“The Calgary Stampede celebrates the people, the animals, the land, the traditions, and the values that make up the unique spirit of the west.”
It’s no surprise that the Calgary Stampede’s BMO Centre’s GM, Greg Newton, would summarize what makes the Stampede a special Canadian tradition so succinctly. Being so close to the Stampede year-round, Newton has a unique position on how the Calgary Stampede contributes to Calgary and southern Alberta’s unique culture through the world-renowned Stampede, year-round facilities, western events and several youth and agriculture programs.
Every July, more than a million guests from around the world visit the annual Stampede celebration. Even beyond The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth in July, Stampede Park hosts more than 1,200 business, tourism, sporting, hospitality, and community events every year, welcoming more than two million guests from every corner of the world. The year-round and July business at present contributes $540M in economic benefit for Alberta and $700M for Canada.
At the heart of the Calgary Stampede’s buildings, the BMO Centre has proudly served as Calgary’s premier venue for consumer and trade shows, special events, meetings and conferences since 1982. 40 years later, the BMO Facility is undergoing a substantial expansion to continue its history as a vital stop in Calgary.
As of November, 2022, the outside steel skeleton of the expansion of the centre is complete. Valued at $500 million—and supported through equal contributions from the Government of Canada, Government of Alberta and The City of Calgary—the expansion will increase the BMO Centre’s total floor space to over one million square feet, more than doubling its rentable area.
After a rigorous competitive process, the internationally-recognized design team leading this transformation—Stantec, Populous and S2 Architecture—was selected for the project. These firms, valued for their complementary experience and proven collaborative approach on major projects, crafted a world-class design for a revamped BMO Centre that will enable Calgary to compete with major convention destinations the world over.
A Gathering Place
The Stampede is transforming the BMO Centre by adding new event and meeting space to create a Tier 1 facility. The expansion will double BMO Centre’s capacity for conferences, meetings and events, creating an even greater way to gather.
“The BMO Centre’s 565,000 sq. ft. expansion will make it the largest convention centre in western Canada,” says Kelly Coles, VP of Building & Infrastructure, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC). “[It will have] 100,000 sq. ft. of new exhibition space, 38 new meeting rooms, two new ballrooms totalling 70,000 square feet, and a dramatic central gathering space anchored by Canada’s largest indoor fireplace.”
This is a major city-building project in the heart of Calgary’s emerging Culture + Entertainment District. “As Development Manager for the expansion and steward of the Rivers District Master Plan, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation knows that this project is a positive indication of the development still to come in the area as we realize the master plan vision,” says Coles.
“Stampede Park has always been a gathering place,” says Newton. “Prior to the BMO Centre Expansion, we have hosted around 1,200 events annually. Calgary and southern Alberta are in need of larger event venues to support future growth in demand and to attract larger conventions and meetings to our Province. The current BMO Centre facility is too small to attract the sizable events that are choosing larger facilities in the US and Canada.”
Visitors to the Stampede
The expansion will effectively double the number of events and gatherings that we will be able to host, in brand-new, state-of-the art spaces, according to Newton.
The expansion will also help diversify the southern Alberta economy through enhanced trade and tourism. The Stampede will be able to welcome additional visitors, helping to fill hotels, restaurants, shops, rideshares and more—all providing a welcome economic boost to Calgary and southern Alberta.
“We eagerly await the moment in 2024 when we can open the doors to western Canada’s largest convention centre,” says Newton.
A World-Class Project
The BMO Centre will be a state-of-the-art gathering place that showcases the best in industry and the western hospitality that the Calgary Stampede is known for.
Described as a world-class project “in so many ways,” by Coles, the BMO Centre has spared no details. “The sheer size of the expansion is breath-taking,” says Coles. “And the design, developed by a renowned design team, is best-in-class, from the materiality of the exterior and detail in the interior finishings to the sweeping plaza and programmable illuminated canopy. The ballrooms offer magnificent views of the Rocky Mountains to the west, and the mix of exhibition, ballroom and meeting spaces offer a greater way to gather for just about any event you could imagine. Everyone involved is just so proud to be part of this defining project.”
“From the moment you walk into the BMO Centre, you’ll feel both welcomed and inspired. Greeted by massive views of Alberta’s legendary blue skies and a warm central fire feature, this brand-new venue is the epitome of timeless western hospitality combined with the very best of what the future holds,” adds Newton.
In the ballrooms, steel spans are up to 180 ft. long and 19 ft. deep—the length and depth of an Olympic swimming pool—allowing for an impressive column-free space. The building is also designed to support loads up to four times greater than typical assembly-type buildings, enabling the building to host any type of event imaginable, with the load allowance in the exhibition hall allowing for fully-loaded semi-trucks to be driven inside the building. “Long story short, the entire venue has been planned, designed and built to transform the way people come together and interact at events, conferences and meetings,” says Newton.
Counting Down the Days
“The response to the project has been incredibly positive. Calgarians and tourists alike are excited to see this new, world-class building take shape in The Culture and Entertainment District,” says Coles. “We began construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was a really impactful, special moment for guests to see the progress we’d made when they arrived at Stampede Park for the Calgary Stampede last July. Now that the steel structure is complete, you can see the expansion from so many vantage points all around Calgary, and it truly is changing Calgary’s skyline.”
The proof is in the pudding: many rooms are already booked for 2024 and beyond, including a 25,000-person conference booked in June of 2025, a scale of gathering that the BMO Centre would not have been able to accommodate pre-expansion.
“It’s so rewarding to be part of the BMO Centre expansion project, not only because of its scale and striking design, but because of what it means for Calgary,” says Coles. “We are putting Calgary on the map as a must-see destination for major conventions and events, generating significant economic value and bolstering tourism and hospitality in the city. It’s another example of the design excellence that Calgary has become known for through projects like the Central Library and the National Music Centre at Studio Bell.”
“The real sense of accomplishment will be once the building opens and seeing people use the venue and witness the success of many sleepless nights in trying to achieve something experiential,” shares Newton. “I would suggest it is far more art than science. That said, I truly believe the team has designed a building that not only I will be proud of, but one that all of Calgary will be proud of.”
For more information, please visit https://venues.calgarystampede.com/