As one of the least populated regions of the province, the northwestern side of Ontario is often associated with fishing and remoteness. That is for good reason, but it also has an impressive roster of Olympians, particularly those competing in the Winter Games.
As a whole, Ontario sent the largest number of athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics of all provinces in Canada. A whopping 68 out of the 225 Canadian delegates are from Ontario. This number of athletes contributed to making the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics Canada's largest Winter Games yet.
Here’s a list of Winter Game Olympians to come from Sunset Country in the last two decades. For a complete list, scroll to the bottom!
Eric Radford: Red Lake, Ontario
Radford, 33, was raised in Red Lake, Ontario. With three Olympic medals and multiple World Titles under his and skating partner, Meghan Duhamel's belt, Radford's figure skating career is beyond exceptional.
Radford has noted on many occasions that growing up as a figure skater in a small hockey town wasn't easy. But I think it's safe to say his fans, family, and Canada are overjoyed that he persisted with his goals. As an openly gay Olympian, Radford has endured his fair share of resistance. But his perseverance has gained him the utmost respect in the Olympics, from those who know him, and from complete strangers.
Quoted in a CBC News article, Radford's first coach, Debra Geary shares her excitement about his Olympic gold and his enthusiasm for the kids in his hometown.
"As parents and coaches, we're always so grateful that he takes the time to talk to the kids about everything from skating skills to living in a small town community, about practicing hard and following your dreams, which he has definitely done," said Geary.
Haley Irwin: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Haley Irwin, 29, made her world debut in 2009 helping Canada's National Women's Team, which she's been a part of since 2007, win a silver.
Since that day, Irwin has been an integral part of Team Canada including their gold in Vancouver 2010 and another in Sochi 2014. In the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics just this past week, Irwin scored a goal assisted by BlayreTurnbull that led Canada into a shootout with the United States. Sadly, Team Canada took silver for the first time in five Olympics, after four Winter Games winning gold.
When Irwin played collegiate hockey at University of Minnesota-Duluth, she led all NCAA first year in points per game—as a freshman.
Did we mention she was also the first female hockey player to make a AAA-level male team in Thunder Bay? That alone makes her a hero to every single young girl with a hockey stick with not-so-distant dreams.
Eric Staal: Thunder Bay, Ontario
This 33-year-old hockey player has already won a Stanley Cup, an IIHF World Championship gold, and an Olympic gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
Eric and his brothers all have very impressive accomplishments in their hockey careers.
And get this: Eric Staal also enjoys fishing. Might have something to do with his hometown!
Duncan Keith: Fort Frances, Ontario
Two-time gold medalist in 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, Duncan Keith is also a two-time Stanley Cup winner in 2010 and 2013 with the Chicago Blackhawks.
When Keith won the second Stanley Cup, he brought it back to Fort Frances to celebrate with friends, family, and locals of the small border town he called home earlier in his life. It happens to be where he learned to skate.
Keith is also founder of the Keith Relief Foundation, a charity to aid those who are dealing with the emotional and financial weights of medical crises.
Amber Peterson: Thunder Bay, ontario
Amber Peterson, 35, is a freestyle skier who competed in aerials. In 1999 Peterson made her World Cup debut in Blackcomb, British Columbia, and since then has had 47 World Cup Starts.
Peterson won silver at the 2006 Lake Placid World Cup in women's aerials and she's appeared at three World Championships.
Amber now resides in Seattle, Washington, with her husband, Pat Monahan of the band Train, and their children.
Chris Pronger: Dryden, Ontario
This hockey player has been named to Team Canada four times since 1998 Winter Games. Starting his career off with a bang, he won gold in the under-18 team at the 1991 Phoenix Cup in Japan.
In his Olympic career he scored one goal and contributed six assists. He's played well over 1,000 NHL games and competed for the Stanley Cup finals for 13 consecutive years.
Having won gold with Team Canada in 2002 in Salt Lake City, as well as 2010 in Vancouver, and also winning the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, Pronger has seen his fair share of victory.
In 2017, the NHL commerated its 100th anniversary by naming 100 hockey greats. Members in the media, NHL alumni, and NHL executives oversaw the process that placed Pronger on that list.
Katie Weatherston: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Another women’s hockey player to come out of Thunder Bay is Katie Weatherston, who played for Canada in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Katie was born in Thunder Bay and called it home until she went to Dartmouth College and played in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from 2002 to 2007.
Katie scored four goals—including the game-winner in the semi-final victory over Finland—and had one assist in the 2006 Olympics, helping Canada to bring home with the gold medal in Women’s Ice Hockey.
Today, Katie has a degree in Psychology and Elementary teaching, giving her the perfect background for her motivational speeches. She also runs the Katie Weatherston Hockey School, which provides the tools needed to improve skills and raise awareness of opportunities available to both girls and boys throughout sport.
Mike Richards: Kenora, Ontario
Growing up in Kenora, it’s not surprising Mike Richards grew up loving hockey. Kenora is, after all, a true hockey town as was witnessed at the 2017 Hockey Day in Canada.
