Torch relay a hit with islanders

  • Nov. 4, 2009 4:00 p.m.

By Heather Ramsay–Seven torchbearers carried the Olympic flame from Sandspit to Skidegate and into Queen Charlotte on the fifth of more than 100 days of the 2010 Olympic torch relay. Queen Charlotte resident Maureen Benoit was the first to run with the flame after the plane touched down in the early morning in Sandspit on Tuesday (November 3). A small but cheerful crowd gathered and watched as she headed out from the airport to the Coho statue facing into Shingle Bay. “It was very exciting. You sure get drawn into the moment,” she said. From there, Vancouver resident Kim McMullon continued on for another short leg and then the torch was shuttled to Skidegate Landing where the Loo Taas waited. Percy Williams was beaming in his white toque, red mittens and button blanket as a crew of paddlers pulled the Loo Taas away from the dock and made their way around the point to the Haida Heritage Centre. Once on the beach, members of the Skidegate group, Friends Singing Together, held blankets up around Mr. Williams and sang a transformation song. After a moment, Mr. Williams emerged in his Olympic torchbearer outfit and carried the torch into the Kaay centre where honourary fire keeper Winnie Casey blessed it. Then the flame was passed to Skyler Brown of Old Massett who ran onwards towards Queen Charlotte. Mr. Brown said he was nervous, excited and proud as he kissed flames (Olympic lingo for lighting a torch off another one) with Mr. Williams and took off down the road. After a short shuttle from Skidegate to Queen Charlotte by car, James Mills of Queen Charlotte was passed the flame. His mother, Jennifer Mills said he was proud and humbled to be a torchbearer. “His biggest worry was dropping it, so he was relieved to know that someone would be with him to guard the flame,” she said. Mr. Mills handed it over to a jubilant Chief Councillor Willard Wilson, who ran his 300 metres, then passed it on to Alan Moore. Mr. Moore ran with the torch for last 300 metres to the celebration stage and lit the caldron with the flame. “The unity we have in the community. It’s incredible to see all these people in a small place like this,” said Mr. Moore, an 18-year-old QC resident who grew up on the islands and is now a University of Victoria student, to the gathered crowd. “From Athens to Queen Charlotte, from Greece to Haida Gwaii,” said QC Mayor Carol Kulesha from the celebration stage. Mayor Kulesha, recently returned from a 36-hour trip on a Department of National Defense airplane to retrieve the flame from Greece, was pleased with the turnout at the events and proud of Queen Charlotte’s young torchbearer. Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation George Abbott also spoke at the event, thanking organizers in Skidegate and Queen Charlotte for all their hard work, as did spokespeople from torch relay sponsors Coca Cola and RBC. Jim Richards, torch relay director, presented Mayor Kulesha with one of the uniquely designed torches. Entertainment followed with the national anthem sung in both official languages by Elizabeth Inkster and tunes by Wendy Watts. The Skidegate dance group performed and led a procession of revelers to the community hall for lunch. Mayor Kulesha says 500 people were fed a meal of chowder and four huge cakes were gobbled up! Meanwhile, the torch and its entourage of Vanoc officials and media made its way back to Sandspit where students from AL Mathers greeted the group with a rousing rendition of O Canada. Kids had their pictures taken with the torch and the lantern holding the flame and then the Torch Relay plane made its way to Whitehorse for more celebrations. Later in the evening, Islanders were welcome for supper at community halls in Skidegate and Queen Charlotte and a night-time fireworks show in Queen Charlotte.