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Commonwealth Games

Hockey rink at SkyreachStarting as the British Empire Games, the first cooperative sporting event of this sort attracted 400 athletes and spectators from nearly a dozen countries. After a series of name-changes, precipitated by changes in the composition of participating athletes, the event became known as the Commonwealth Games.

Since the early 1930s, cities throughout the English-speaking world have competed for the honour of hosting these games, as the competitions bring in many thousands of spectators and athletes from all over the Commonwealth.

Hockey playerIn August 1972, a consortium that included members from the Edmonton Exhibition Association (EEA) was informed that its proposal had won the civic bid to host the 1978 Commonwealth Games. The EEA was already looking into building something new to replace the aging Edmonton Gardens, and used this award as an opportunity to gain permission and additional government funding for the construction of a new arena. This structure could then be used to house key features for the coming Games.

Two years later, the Edmonton Coliseum opened its doors for the first time.

The EEA, along with the Calgary Exhibition Association, continued its relationship with the Commonwealth Games Foundation by providing that entity with 50 percent of the proceeds from a joint Western Canada Lottery in the years that followed.

Edmonton Ice TeamWhen the time came for the Commonwealth Games Foundation to choose a primary venue for this athletic event, however, members decided against using the Coliseum as a main staging area, and opted instead for the nearby stadium.

Another problem cropped up when organizers from the Foundation pointed out that the annual fair nearly overlapped the Games, ending on 29 July, when the athletic event was slated to begin 3 August.

Even as Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, officially opened the Games nearby, the debate continued through a series of letters being exchanged by the EEA and the Foundation.

The latter group reasoned that, with the changes undertaken at the EEA following the ouster of long-time General Manager Al Anderson, the ensuing disarray would be a barrier to a successful Coliseum application. The Commonwealth Games Gymnastics Competition was held at the new structure and everything worked out well in the end.

Coliseum in the distanceCanada swept the Games by winning 45 Gold Medals, and the existence of an advanced new Coliseum allowed for the Oilers’ entry into the National Hockey League.

Rather than as an edifice to failure, that building—and the relationship behind it—became a study in how the various levels of government could cooperate with non-profit industry on projects related to civic improvement.

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