When Canada's track and field fortunes were failing on the international stage in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Royal Canadian Legion decided to do something about it.
So they hired British National Coach, Geoff Dyson to kick-start a national track and field program. Dyson was a dynamic man and fired the imaginations of coaches at his clinics. But he couldn't have anticipated what would happen when he met a couple of Winnipeg high
school physical education teachers and track coaches -- George Phillips and Fred Taylor.
With the sponsorship of the Royal Canadian Legion Sports Foundation, the two were the cornerstones for traveling track and field clinics in the province. Although their clinics met with success, they felt their mission could be better served if they established permanent
centre to train young athletes.
They wanted to get away from the cities and find a place where athletes could be trained with a minimum of outside distractions. Their search took them to the International Peace Garden where the International Music Camp was already running a successful performing arts camp for high-school aged students in the early part of the summer.
The setting was perfect. The gently undulating terrain and wooded areas was perfect for training purposes. Once the music camp students vacated the dormitories at the Peace Garden, the newly-founded Legion Athletic Camp took over the facilities.
The camp was born in 1962 and the first year, 80 boys attended during the first week and 80 girls the second week. There was a staff of four coaches.
The camp was an instant hit and the following year, the numbers almost doubled. It wasn't long before Phillips and Taylor started to see the possibility of a multi-disciplinary camp and utilizing some of the natural assets of the beautiful International Peace Garden.
About the same time, it became evident that if the camp was to grow, it needed its own facilities. As the search for a site began, Phillips was out exploring the woods and stumbled across an overgrown depression in the ground. He could hardly contain his excitement when
his suspicions were confirmed that this was once the site of a 400-metre track.
It was constructed for the popular annual Highland Games, which were held at the IPG in the 1930s. When the Second World War broke out, the games were cancelled, as all able-bodied men were involved in the military effort. When the war ended, life had changed and the
returning men were busy with families and building a country.
So the track was soon forgotten and was overgrown. It was quickly cleared and resurfaced with cinders. It was soon determined that the site for the new multi-purpose Legion Memorial Sports Complex would be constructed on a hillside overlooking the track.
That opened the doors for more sports such as basketball and volleyball. Legionnaires were busy as they constructed a weight training room, two storage buildings, a huge barn and a dormitory.
The only building not constructed by Legionnaires was the complex.
Taylor left the program in the early 1980s to further his education career and Phillips has continued to guide the camp as camp director, until his recent passing.
The camp is now home for 10 sports including an multisport sampler program where youngsters in Grades 4-9 can participate in a number of sporting and recreational activities for a week.
Most athletes attending the camp are in Grades 7-12. However athletes as young as ten can take part in soccer and judo camp and athletes as young as seven can enter the gymnastic program where the development of athletes in that sport begins at a tender age.
Last year more than 400 athletes attended the 57th annual camp over a four week period with the sports of basketball, multisport, gymnastics, track and field, and volleyball.
Over the years the Legion camp has hosted numerous other sports including cycling, fastball, football, judo, karate, lacrosse, rhythmic gymnastics, rugby, team handball, weight lifting and others.
This year, thanks to the support of our new partners, Manitoba Aboriginal Sports & Recreation Council and the Rotary Club's HIP Program, 2 old sports are returning to the camp; wrestling and soccer.
Since its birth in 1962, the camp has grown and developed into one of North America's top athletic camps for school-aged athletes, operating with some of the best volunteer teaching coaches and staff around.
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