50 moments: The Sports Celebrities Festival – then and now

Markus Naslund and SOBC athlete Nick Chan at the 2002 Sports Celebrities Festival
Vancouver Canucks alumnus Markus Naslund with SOBC athlete Nick Chan at the 2002 Sports Celebrities Festival

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics this year, we are taking a look back at the #50moments that have defined the Special Olympics movement here in B.C. and throughout the world.

The inspiring and unique Sports Celebrities Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Debuting in 1998, the event was a fun and interactive evening that brought together local sports celebrities, Special Olympics athletes, and members of the business community. The gala was a great success, and by 1999 it was quickly becoming one of the premier events in Vancouver.

In 2001, Canucks President Brian Burke was invited to be the Honorary General Manager for the Special Olympics BC Summer Games in Prince George. Burke was inspired by the dedication, athleticism, and joy he witnessed at the Games, and saw the potential for a partnership between Special Olympics BC and the Vancouver Canucks. He recognized that this partnership would not only be a benefit to Special Olympics BC athletes, but to the Vancouver Canucks players who would be inspired by the athletes they met – just as he was. 

The following year the entire Canucks team attended the event, and the Sports Celebrities Festival became one of only four mandatory annual events for the full Canucks roster. This significant moment helped establish the Sports Celebrities Festival as a highlight of Vancouver event calendar, and was the beginning of our longtime partnership with the Vancouver Canucks.

Bobby Orr at the 2002 Sports Celebrities Festival
Hockey legend Bobby Orr enjoying the fun and games at the Sports Celebrities Festival in 2002

The gala has welcomed many notable guests in subsequent years, including hockey greats Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe, and even a visit from the Stanley Cup in 2004. The first athlete speaker at the Sports Celebrities Festival took the stage in 2002, and since then Special Olympics BC athletes have been inspiring guests by powerfully sharing their Special Olympics stories and experiences.

Watch SOBC athlete speeches from the Sports Celebrities Festival

In 2006, Wheaton Precious Metals (formerly Silver Wheaton) became the Presenting Sponsor of the Sports Celebrities Festival, providing financial support to the event and helping more fundraising proceeds to go towards supporting the Canucks for Kids Fund and Special Olympics BC.

Over the last 19 years this unique gala has raised more than $5.4 million to support the important work of the Canucks for Kids Fund and Special Olympics BC, helping change countless lives through the power of sport, and providing vital resources and care to children and families throughout B.C.

The Sports Celebrities Festival has greatly benefited from the longtime leadership of founding chairs Doug Holtby and Blair Shier, who generously give their time each year to ensure the event is a success.

We are so grateful for the support of our many sponsors and auction donors for their generous contributions, to the Sports Celebrities Festival organizing committee for their tireless hard work, and to the many volunteers who give their time to help behind the scenes. We look forward to another exciting and inspirational event on October 4!