Though I never saw him catch a softball or deliver a curling stone, the Yukon sports scene would not be what it is today had it not been for Cal Miller. While athletes get most of the attention, and rightly so, but without builders like Cal, the sports scene would be a lesser place.
Cal arrived in Whitehorse in 1951. Maybe he was an athlete back then. But in later years, when I got to know him, he was the gregarious owner of the Capital Hotel. Cal held court behind the bar of the famed watering hole, where he'd delight customers with his home-spun philosophy on subjects ranging from the latest mining strike to political shenanigans of the Territorial Government.
His eyes would really light up when the topic turned to sports. In those early days, Yukon recreation teams could count on Cal for support. The Old Crow dog mushers needed financial assistance. Cal could and did help.
When the newly formed Yukon soccer league needed a trophy in the 1960s, Cal and his connections with Carling Brewery made sure the new five-team league played for a classy soccer trophy.
Midget and juvenile hockey teams needed a sponsor? Enter Cal Miller. It seems the first place any sporting association went looking for help was to the Capital Hotel bar.
And so it is no surprise that Cal has a connection with the Canada Winter Games that goes far beyond support of Yukon athletes and their participation in the early years of the games.
He was there as an executive with the Yukon team at the first Canada Winter Games in Quebec city in 1967. What he witnessed dismayed him. The Yukon team was trounced at every turn. Because of the small population base and the general lack of facilities and training, the Yukoners were outnumbered and out-classed. Needless to say, there were no medals that year.
As Cal watched the debacle, he had an idea. The time had come, he said to have northerners compete against each other. From Quebec City, Cal got on the phone to Yukon Commissioner, Jimmy Smith, and asked for his support.. We need our own games where our athletes have a fighting chance to win something, said Cal. Smith agreed. The Commissioner of the NWT, Stuart Hodgson was also representing his Territories at the Games in Quebec City . Hodgson agreed with the assessment of the problems faced by Northern athletes and phoned Alaskan Governor, Walter Hickel with an idea which would see Northerners develop their own set of Games.
The Arctic Winter Games were born. In 1970, the first northern winter games were held in
Yellowknife . Since then, the Arctic games have grown in stature and support. They have created a base from which northern athletic associations can draw players to take part in national events like the Canada Winter Games. The games gave northern athletes a pride of place. Cal Miller once said that the Arctic Winter Games were the best idea since the invention of 7-up - high praise from a man who holds a rightful place in the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame and who would be proud of the Yukon contingent taking part in the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin