew was voting and voting and telling everyone they knew to vote. I’m proud of our town.”
TSN announced Fort Smith’s win marks the first time the tour will travel to a territory.
“We were moved by Fort Smith’s nomination and their resolve to rally together and rebuild the Fort Smith Centennial Arena. This is a fantastic example of what the Kraft Celebration Tour is all about,” Jack Hewitt, vice-president of Marketing Insights and Services for Kraft Canada, said in a press release. “We’re proud to help Fort Smith move forward and get their community back on the ice so that they can continue to be active in the sports they love.”
The town is the first stop on the Celebration Tour and will host a special edition of Sportscentre, featuring anchors Darren Dutchyshen and Jennifer Hedger, which will be live broadcast on Aug. 16 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time.
“Dutchy and I are so pumped to visit the Northwest Territories this summer and meet the good people of Fort Smith,” Hedger said in the release. “We can’t wait to roll into town and host Sportscentre against the beautiful backdrop of Fort Smith – it’ll be a great time and an unforgettable experience.”
Voting for the tour continues this week with Quebec, Saskatchewan and Ontario communities going head to head in online match ups of their own for a chance to win $25,000.