Chilliwack catches the spirit

Torch bearer Myles Mitchell (in white toque) lights the Olympic cauldron during the torch relay celebration party in Chilliwack on Sunday.



The excitement of ushering the Olympic flame into Chilliwack was palpable at the celebration site on Sunday.

With a crowd of 8,000 cheering its arrival, it was like a roaring sea of red and white in the parking lot behind the pool.

The speakers thumped out almost deafening dance music from the state-of-the-art stage at the outset of the community party. The booming bass-heavy sound was geared to getting the crowd pumped up, and it did just that.

Each time Torch Celebration host Sylvain Gagne yelled out “Chilliwack!” the crowd roared back its approval.

Chilliwack resident Vikki Beyak and her family inched as close as they could to the large stage to watch history in the making.

“We’ve been watching and following the Torch relay as it goes across Canada, ever since the flame was lit,” she said.

The family was definitely in the swing of things. Beyak wore a red coat and held a massive Canadian flag aloft to show her pride. Her grandchildren, Owen and Tina, had their hair coloured a bright red for the occasion, and wore red-and-white outfits.

They nabbed a good spot after arriving well ahead of the cauldron-lighting time. Beyak said she was especially looking forward to the Jubellation Handbell Choir from Chilliwack Secondary.

The flame started its day in Merrit, making stops along the way at Hope, Agassiz, Harrison and Seabird Island.

It made its way through Rosedale for the Chilliwack portion of the journey, greeted along the way by onlookers who cheered and waved the torch bearers.

Back at the celebration site, the party was rocking. The spotlight was on youth and First Nations participation, with local dancers, drummers, singers, choirs, circus acts and more, but most people were waiting for the final Chilliwack torchbearer and cauldron lighter, Myles Mitchell, to arrive.

When the 23-year-old finally rolled down the 300 metres in his wheelchair, and up the ramp to light the torch, the crowd raised the volume, clapping and cheering.

The entrepreneur and cancer survivor told the crowd: “I feel great at this moment,” after the flame was lit.

Lieutenant-Governor Steven Point noted the Olympic torch had the incredible power to “bring us all together” as a country and a province, and as a community.

“Today is our day in Chilliwack,” he said. “God bless all of you. What a wonderful day.”

Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Chuck Strahl said “We’re on the map today!” and told the crowd he’d never been more proud of his hometown.

“Chilliwack has Olympic spirit and we’re behind our athletes,” he added.

The people of Chilliwack “know how to party,” acknowledged Mayor Sharon Gaetz, and said support for Canada’s Olympic athletes was a unifying factor.

She also gave a shout-out to Kelly Vanderbeek, the injured skiier who lives in Chilliwack.

“She has done us proud, has she not, ladies and gentlemen? Give the kid next to you a hug. They could be the next star.”

After Chilliwack, the Olympic flame continued on to Abbotsford. It will end its 45,000-kilometre journey in Vancouver on Feb. 12 to officially open the 2010 Winter Olympics.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com