Our History

History of Special Olympics in Alberta

Team Canada at the 1985 International Games

Incorporated on February 28, 1980, Special Olympics Alberta has built a tradition of support and opportunity for people in Alberta with intellectual disabilities. In 1980, the organization hosted its first Provincial Summer Games.

Parents and families of athletes have been the driving force behind the Special Olympics movement around the world and the same is true in Alberta. Parents who wanted sport opportunities for their children started the first programs in many communities. The first Special Olympics programs were started by dedicated parents and volunteers in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Red Deer even before a provincial organization was founded.

In 1986, Alberta took center stage, hosting our first Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in Calgary. Over 1,000 athletes and coaches from across Canada were welcomed with cheering fans in McMahon Stadium. The flame of hope carried by over 12,000 Canadians across the country ignited not just the beginning of competition but an impassioned movement in Alberta.


History of Special Olympics in Canada

The Special Olympics movement was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, with the very first event held in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago.  However, the competition was inspired by discoveries made by a Canadian researcher.

In the early 1960s, a group of students at Toronto’s Beverley School became the test group for Dr. Frank Hayden, a sport scientist at the University of Toronto. Dr. Hayden was studying the effects of regular exercise on the fitness levels of children with an intellectual disability.

Dr. Hayden’s research was nothing short of groundbreaking. It challenged the prevailing mindset of the day – one that claimed that it was the disability itself that prevented children from fully participating in play and recreation. Through rigorous scientific method, Dr. Hayden proved that it was simply a lack of opportunity to participate. Given that opportunity, people with an intellectual disability could acquire the necessary skills to participate in sport and become physically fit.

In other words: sport could have a transformative effect on the lives of those with an intellectual disability.

Dr. Frank Hayden the builder of Special Olympics

Transforming the world

Dr. Hayden’s proposal for a National sport competition caught the attention of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, serving as inspiration for the inaugural Special Olympics competition in 1968 in Chicago. Canada was represented by a group of 12 students and a teacher from the Beverley School, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong, serving as Honorary Team Captain.

Dr. Hayden also served as the Chicago event’s General Director and eventually went on to work for the Washington-based Kennedy Foundation as the Director of Physical Education and Recreation, working alongside Ms. Kennedy Shriver.

Making history at home

Harry “Red” Foster, a Canadian broadcast legend and philanthropist, was in Chicago in 1968 to witness the birth of the Special Olympics movement. He was inspired by what he saw and experienced, and worked tirelessly to bring this global force back to Canada.