Olympics: Winter Games bring changes to Vancouver
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The arrival of the Olympic Games is throwing Vancouver off its routine — and no one seems to mind.
Everything from surgery to court cases are being put on hold, schools are getting an extended break and roads will be closed while the area is jam-packed with Olympic celebrants this February.
"I think it's going to be 24 hours a day, around the clock. Just be outside and you'll be having a great time," Amber Sessions, a spokeswoman for Tourism Vancouver, told The Canadian Press.
Security and organizing officials, though, are calling the changes "business as unusual."
School children in Whistler and Squamish will be taking an early spring vacation, with schools closing from Feb. 19 to March 1, 2010.
The B.C. Institute of Technology in suburban Burnaby is closing for the entire Games — Feb. 12-28 — allowing for almost 3,000 parking spaces to be used as part of the Olympic Bus Network's park-and-ride.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University, not far from the Richmond Olympic Oval, also extended it's break for students. The facility's parking lots and classroom spaces are being used for volunteer support and other services.
Even more unrecognizable in a city once called No Fun City, will be the constant parties.
The "fun zones" include live broadcast sites with giant screens in Vancouver's downtown and Yaletown community.
Not far from there, Robson Square will be a hub of activity around the outdoor ice rink. The city's popular Granville Island market will be taken over with a celebration of Francophone culture.
The Four Host First Nations will welcome their relations from coast-to coast to share art, food and stories at their pavilion.
Other sponsored party venues include the Atlantic Canada House and the House of Switzerland among others.
"During Games time the downtown core will be literally jam-packed with live sites, pavilions, lots of different companies and restaurants and spas and bars are all doing their own activities," Sessions said.
Just a train ride away, there will be parties in Richmond, near the Olympic oval, and in Surrey where the city is planning a $3 million, 13-day celebration with music and live broadcasts.
Right in the middle of all those events are B.C.'s law courts, where officials have been planning for the Olympic slowdown for two years.
Jury trials have been delayed between Feb. 6 and March 1. The provincial courts will be processing day-to-day criminal matters, but because many police officers across the province will be deployed for Olympic security, they won't be available to testify at any criminal trials province-wide.
Helping in the security effort will be about 6,000 police officers from the RCMP and other policing agencies across the country, 4,500 Canadian Forces personnel, and 5,000 private security officers.
Marine security in Vancouver's False Creek will be restricting access to boats or escorting boats in and out of their slips near the athlete's village.
Anyone flying into Vancouver's Burrard Inlet via float plane or helicopter will also be subjected to added passenger and luggage screening, and new restrictions are being placed on carry-on baggage.
Transportation will be the biggest hurdle for locals and visitors alike.
The Olympic transportation plan comes with massive closures around Olympic venues, pedestrian-only areas through many parts of downtown Vancouver and expanded transit.
Checkpoints will be set up north of Squamish on the Sea to Sky Highway stopping unnecessary vehicle traffic from getting through to Whistler.
Those restrictions are also part of the reason fewer residents are choosing to have elective surgery, according to Gavin Wilson, communications director for the Vancouver-Coastal Health Authority.
He said elective surgery has been cut by 33 percent, meaning they'll do about 450 fewer procedures in 2010.
"It's a decision we've made partly based on the experience of previous host cities, where they've seen the demand for medical services decline," Wilson said.
Sessions has no concerns about tourists or locals having a good time during the Olympics, but she admits to some worries about the weather.
"We really want to show the world that perfect Vancouver day when you have the snowcapped mountains and the beautiful blue sky and the ocean."
But Vancouver isn't know for it's sunny weather or even snow in February.
"The only thing I would warn people about is to bring an umbrella," she said.