Donna-Rae Gabbs still remembers the excitement she felt when she walked into the Opening Ceremonies for the very first Canada Summer Games almost five decades ago.
“I just remember looking around and taking everything in because we were all in awe,” Gabbs said.
“There I was at the first Canada Summer Games, this was a very, very big deal.”
Gabbs was a member of the Manitoba field hockey team that competed in the Canada Summer Games in Halifax in 1969, the first year the games were held.
Field hockey was so new to Manitoba that when her team headed to Halifax for the Games they had never even played a competitive match against another field hockey team.
“Field hockey was just new here and we learned the game at a clinic in Gimli just months before we were on the plane to Halifax,” she said with a laugh.
Gabbs doesn’t remember the final win/loss record for the Manitoba team, but she said they lost a lot more games than they won.
Despite a lack of wins she said her and the rest of the team headed back to Manitoba with a greater passion for the sport, and a desire to continue playing the game.
“It was the best way to learn how to play the games, because we were right there competing against other provinces,” she said.
“We had our first competition and we had never ever played against another team, but this brought out that desire because here we were in the Canada Summer Games.”
The Manitoba team also didn’t have any problem earning respect in 1969, Gabbs recalled.
“We were really well respected by the other teams because we really fought hard. There was never any quit in our team.”
Gabbs will also never forget the special moment at the Games’ Opening Ceremonies when she met then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
“This was at the height of Trudeau-mania and he just walked right up to me and kissed me on the cheek,” she said.
“I will always remember that moment.”
Now in her early 70’s and still living in Winnipeg, Gabbs said she plans to get involved in the 2017 Canada Summer Games, which are coming to Winnipeg in July.
“I’ll be volunteering wherever and however I can, and I’m very excited because it’s just a chance to be part of it all over again.”
She also hopes to be at the 2017 Canada Summer Games Opening Ceremonies in Winnipeg this summer, and said those ceremonies would bring back a lot of memories and emotions for her.
“I’m still very proud of being in those first games, so it’s really like coming full circle.”