Mike has won nearly every championship or award at every level. He’s won the Memorial Cup, the Calder Cup, the 2008 NHL All-Star Game, Gene Hart Memorial Award, Bobby Clarke Trophy, Prince of Wales Trophy, the Stanley Cup with the LA Kings in 2012 and 2014, and twice won the Clarence Campbell Bowl during his time with the Kings. In international competition, Mike won Gold at the World Juniors in 2005 and Olympic Gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Mike scored a total of two goals and three assists in seven games. During the gold medal game, Mike had an assist on the first goal by the Canadians where he forced a turnover and fired a shot on goal; the rebound was scored by Jonathan Toews. The Canadians won the game 3–2 in overtime, giving Richards an Olympic gold medal.
Patrick Sharp: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Although born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Patrick Sharp considers Thunder Bay, Ontario his home. He grew up in Thunder Bay, playing first for the Thunder Bay Kings, then for the former Thunder Bay Flyers of the USHL. From there he played with the University of Vermont until the Philadelphia Flyers selected in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Sharp played for Chicago Blackhawks for many years, winning the Stanley Cup twice before being traded to Dallas for two seasons. In the 2017/18 year, he signed a one-year contract with the Blackhawks once again.
Sharp represented Canada at the Olympics in Sochi in 2014. He helped Canada with his first goal of the game against Latvia when he one-timed a shot past the outstretched glove of Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis. Canada would go on to win Gold in Sochi.
Jason Myslicki: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Jason Myslicki was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario which had a world-class skiing facility and concentrated on ski jumping. He started competing in the Nordic Combined in 1999. He competed in two Winter Olympics (2006 and 2010), earning his best finish of 41st in both the 7.5-kilometre sprint and 15-kilometre individual events at Turin in 2006. In 2006, he was the first Canadian to qualify to compete in the Nordic Combined at the Olympics since 1988. His best World Cup finish was 23rd in a 10-kilometre individual normal hill event in France in 2009.
Nordic Combined combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing. Athletes compete in the ski jump first, with the top finisher advancing to the first spot in the cross-country ski race that takes place later that day. The first skier to cross the finish line takes home the gold. It is the only sport in the Olympics where only men compete in the event.
Sean Crooks: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Sean Crooks was born in Thunder Bay. Sean competed in Cross-Country Skiing at the 2006 Olympics in Turin in two events: the Men’s Sprint and the Men’s 4x10k Relay. He finished 11th in the Relay and 32nd in the qualifying portion of the Sprint. Crooks retired in 2010 after a 7-year career as a member of the Canadian National Team.
Sean’s favourite quote is "Stay true to the dream of your youth” (which is great advice) and his favourite sports memory is “Racing into the top 30 in my first World Cup which qualified me for the 2006 Olympics.”
Due to the length of this article, we have limited the athletes to the last two decades, although there is one more we’d like to highlight:
Dave Irwin: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Dave Irwin was the height of his racing career in the 1970s and 80s and was part of the "Crazy Canucks"—a group of racers who took on the Europeans who dominated the sport back then. There were four members of the Crazy Canucks who were known for their aggressive and even reckless skiing style: Dave Irwin, Ken Read, Steve Podborski, and Dave Murray. As they skied Europe, they were welcomed by the locals and were treated like superstars—even signing autographs, as shown in this archived CBC Digital Archives video. In the mid to late-70s and early 80s, the four were in the top ten skiers in the world which was previously dominated by Europeans.
Dave learned to ski at Thunder Bay’s Loch Lomond and skied at two Olympic Winter Games, one in Lake Placid and Sarajevo in 1984. The only member of the Crazy Canuck to medal was Steve Podborski, who took bronze in the downhill at Lake Placid to become the first man to win an Olympic Downhill medal. After suffering two concussions throughout his skiing career, Dave had a final fall that landed him unconscious in the hospital for a few days before waking up with no memory and a brain injury. Dave currently lives in Canmore, AB.
Not Enough Talent for You?
Here are more athletes from Northwestern Ontario dating from 1932-1998. Let us know if we've missed anyone!
- Robert B Pow (Curling)
- Victor Lindquist (Hockey)
- Henry Akervall (Hockey)
- Frank Gartrell (Ski Jump)
- Steve Collins (Ski Jump)
- David Brown ( Ski Jump)
- Kelly Johnson (Ice Dancing)
- Todd Gillman (Ski Jump)
- Roger Kennedy (Biathlon)
- Rob Rautio (Ski Jump)
- David Walker (Skiing-ballet)
- Peter Stovel (Bobsledding)
- Kevin Dahl (Hockey)
- Chris Lindberg (Hockey)
- Greg Johnson (Hockey)
Yes, northwest Ontario has a lot to be proud about when it comes to not only our Olympians, but also our world-watched athletes. It begs the question, who will be the next Olympian to come from our corner of the world?