Canadian Sports Hall of Fame opens in Calgary

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:09 PM ET

You can try racing a wheelchair against Chantal Petitclerc’s world record time.

You can try shadow boxing with Lennox Lewis, catch a Steve Francis fastball and feel the rush of Jacques Villeneuve’s Formula One race car.

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame may be a homage to the more than 500 inducted athletes and an incredible shrine filled with memorabilia, but the new home is more than a place to stand and stare.

It’s a chance to understand more.

“Having an interactive element really enables learning,” said Claire Buffone-Blair, the hall’s president and CEO. “So we wanted to make it as interactive as possible.

“One of my favourites is racing against Chantal Petitclerc, which allows a visitor to sit in a chair and feel what it’s like to race. I’m not sure anyone coming through the doors will actually be able to beat her, but it’s a great experience and great learning opportunity for children and youth.

“There’s also the ask the athlete interactives. It allows a visitor to talk to their favourite athlete about a particular skill. We have one here with Jarome Iginla and you can ask Jarome all about the wrist shot and slap shot and hopefully come out of there having been inspired by Jarome and wanting to go home and practice those shots.”

After a frantic 18 months, the $30 million hall of fame will open — fittingly — on Canada Day in Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park. The original hall of fame was located in Toronto, but was in limbo after it was demolished to make way for BMO Field in 2006.

Inside it’s new home, some 44,000 square feet, are more than 50 interactive exhibits, a 120-seat theatre and 11 galleries featuring almost every sport imaginable.

The memorabilia is incredible and runs the gamut.

The shoe Terry Fox dipped into the Atlantic Ocean before embarking on the Marathon of Hope is on display, as is a uniform from the Edmonton Grads women’s basketball team and an amazing array of medals from world and Olympic competition — including Michelle Cameron-Coulter’s Olympic gold in synchronized swimming in 1988.

“Someone pulled me over there right away,” Cameron-Coulter said. “When we were standing and listening, I could look over and see droplets of water — it looks like water droplets — that has footage of our swimming, which is so neat.

“To see my medal at the hall of fame, behind glass, is really cool.”

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has loaned several items originally belonging to Dr. James Naismith, the Canadian who invented basketball in the late 1800s. Among the artifacts are the first whistle he used and several written notes, including hand-written up plays and the rules, of the game.

“It’s really special for us to have that on display and really tell that story to educate Canadians about our involvement in that sport,” Buffone-Blair said.

Naturally, hockey, baseball and the Olympics are part of the exhibit, but done so in a way to not overtake the rest of the hall of fame.

“Our hockey theme is on game-changers,” Buffone-Blair said. “We wanted to be able to tell stories about how the game changed so we’ve picked unique elements and those individuals who really did change the game, and their stories are told through interactive elements.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

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