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President of the Lhtako Quesnel 2024 BC Winter Games attributes success to volunteers

Brian Balkwill also said in the first time of the games’ history, there is a First Nation partner

Though he may have retired after 35 years with West Fraser, the former vice president has yet to actually retire.

Instead, Brian Balkwill has been busy working as president of this year’s BC Winter Games, which are being hosted in Quesnel. Former Mayor Bob Simpson approached Balkwill about taking on the games, a role Balkwill said sounded fun, though it has been a much bigger job than he anticipated.

Balkwill was quick to note the 16 board members, around 70 chairs people and 1,350 volunteers making the 2024 BC Winter Games possible.

“I couldn’t do any of this without all these people coming together,” remarked Balkwill. “The community spirit of Quesnel has been amazing.”

Balkwill grew up in Calgary before heading to Edmonton to study forestry. In the mid-80s, he moved to Hinton, B.C. with West Fraser, then to Houston, B.C., Sundre, Alta., and eventually, Quesnel (twice), where he’s been ever since.

In 1999, he found himself on a blind date with Karen, who worked at West Fraser in Williams Lake. The date went well, and they married in 2001 by way of boat to their remote cabin nine kilometres down Horsefly Lake. Though you’d expect the August long weekend to be beautiful—being right smack dab in the middle of summer and all—it rained and hailed as 60 people were transported by boat down the lake to the wedding venue. A few years later, their two children were born, Laura and Graham, who are now in Prince George for school and work.

Balkwill figures Mayor Simpson asked him to take on the BC Winter Games because he had lots of experience dealing with people and different boards. Simpson also worked at West Fraser many years ago, which is how the two know each other, Balkwill said.

With the games quickly approaching, the no-longer-retired retiree explained just how much work goes into making the event happen—the largest event Quesnel has ever seen, he said, next to when the city hosted the same games in 2000.

The board has directors responsible for accommodations, ensuring athletes have places to stay; logistics, making sure venues have the right equipment, for example; food services, which expect to make over 18,000 meals over the four-day event; transportation, ensuring athletes get to and fro they need to go; access and security, making the event safe; medical, with around 70 first aid people; and protocol for all the events, including the opening ceremonies.

“We’ve been so lucky with the volunteers in this community because over 300 volunteered for more than one role,” said Balkwill, noting everyone from the community has stepped up in some form or fashion, including the many Quesnel businesses who have helped and made donations.

Balkwill was excited to share the partnership with Lhtako Dene Nation, stating that this is the first time in the history of the BC Winter Games that there is a First Nation partner. Cultural events will intermingle throughout the games.

While the games are only four days long, the impact is lasting. Any leftover money from the games goes into a legacy fund, which is then determined by a committee on how best to invest back into the community through arts, culture and sports. Equipment is also often left behind for the community to use, such as sound systems for the schools, a permanent biathlon range and mats for the judo and karate clubs in Quesnel.

Once the games are finished, Balkwill plans on actually retiring, including a trip for him and his wife to Costa Rica. The couple enjoy playing pickleball and skiing together. He also enjoys volunteering, something he couldn’t do as much when he was working full time. He said he appreciates the significant impact volunteers have had on his own children growing up, and he’s looking forward to giving back more.

Balkwill coaches the high school’s badminton team, is on the board for the Cariboo Ski Touring Club, and grooms the ski trails.

Though he’s been busy planning the games for the last two years, he says he’s amazed by the unbelievable amount of hours people have spent volunteering.

“We’ve built a closer-knit community because of it.”

Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

I joined Black Press Media in 2022, and have a passion for covering topics on women’s rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ and racial issues, mental health and the arts.
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