Granddaughters of Orono families participate in Olympic Torch Relay

Getting an up-close look at the Olympic Torch (from left to right) are Stu Irwin, Chelsea Ripley, Olympian Jeff Bean, Ally Cullen and Alice Irwin, outside of Trinity College School in Port Hope in October. Photo by Pattie Irwin-Cullen.

There will be a few grandparents in Orono with an extra reason, or two, to be proud as the Olympic Torch Relay makes its way through this area next Wednesday (Dec. 16). Two girls with local family connections will be part of a torchbearer team participating in the relay in Lindsay, a designated “celebration community” for this area.

According to, the website for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay started on Oct. 30th in Victoria, BC. The torch relay covers much of the country, visiting 1,037 communities on its 45,000-kilometre mission to build excitement for the Olympic Games. It completes its journey at Vancouver’s BC Place on Feb. 12, 2010, when the Olympic Flame will light the Olympic Cauldron to signal the start of the 2010 Winter Games.

12,000 torch bearers, including up to 20 people in each of about 100 “torchbearer teams,” will have the opportunity to carry the Olympic Flame – lit in Olympia, Greece, on Oct. 22 – in the longest domestic torch relay in Olympic history.

Ally Cullen and Chelsea Ripley are both part of a torchbearer team that will be taking part in the events in Lindsay that will be the highlight of route that also sees the Olympic Flame come through Orono and Newcastle. Cullen and Ripley are both grade nine students at Trinity College School in Port Hope. The two girls, both 14 years old, also happen to be cousins, with grandparents who live in Orono.

The girls were selected as part of a team of 20 torchbearers because of their participation at school as mentors in a program that encourages teenage girls to maintain physical fitness, according to Ally’s mother, Pattie Irwin-Cullen. The program was developed by Mrs. Jennifer Powles, head of athletics at Trinity College School, and it was picked as one of the winning entries in a contest to create torchbearer teams put on by sponsor RBC.

“Their teacher, Mrs. Powles, entered the contest last year,” explained Irwin-Cullen, reached by phone earlier this week. “She found out her program won in Sept., and her prize was to put together a team to carry the torch. Ally and Chelsea were chosen because they were both part of the mentoring program. We’re very thrilled.”

The program, called “Train like an Olympian,” encourages girls to increase their physical fitness as teenagers, an age when the fitness levels for girls often drops, said Irwin-Cullen. To be a mentor, girls had to be considered a leader by their peers and respected by their teachers, she stated.

Last year, Ally Cullen was the captain of the school’s junior volleyball team, while Chelsea Ripley was the captain of the hockey team, said Irwin-Cullen.

“It was very exciting for all of us,” said Ally Cullen, recalling when she and her schoolmates learned their program was a winner. “We were one of 15 schools across Canada selected to have a torchbearer team.”

Cullen, who grew up in Orono, said all the girls from the mentoring program are excited about being able to carry the Olympic Torch. “We’re honoured we’ll be able to do something so big. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The cousins had a sneak peak at the torch on Oct. 23, when three-time Olympian Jeff Bean paid a visit to their school. Bean, a freestyle aerial skier who participated in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Winter Games, congratulated the girls and gave a speech at the school that exemplified the Olympic spirit.

“It was really inspirational for me to hear about how, after he had broken his leg, he kept trying and training, and he went on to compete in the Olympics again,” said Cullen. Her parents and grandparents were on hand when Cullen and her cousin met Bean, and the girls were given their first chance to hold the Olympic torch.

Cullen and Ripley and their teammates will be acting as Olympic ambassadors on Dec. 15, handing out bracelets and pins as the torch goes through Port Hope. Then the next day, in Lindsay, they will each get a turn carrying the torch.

The Olympic website describes team torchbearers as “groups of people who have come together to make a difference in the lives of others.” It says there will be about 100 teams of torchbearers participating in the torch relay. Whereas individual torchbearers may carry the Flame for up to one kilometer, teams of up to 20 people will exchange the Flame between team members over a 1-km segment.

“There are 20 girls in Ally and Chelsea’s team, so they will each get their own individual 50 metres and their own torch. Each team member will run 50 metres, and then light the next torch,” said Irwin-Cullen.

Lindsay is one of nearly 200 communities across Canada that will hold community celebrations for the torch relay. According to the website, live entertainment will take place in downtown Lindsay at 10:45 a.m., and the Olympic Flame is expected to arrive shortly before 12 noon.

Dec. 16 is Day 48 of the relay, and it starts in Peterborough, and continues through Lakefield, Curve Lake, Bridgenorth and Omemee before stopping in Lindsay. It then continues down Hwy. #115 to Orono, and then to Newcastle, Bowmanville and Courtice, before ending the day in Oshawa.

Two Orono families will be cheering Cullen and Ripley on. Orono resident Leila Ripley is the proud grandmother of Chelsea. “I think it’s very nice that she’s going to be a torch bearer,” said the grandmother when reached by phone.

And Alice and Stu Irwin of Orono are grandparents of both Chelsea and Ally. “We’re just honoured,” said Alice Irwin, also reached by phone, “to have not just one, but two granddaughters as torchbearers.”

The grandmother said she is also proud of her granddaughters’ commitment to mentoring other girls. “We’re very proud of them, and it’s not just for being torchbearers. It’s for the promise they’ve made, as part of their commitment to carrying the torch, to continue on in their leadership at their school.”

After the Lindsay segment of the relay, the Irwin family hopes to be able to make it in time to see the Olympic Flame pass through Orono. Torch bearers are each given the opportunity to purchase their individual torch, and Pattie Irwin-Cullen said that her daughter will do so. “After they are done, they can keep the actual torch they carried,” she said. “So we will have one of the official Olympic torches.”

The designers of the 2010 torch said it takes its inspiration from the cool, crisp lines that are left behind in the snow and ice from winter sports.

The torch route that will be followed on Wednesday December 16, 2009 is as follows (please note that times are approximate but the torch relay team will stick very tightly to the times stated):

Orono:  1:43 PM – The torch relay begins at MILL STREET & Mill Land (adjacent to Highway 115/35). It proceeds down Mill Street to MAIN STREET. The relay ends in the area of Sommerville Drive.

1:59 PM – End of Orono leg of Torch Relay.

Newcastle:  2:06 PM – The torch bearers begin at the intersection of North Street/Munroe Street West and MILL STREET NORTH (REG.RD 17). The route is MILL STREET south to ROBERT STREET; East on Robert Street to BEAVER STREET; North on Beaver Street to EDWARD STREET; Edward Street east to BROOKHOUSE DRIVE; North on Brookhouse Drive to HIGHWAY 2; West on Highway 2 to Newcastle Community Hall (corner of Mill Street & Highway 2).

2:31 PM – 1 minute photo opportunity.

2:32 PM – Torch resumes trek, ending near Rudell Road and Highway 2.

2:38 PM – End of Newcastle leg of Torch Relay.

Organizers are suggesting you wear red and white to show your support for Canada’s Olympic athletes. For an interactive map of Day 48 of the route, go to and click on “Olympic Torch Relay” under the tab “More 2010 Information.”


One thought on “Granddaughters of Orono families participate in Olympic Torch Relay

  1. I just read your article about the Irwins and the torch. I’m trying to trace some ancestry to my family, my great grand parents, William and Eliza Irwin, came to Port Hope in 1851?, from northern Ireland, and lived there for about 10 years. Later they moved to Midland. I wondered if this family might be related?


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