#11: Development of the Multi Sport & Multi Disabled Games in Canada

Written by David Legg

The creation and evolution of the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association (CWSA) has been, in large part, and during the earliest years, based on the hosting of Games. The genesis of the CWSA could arguably be linked to Al Simpson and his colleagues hosting the 1967 Wheelchair Pan American Games in Winnipeg, where the seed was planted for the creation of the CWSA. Later that year, the Centennial Wheelchair Games were held in Montreal where the CWSA was officially born and Dr. Robert Jackson was elected as the association’s first President.

The following year, the First National Wheelchair Games were held at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. These games were used to select the team for Canada’s first Paralympic Games in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1968. The second National Wheelchair Games were held in 1969 at McMaster University in Hamilton followed by two smaller regional games (because of financial challenges) held in 1970 in Halifax and Penticton. In the 1970s, national wheelchair games were held in Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal. 

This pattern changed, however, with the hosting of the 1976 Torontolympiad for the Physically Disabled. Here the idea of multi-disability participation at the Games emerged. Following the Games, the Canadian Council of Sport for the Disabled (CC-SFD) (which would eventually be named CFSOD and then the Canadian Paralympic Committee) was created and would ultimately take on the hosting responsibilities of the National multi-disability games. In 1975, however, the CC-SFD had not been created but leaders of disability sport still knew that the ‘76 Games would include for the first time athletes who were blind and had amputation. As a result, the CWSA hosted the first Canadian Games for the Physically Disabled in 1975 in Cambridge and invited athletes with visual impairment and amputations. A year following the ‘76 Games, the national games were held in Edmonton and overseen by CCSFD and in 1979 these Games were held at the University of British Columbia. 

In the 1979 Games Program, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia wrote: “Dear Charioteers. The fact that you have entered these Games, no doubt with keen anticipation - plus your wheelchair - suggests to me that you are rather special people. The reason for your wheelchair is, I am sure, a very great burden to you, for which, needless to say, you have my earnest sympathy.” The national games that year included events such as dartchery (archery with a darts target), slalom, snooker, table tennis, pentathlon (swimming, javelin, shot, wheelchair dash and archery), volleyball and Murderball (which had only been invented in Winnipeg in 1977 and had already been a demonstration event at the National Games in Edmonton in 1977). Several new events were also added, including air-pistol, 10,000 meter track, air rifle, hammer throw, fencing, and bowling. 

The UBC Games were considered a great success, yet they were recognized as probably one of the last to occur. Paul Dupree, the Fitness and Amateur Sport consultant noted that funding for national games would soon end. The National Games continued, albeit in a smaller fashion and now overseen by CFSOD. In 1981, the Canada Games for the Physically Disabled were held in Scarborough, Ontario and the 1983 Games were held in Sudbury. 

By the mid-1980s, however, the idea of inclusion of wheelchair events into the able bodied sport system had firmly taken hold. As but one example, archery and shooting were removed from the CFSOD national games program in Sault Ste. Marie in 1985 so that they could host their National Championships at an integrated meet. As a result, the turnout at the 1985 CFSOD national games by wheelchair athletes was the lowest since 1976.

In 1986, the CFSOD national games would eventually be awarded to Brantford and through a sponsorship agreement, they would become known as the Foresters Games. Although these games were considered more successful than the National Games held in Sault Ste. Marie, they were still not attracting the number of wheelchair athletes that organizers hoped, as the larger sports such as basketball and athletics were now hosting their own separate national championships.

The 1988 CFSOD national games were held in Richmond, British Columbia, and again were very poorly attended. A year later, CFSOD reflecting international trends changed its focus and organizational name change to the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) which then became the federally and privately funded non-profit corporation recognized by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Consequently, it became responsible for all aspects of Canada’s involvement within the Paralympic movement including Canadian participation in the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games and negotiations with other organizations to ensure the inclusion of athletes with disability into able-bodied sport events and organizations both in Canada and abroad. This evolution from CFSOD to CPC effectively ended the multi-disability national games format and clearly designated the CWSA as the only national voice for the Internal Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation (ISMWSF). This change, also reflected at the international level, signaled the end to multi-disability, multi-event world championships.

Following the 1988 Seoul Summer Paralympic games, the international disability sport scene shifted even closer to inclusive or spot sport specific events such as athletics, swimming and basketball. This change relegated the Stoke Mandeville (ISMWSF) games to a developmental status and National Multi-Disability Sport Games ended in Canada.