Calgary Olympics chorister loved 1988, but is hesitant on 2026 bid

What are we going to get in terms of investment?”

The Sprawl

By RICHIE NGUYEN & PETER BRAND

Sitting down at Higher Ground Cafe in Kensington, Tamara Ann Lee has mixed feelings about Calgary’s interest in hosting the Olympic Games in 2026.

As she sips her London fog, Lee laughs as she recalls how she accidentally joined the opening ceremonies choir in 1988 at the age of 26. A friend dragged her to rehearsals where they “almost froze to death for six weeks,” due to waiting around for dancers to “finish their thing.”

Thirty years later, she worries the city is galloping ahead without much transparency as it decides whether to tender a bid.

Lee at Higher Ground in Kensington. Photo: Richie Nguyen, Calgary Journal

“First of all, it’s way more expensive than it used to be,” she said. “Do the economics really make sense? The truth is I’m waiting to be convinced.”

Lee says through the bid process, she wants answers. What will Calgarians gain at the end of this? What jobs will be created? Would a 2026 Games translate into a more attractive city for future investments from businesses?

Is the bid based on more than nostalgia?

“The other thing is — what are we going to get in terms of investment?”
— Tamara Ann Lee

A technical writer and artist who’s made her living in the city and never left, Lee reflects on how different Calgary was in 1988.

Tamara Ann Lee, left, in 1988. Photo courtesy of Lee

Back then, Calgary was a “little town” where people were excited over the prospect of having the Olympics. However, she also remembers there were some concerns regarding the expenses the city would potentially face.

“It was controversial,” she said. “People were divided in a lot of ways for these same reasons. It’s going to be really expensive.”

Whether the 2026 bid goes ahead or not, Lee will hold on to many fond memories, including the the choir singing a song in Greek, a language that not many in the choir knew.

She also recalls there wasn’t any snow during the opening ceremonies due to the weather—so organizers had to resort to covering McMahon stadium in white sand.

“They said to us, ‘You have to step carefully because if you stomp around in the sand it’ll stick to your costume.’ And real snow would never do that, and it will look like white sand. So we were like tip-toeing in our moon boots.”

This story is part of Hindsight 2026, a joint project between the Sprawl and the Calgary Journal, which is produced by journalism students at Mount Royal University. We’re digging into past Olympics to evaluate whether a 2026 Winter Games in Calgary would help or hinder our city.