Canada Games are close to retired CBC broadcaster’s heart

Don Brown of Victoria received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal earlier this summer for producing/directing, mostly for CBC, seven Summer Olympics, five Winter Olympics, seven Commonwealth Games and two Pan Am Games, along with 17 seasons of Hockey Night in Canada and seven seasons of Expos baseball.

Yet the event he broadcast that remains closest to his heart is the Canada Games, because he said that’s the hothouse in which Canada’s future Olympians and other international stars are forged.

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Island greats Steve Nash, Ryan Cochrane, Richard Weinberger, Ian Bridge, Gareth Rees, Riley McCormick, Gary Reed, Paul and Gary Gait are among those who received their multi-sport baptism in the Canada Games.

The 2013 Canada Summer Games begin today in Sherbrooke, Que., with wrestler Ashley Osachuk of Campbell River — among 84 Island athletes set to compete over two weeks — carrying the Team B.C. flag into the opening ceremony.

“When I started noticing Canada Games alumni [the Games began in 1967] appearing several years later in the Olympics, I thought to myself: ‘This is working,’ ” said Brown, now retired.

The Canada Games, like the Olympics, alternate every two years between Summer and Winter Games, with a glowing alumni list that includes Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Catriona LeMay Doan, Hayley Wickenheiser, Bruny Surin, Kara Lang, Adam Van Koeverden and Alexandre Despatie to name just a few.

Brown helped nurture the Canada Games in the early years by lobbying his CBC superiors to provide coverage of the emerging young athletes competing in the Games.

“Amateur sport was very interesting to me — and this was an opportunity to put a spotlight on sports that would never otherwise get national coverage — and it helped many of those sports grow across the country,” said Brown, who never left the Island after being second in charge behind Ron Devion for CBC’s coverage of the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games.

“I was thrilled to be a part of those early years of the Canada Games and felt like Johnny Appleseed. I was given three hours a week [of Canada Games coverage on CBC’s old Kaleidosport show] and we tried to cover as many sports as we could within those constraints. We threw in the kitchen sink, and the organizers were great and did everything they could to help.”

The outcome is what you see today in Sherbrooke — more than 4,000 athletes from all provinces and territories representing Canada’s Team Tomorrow.

And the Johnny Appleseed of the Canada Games couldn’t be prouder.

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