Pin collecting is second biggest attraction

Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2004

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta, Canada He's like a celebrity hounded by adoring fans; a millionaire pursued for handouts and opportunities.

In reality, he's a pin collector, and good at what he does.

In the subculture of the Arctic Winter Games, 9-year-old William Thomson is like a king among (young) men.

The Whitehorse youth has been collecting pins from around the globe since his parents gave him his first at age 2. In the past seven years, William has collected more than 400 pins, displaying the names and images of places, groups and events from around the globe. His collection fills six books, filled with felt pages that can be adorned by pins.

A full two books are devoted solely to Games pins, and it is these books William is carrying around Fort McMurray this week in search of more acquisitions.

Pin trading is an underlying culture at Games events. Athletes, sponsors, spectators and volunteers at this year's Games in Fort McMurray can be found decked out with pins from around the world.

Some represent team delegations at the Games; others denote places and groups. There are flags, stars, ulus, even a bison in honor of the municipality of Wood Buffalo, in which Fort McMurray is located.


"Pin trading is kind of like an extra sport," William explained, as he set up shop on the floor in the lobby outside a well-traveled hockey arena.

Instantly surrounded by other youth and a handful of adults William set to work showing off his collection and seeking trades from the other Games participants.

He's not easy to trade with, though. He has many of the popular pins the majority of people are sporting and some of his pins are quite rare, making them a hard trade.

Still, admirers are eager to at least gawk at his collection. And if they have a pin he doesn't, it's a coup for their collecting prowess.

William said his pin-trading hobby has led him to meet people from all over the world, and that's part of the draw.

"It's fun to meet people, to trade with a person," he said.

William's not alone in his opinion.

"You get to know them (the people you're trading with) better," said Jake Gebauer, an 11-year-old peewee hockey player from Delta Junction, pulling a pin-adorned washcloth from his pocket.

Jake said he's made friends from many different parts of the world by playing hockey and by trading pins. His new acquaintances make their homes in various parts of Alaska, in Canada's many provinces and even as far away as Greenland and Russia.


"It's fun," he said.

Children at the Games aren't the only ones picking up the hobby, either.

A good number of volunteers, coaches and delegates also wear their pin collections on the straps for their name tags or on jackets.

Volunteer Theresa MacKenzie of Fort McMurray joked she has so many pins she's starting to walk with a hunched back.

"I just started (collecting and trading) on Sunday. I only bought two pins," she said. "It became so much fun and I met so many nice people, I just started doing it.

"It's very contagious."


Among Theresa's collection are the two-part gold and blue star boasting the 2004 Games motto: "To the stars and beyond" and a wooden Kenai Peninsula 2006 Games pin.

Ultimately, the pins people are collecting at the Games may not be worth much in monetary terms. But Theresa said there's a value to her collection anyway.

"Just meeting everybody, it's fun. You get to talk about different countries," she said. "Being from Fort McMurray, the great thing is getting out to meet all the spectators."

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