Notwithstanding what T.S. Eliot wrote, some in Thompson may feel like it is February, rather than April, that is the cruellest month.
So far, despite this being the shortest month of the year, it has delivered a pair of body blows to the Hub of the North.
First off, data from the 2011 census revealed that Thompson had not only lost some 600-plus residents in the previous five years, but also that it was no longer the third-largest or even the fourth-largest city in the province, having been surpassed by both Steinbach and Portage la Prairie since the last population count in 2006. People in Thompson may dispute these numbers, or argue that some have merely decamped for nearby lakefront living, but there's not much in the way of proof to back up these assertions, though that doesn't necessarily mean they're not true. In the eyes of the bean-counters, Thompson's population is dwindling, which is news we didn't need, not in the wake of the announced smelter shutdown and the departure of Staples, Blockbuster and Rogers Video over the past year-and-a-bit. Taken altogether, they paint a bit of a dismal picture, if not as dire as it may seem.
Clearly, with our winter on the verge of entering its fourth or fifth month, depending on when you started counting, with one or two to go, while much of the rest of Canada deliriously asks where the snow has gone this year, if there was something Thompson could have done with, it was a bit of good news, something that might instill a little pride and startle our community spirit out of its doldrums by giving it a sense of purpose. Something like, say, a big sporting event that would bring in lots of visitors and their money to put Thompson in the news for all the right reasons over the space of a few weeks.
Unfortunately, that's not how it went. With a 50 per cent chance of being selected the host of the 2014 Power Smart Manitoba Games, the coin toss still didn't go Thompson's way and the communities of Morden, Winkler and Stanley down in the border region (do they even have winter that far south?) were declared the winners, with Morden being awarded the right to host the games for the second time in 18 years (it was the site of the 1996 summer games, two years after Thompson hosted the winter edition). And in this type of race, second prize is, literally, bupkus. Thanks for coming out, better luck next time, sorry try again.
The reasons for the decision to turn down Thompson, as opposed to those for choosing Morden, Winkler and Stanley, will likely never come out, if for no other reason than the distastefulness of kicking someone who's already down, but the current condition of the Thompson Regional Community Centre and adjacent University College of the North construction sites probably didn't do our cause any favours. It's tough right now to see what those projects will look like when they're finished.
In reality, Thompson wasn't likely to win with a comparable bid to that of the successful host communities. Marginally better wasn't going to cut it, either. To justify bringing the event up into the northern wastelands of the province, the proposal would likely have needed to be head and tails above its competitor. Politics always plays a role in these decisions and there's no shame in falling short if you gave it your best. Besides, the groundwork has been laid for another, hopefully successful, bid for a future games.
This setback notwithstanding, Thompson has actually fared quite well in recent attempts to host provincial level sporting events. Minor hockey provincials at one level or another, including the midget AA championships coming up in just a few weeks, are practically annual events here, and last year saw our city welcome teams to the senior B men's fastball provincials, with a team made up mostly of players from Cross Lake advancing to the final. The Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association's AAA basketball provincials will take over the gyms at R.D. Parker Collegiate from March 15-17, with the fourth-ranked varsity girls team at good bet to make it to the playoff round. This summer, after years of lobbying, the Thompson Reds will serve as the hosts of the 2012 senior AA provincial championships, from Aug. 10-12.
Combined, these events don't even begin to approach the level of a province-wide, multi-sport athletic competition like the Manitoba Games, but there's no sense lamenting decisions you can't control. Instead, take a cue from Winnipeg, which was considered too small for the big leagues in 1996, losing its beloved WHA and NHL franchise the Winnipeg Jets. The city didn't roll over and die in a self-pity party. It got a new arena built, embraced the AHL Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes and the Blue Bombers and eventually the NHL came knocking again. Now, it's considered one of the top sports cities in Canada.
There's no guarantee that successfully hosting smaller events will eventually lead the bigger ones to give Thompson serious consideration. The opposite, however, is almost certainly true. Make the best of what you've got and you never know what the future may bring. A few more winters like this may make the North the only choice for hosting for hosting winter events.