Vancouver Island

The BC Summer Games

Take in this provincial celebration of sport, community and hard work

by Karin Olafson

Beach volleyball gold medalists at the 2016 BC Summer Games in Abbotsford. Photo courtesy of BC Games Society

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the BC Games, a competitive multi-sport event (with both a winter and summer version) that supports the athletic development of up-and-coming young athletes from across the province. From July 19 to 22, roughly 2,800 BC athletes, ranging from 13 to 18 years old, are expected to compete in 18 sports as part of the BC Summer Games.

Originally, the BC Games took place annually. Now they run every two years, and each time around, they’re hosted in a different BC community. This summer, the Games will take place in beautiful Cowichan Valley, a region of southern Vancouver Island that encompasses numerous towns and communities, including Duncan, Ladysmith and Mill Bay.

The girls softball gold medal team at the 2012 BC Summer Games in Surrey. Photo courtesy of BC Games Society

Spreading the spirit of sport and friendship

The Games owe their existence to Premier W.R. Bennett, who, back in the late 1970s, decided to start a province-wide athletic event. He wanted to provide “an opportunity to bring all parts of BC together… in the spirit of sport and friendship.”

The inaugural competition took place in Penticton in 1978. Initially, the Games saw recreational athletes of all ages competing together. Today, they’re reserved for competitive young athletes who dream of one day representing Canada in their sport.

While the original composition of the Games has changed, Bennett’s vision lives on.

“Premier Bennett would still recognize his initial vision today,” says Kelly Mann, president and CEO of the BC Games. “The [event] is still about people from all corners of the province coming together under the spirit of sport.”

Making a positive impact

For many of the young athletes who have taken part over the years, the BC Summer Games is their first taste of high-performance competition. In fact, it has served as a pivotal event for some of Canada’s most successful summer-sport competitors, including swimmer Brent Hayden and triathlete Kirsten Sweetland.

Before Hayden competed at the 1998 BC Summer Games, he’d participated in many sports and was a summer-only swimmer. After those Games, though, he decided to commit to swimming full-time.

“It’s clear that I wouldn’t have noticed my own potential without the BC Summer Games,” says Hayden. He went on to compete at three Olympic Games, winning bronze at the 2012 Summer Olympics in the 100-metre freestyle.

Sweetland, meanwhile, competed in triathlon at the 2002 BC Summer Games, winning gold. According to her, the Games “fuel the fire” to compete on the world stage—Sweetland went on to win silver in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and represented Canada in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Yet Mann says the event is meant to inspire all athletes, not just those who make it to this high level. “If kids have a positive experience, remain healthy and stay in sport, then we’ve done our job,” says Mann.

Softball at the Cowichan Sportsplex

Enjoying the Games in Cowichan

The BC Summer Games are fun for the competitors, but they’re also great for spectators. Because all events are free to attend and the calibre of the competition is high, this is a “must-attend” for sports-lovers. This year, the venues are spread out across roughly 70 kilometres in the Cowichan region, so if you want to see as much as possible in one day, Mann suggests choosing a venue that hosts multiple events, like athletics at the Cowichan Sportsplex.

The specific scheduling details are still being finalized, but an option for those hoping to catch as many events as they can is to travel south through Cowichan over the four days. “You could get off the ferry in Nanaimo and see synchronized swimming, then see different sports as you work your way down the island to Mill Bay,” says Mann.

Hikers overlooking the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. Photo courtesy of Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

And if there’s time left over for exploring once the Games wrap up, Cowichan is packed with things to do. Foodies can visit the area’s wineries, cideries or breweries, nature-lovers can plan a hike in the Cowichan Valley, and fans of art can shop for handcrafted goods at the many artist studios in the area. Its location—accessible by ferry and easy to explore by car or bike—makes Cowichan an ideal host area.

The 2018 BC Summer Games runs July 19 to 22 across various venues in Cowichan. Also coming up between May and October are five community events to be held in past BC Games host cities in recognition of the 40th anniversary. For more information, visit

BC Ferries is proud to partner with the BC Summer Games in Cowichan to support young athletes from across the province and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the games.