SHERBROOKE, Que. - The 2013 Canada Summer Games got off to a flying start at its opening ceremonies.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a host of dignitaries welcomed athletes from across the country on Friday, earning loud cheers, while a group of acrobats earned gasps from the crowd during their daring act.
Harper was the first public official to address the crowd of over 5,000 spectators and was the last official to speak before a raucous musical number and fireworks finished the festivities.
"Regardless of the sport you play, regardless of the province or territory that you represent, know that in your athletic career, that all Canadians from coast to coast to coast are behind you," said Harper during his opening remarks.
He was more brief in his closing statement.
"I declare the 2013 Canada Games open!" said Harper, straining to be heard over the cheering audience after the official flame of the two-week event was lit.
A two-storey stage made to look like a red-brick building covered in graffiti sat in the middle of the field at the Universitie de Sherbrooke's football stadium. More than 2,100 athletes from every province and territory filed in from two different points, circling the track and sitting in three groups of seats on the grass.
Singers and dancers performed on the centre stage as well as three lower platforms, with each delegation getting its own entrance music, such as a cover of Justin Bieber's "Baby" for Ontario and a live rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" for Saskatchewan.
Quebec got the loudest ovation, with tennis player Hugo Di Feo carrying the host province's flag, although the small group of athletes from Nunavut — led by wrestler David Haulli — also drew vocal support.
"All the preparation and hard work of so many has certainly culminated into the growing awareness of the Canada Games in the heart of Sherbrooke, the province of Quebec and even across all of Canada," said Tom Quinn, chairman of the Canada Games Council in a news conference before the opening ceremonies. "This is truly a wonderful day in the lives of these young athletes who will be competing and representing their province or territory with the greatest of pride and determination."
After Harper's first speech, as well as statements from several other officials, there were several musical acts including slam poet David Goudreault. The crowd gasped during Goudreault's performance when several dancers fell off the top of the centre structure.
The audience then burst in to applause when the acrobats bounced off trampolines hidden in the stage to return to the top of the building.
A group of dignitaries helped carry the official flag of the Canada Summer Games in to the stadium before a colour guard of four Royal Canadian Mounted Police raised it.
Colette Roy-Laroche, the mayor of nearby Lac-Megantic, got the loudest ovation of the flag bearers. The town 80 kilometres northeast of Sherbrooke was devastated by an explosive train derailment that claimed the lives of 47 people on July 6.
Other flag bearers included Jean Perrault, the former mayor of Sherbrooke who led the bidding process for the Games, as well as several former Olympians like freestyle skier Jennifer Heil, wheelchair racer Diane Roy, sprinter Bruny Surin and divers Sylvie Bernier, Alexandre Despaties and Annie Pelletier.
"A special welcome to all the athletes who've followed in the footsteps of previous Canadian Games athletes such as Sidney Crosby, Steve Nash, Catriona Le May Doan, Alexandre Despaties, Annie Plletier, Bruny Surin and Jennifer Heil," said Quinn during his remarks at the festivities. " You are here tonight and for the next two weeks representing your families, friends, province or territory and yourself.
"Are you ready to compete?"
There are 4,200 athletes from across Canada competing in 20 different sports over 16 days at the 2013 Games, scattered across 20 venues in Sherbrooke and its surrounding area. The athletes will arrive in two waves, with the first group vacating the athlete's village on Aug. 10, and the second group moving in the next day.
Ontario won the flag at the 2009 Canada Games in Prince Edward Island, winning a total of 202 medals. British Columbia finished with 144, while Quebec had 145. B.C., however, finished second in the medal standings because it earned more points with more gold medals than Quebec: 57 to 42.