Hamilton didn’t want it. Neither did Vaughan.
There was even talk of spending $15 million to build a temporary velodrome in the Toronto port lands to be razed right after the 2015 Pan Am Games.
That’s when the active cycling community around Milton stepped in. They refused to let what they saw as a once in a lifetime opportunity go to waste. The cyclists, including Peter Gilgan, CEO of Mattamy Homes, committed to raising $14 million of the $56 million veledrome and community centre.
They’ve banked $9 million in private funds already. And on Friday, politicians and officials gathered at the site to celebrate the start of construction.
Howard Chang, chair of the community fundraising, knows all about the velodrome naysayers and their white elephant fears. But, he said, times have changed since Montreal failed to capitalize on its 1976 Olympic velodrome, which now houses an indoor zoo.
Cycling, in all its forms, is more popular than ever and just got a further boost from its high profile at the 2012 London Olympics, he said.
Milton’s facility – with a 250-metre timber track and two 42-degree banks – will be one of only two velodromes in North America able to host international events at the very time the International Cycling Union (UCI) is looking to expand the sport to safeguard its Olympic future.
The facility will help develop up and coming cyclists, host international events and allow Canada’s elite track cyclists – who train in California – to come home. But Milton’s vision for this facility goes well beyond supporting high-performance track cycling.
There will be three multi-use courts for basketball or volleyball in the centre of the velodrome, a running track around the spectator level, a fitness centre, office space for cycling organizations and a bike shop and cafe.
The building will “make Milton a destination of choice for athletes and competitions long after the Games are over,” said Halton MP and Labour minister Lisa Raitt.
The fast growing community of Milton is already a destination for recreational cyclists.
Road cyclists from the Toronto area routinely head to Rattlesnake Point to test themselves on the steep inclines, and mountain bikers take to the trails of Halton Hills and the Kelso conservation area.
“It’s a cycling Mecca,” said Canada’s three-time Olympic track cycling medallist Curt Harnett. “Go there on the weekend and there are more bikes than cars.”
It’s easy for critics to point to Montreal’s failure, but Harnett said there is a more recent and better comparison people should be looking at.
“The speed skating oval in Calgary put speed skating on the radar in Canada,” said Harnett. “The Milton velodrome is going to replicate that.”
The 1983 Pan Am Games were one of Harnett’s first major international events. He was fourth there in the 1,000-metre time trial, which he bettered with a silver medal a year later at the 1984 Olympics. He won bronze sprint medals in 1992 and 1996 Summer Games.