The Summer Solstice Series at 25 years

The year 2019 is the 25th year the Summer Solstice Series (SSS) is held in Ottawa. This is remarkable! It is rare for sports events, including orienteering events, to reach such a milestone. Let’s take a moment to look back and recognize the people and ideas that made this competition such a lasting success.

How it started, in 1995

Donald Watson, president of Loup Garou, takes the initiative. Here is how he recalls that time today:

Spring greetings from Switzerland. It is a pleasure to observe Orienteering Ottawa is thriving and also this summer marks the 25th anniversary of the Summer Solstice events.

When I organised the first series, with much help from members of both Ottawa clubs, my thoughts were on promoting the sport to newcomers and providing some training for more experienced competitors in the Greenbelt on the longer evenings in a lean period before the Canadian Championships, with some socialising afterwards over at least a watermelon. It is good to see these events continue and are well-supported. The idea, and the scoring system I used, were based on similar events I competed in around Edinburgh when I first started orienteering.

See Donald in the t-shirt he had designed for the occasion. Winners Vince Fagnan, Tricia Willink (Advanced) and Leo Lehtonen and Marketa Graham (Intermediate) received a shirt, others could buy one for $15. It was a popular item, and some shirts can still be seen occasionally, 25 years later.


How it evolved, 1995-2005

The first Solstice Series consisted of five events with an advanced and intermediate course. Everyone’s finish time in an event was divided into the time of the winner and multiplied by 1000, and the best four out of five scores were added to obtain a total score for the series. We still use that method of combining results of meets today.

The second year saw again 5 events, and the addition of a beginners’ course. For 13 years the series featured 5 events, with 4 counting for the overall result.

In the eighth year, 2002, a Score-O format with mass start was introduced. The scoring was standardized at 5 points per control visited, less 2 points per minute for finishing late, plus 2 points per minute for finishing early after visiting all controls. This system has stood the test of time.

With people starting together and finishing more or less at the same time, there was opportunity for people to hang out together before and after their runs. This proved popular. As well, a clinic at Carleton U and Cherie Mahoney’s training sessions also boosted participation, which increased from an average of 20 to 30 per event to a solid 40, and remained high. With all participants facing the same challenge, the use of three categories – beginners, intermediate and advanced – came under stress. For instance, a 2003 report noted that young novice Alex Teutsch amassed a higher point total at Green’s Creek than many intermediate and even some advanced runners. A handicap system that did away with subdividing participants and leveled the playing field was introduced in 2005. Here is how it was announced in the newsletter, Capital-O #57:


After three years the handicap system was evaluated and found to do “a fine job of making the competition more even between genders and age and experience classes. The point values seem to be about right.”  Two years later the first ten were: Emily Kemp, Stefan Bergstrom, Peter Laurich, Gord Hunter, Cherie Revells (Mahoney), Frederic Bedard, Bert Waslander, Luise Sander, Adam Rudner, and Molly Kemp, in that order. Many of these placed high in other years. It is what one would expect. The handicap system corrects for average differences in speed between age-gender groups, and for lack of experience. It does not penalize orienteers for being good at what they do.

Even so, there were some concerns, and the handicap system was tweaked in 2018. Read all about the current rules on our Summer Solstice page.

Where events were held

OK, Old-timers, your turn. Which site was most often used? If you guessed the Nepean Sportsplex, then you are right. In the 19 years for which we have records (2008 to 2012 are missing), the Sportsplex site was used 13 times. You should know every bump and hole in that park. But what other sites were used often? Some of these may surprise you: Vincent Massey Park (11 times), the Arboretum / Dow’s Lake (10), Stony Swamp (9), Rockcliffe Park (8), Cedarview and McCarthy Woods (7 each) and Green’s Creek (6). Many orienteers may not even know all these sites because several have not been used for many years. New sites have taken their place, in particular Timm Road, used three times since 2012. 2019 will see a return to Green’s Creek with a new map.

Winners and event organisers

Winners were many, too many to mention. Find the winners in the first year in the text above, and the winners in 2005, the first year of the handicap system, in a picture. Then there are the usual suspects, mostly men in their prime, and more recently the young men and women who made it or almost made it to the national team. The same people organised events. Colin Kirk looked after the Loup Garou meets for quite a few years. Experienced members of the Ottawa Club all contributed over many years. More recently many events have been hosted by club members who took Richard Guttormson’s course setting course, as is the case in 2019, the 25th anniversary editions of the Series. Yes, the Solstice Series is not only fun and a means of promoting interest in our sport, it also serves to develop organising talent. 

The new course setters are assisted by experienced members as controllers. We have not kept track of the course setters the way we keep a record of results. An oversight? Let us just say that pretty much all experienced members contribute, whether as course setters, mappers, registrars or in other capacities. And let us not forget the young folks who pick up controls after having competed vigorously.