Our neighbors in Canada have long been associated with ‘all things nature.’ While pristine landscapes, mountains and wilderness aplenty grace Canada’s expansive environs, the country is home to several large metropolitan areas that offer ideal venues and accommodations for meetings and events of all sizes.
For decades, Montréal has been synonymous with ‘all things Canada’ and rightfully so. A cutting-edge urban experience, Montréal is teeming with a ‘European chic’ all of its own. From year-round festivals to an award-winning culinary scene to cultural experiences aplenty — Montréal offers something for everyone.
Perhaps the epicenter for meetings and events is the city’s convention center, Palais des congrès de Montréal. Located in the heart of downtown Montréal and close to a wealth of historic sites, world-class shopping and dining, and the Old Port and the Entertainment District, the convention center features more than 551,000 sf of event space. In addition, approximately 16,000 hotel rooms are within a 10-minute walk of the convention center, including approximately 4,000 rooms that are directly accessible via an underground pedestrian network. These days, state-of-the-art technology is a “must have” for any meeting or event, and the Palais des congrès de Montréal offers the most hi-tech meeting facility in all of Canada, including webcasting, videoconferencing, teleconferencing and leading-edge audio-visual equipment.
Some of the city’s venues will surprise and delight event attendees of smaller gatherings. For example, the University Club features a historic building consisting of 14 rooms of various styles that can accommodate from three to 300 attendees.
Being in the heart of a city’s business district is often appealing to corporate meeting and event planners. The Saint James Club, in Montréal’s business district, is ideal for planners looking for a quieter atmosphere. The facility boasts 11 rooms and can host up to 250 guests.
Old Montréal is a favorite destination for business and leisure travelers alike, so the Rooftop Terrace of the Phi Centre is an ideal venue, offering unbeatable views of the river. The Phi Centre also offers various interior spaces of its historic building for rent as well.
According to Tourisme Montréal, a recent survey indicated that 95% of business travelers who stayed in Montréal last year were either satisfied or very satisfied with their experience, with 84% of business travelers saying they’d like to come back to Montréal on a leisure trip.
That’s because Montréal offers meeting and event attendees a robust events scene, safe streets, an array of dining options and a European ambience without having the jet lag or the price tag of traveling to Europe.
The heart of French culture in North America, Québec City is an ideal locale for meetings and incentives that exude a European flair. From its cobblestone streets to heritage venues to storied walls, Québec City is like a French getaway without the expense.
Old Québec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with French-style historic landmarks, and is a walkable gem for meeting and event attendees who want to revel in its shops, attractions, hotels and restaurants. The city embraces arts and culture with several major events and festivals each year. What’s more, the Centre des congrès de Québec is conveniently located in the heart of Québec City.
The Convention Centre and the ExpoCité Exhibition Centre are ideal choices to play host to major events. Québec City is rich with history, culture and more than 3,000 hotel rooms, and Centre des congrès de Québec offers 300,000 sf of exhibition, convention and meeting space. By attracting and supporting crowd-pleasing events, ExpoCité actively contributes to Québec City’s economic, social and tourism development while raising the city’s profile.
An ideal event venue, the ExpoCité site also boasts numerous multipurpose buildings and ample space for major gatherings. Because of its versatility, the venue attracts more than 2 million visitors a year for concerts, consumer shows, trade fairs, sports events and business meetings.
For meeting planners looking for alternative options in Québec City, less traditional settings such as the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec and the Musée de la Civilisation offer idyllic museum settings for meetings, events and soirees of all types. In addition, Manoir Montmorency offers beautiful views of Montmorency Falls in its spectacular banquet venue.
To learn about resources and incentive programs throughout Québec City, the Québec City Business Destination team can assist corporate and incentive meeting planners to help make their event a success, including helping coordinate accommodations, meeting rooms, activities and other excursions.
Toronto is considered to be Canada’s top meeting destination, and consistently ranks in North America’s top-five destinations for meetings and conventions. As Canada’s largest and most-visited destination, Toronto is brimming with iconic events, attractions, restaurants, culture and festivals galore.
Home to Canada’s largest combined life-sciences sector, Toronto provides access to industry thought leaders and businesses, making the city an attractive destination for meetings and events focused on these sectors.
During the past 10 years, Toronto has undergone a transformation of sorts with new attractions, restaurants and entertainment dotting the city. An ideal four-season destination, Toronto features a multitude of cultural and community events as well as a wealth of nearby natural wonders, including Niagara Falls, the Great Lakes and various Ontarian vineyards. What might surprise you is that Toronto is the 4th-largest city in North America and the most-visited destination in Canada.
“In a city where half of the population was born outside of Canada, we like to think this deepens the sense of belonging for those who are meeting here,” says Tara Gordon, vice president of sales at Tourism Toronto. “Playing host to so many international meetings and individuals from around the world, people will feel welcome and safe here. We are all about bringing people together to share experiences, ideas and knowledge, as well as peak their curiosity in a setting where people feel comfortable and safe. I think that is something that resonates to meeting attendees and planners who choose Toronto.”
Cultural progressiveness and rich diversity abound throughout Toronto’s Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal, Kensington Market and Greektown’s The Danforth — all of which provide a unique backdrop for meetings and events.
For larger meetings and conventions, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC), which has a capacity of 10,000 people, is the country’s No. 1 convention and trade-show facility, boasting over 700,000 sf of exhibit and meeting space, including 77 flexible meeting rooms ranging in size from 500 sf to 50,000 sf. Last year, as a part of a $23 million modification project, eight new contemporary meeting rooms with more than 11,000 sf of additional space in the MTCC’s South Building debuted. The new space offers contemporary finishes inspired by representations of natural elements, a new refreshed registration area and balconies that overlook Level 700. The new meeting rooms, designed by leaders in convention center design, also provide a state-of-the-art digital experience and include LED lighting, consistent with the facility’s commitment to sustainable meeting solutions.
Toronto’s Enercare & Beanfield Centres are Canada’s largest trade and consumer show facilities with over 1 million sf of exhibition space. Enercare Centre, adjacent to Beanfield Centre, is Canada’s first LEED Silver conference center and features Toronto’s largest ballroom with state-of-the-art meeting rooms that are all multifunctional and have the capacity to host 10,000+ people.
For a unique venue, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) reopened last year in a 55,000-sf, former industrial space at the heart of Toronto’s Junction Triangle neighborhood. It functions as an inclusive cultural catalyst where artists and audiences can step into the world of contemporary art and be part of a global movement defined by new ideas and new forms.
Another unique space is The Bentway, an innovative public space that transforms 1.75 km underneath Toronto’s raised Gardiner Expressway into a new gathering place. The Bentway offers year-round activities and events, including gardens, a skating rink, recreational amenities, public markets, public art, special exhibitions, festivals, theater and musical performances and more.
Jay Lightfoot, executive officer, Conference Management Services Inc., which organized the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP), recently helped orchestrate a meeting in Calgary in support of the IEEE Signal Processing Society. Of the 2,500 attendees, the majority included engineers in the area of electronics and computer science from around the world.
Held in the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre (CTCC), most of the meetings for the IEEE International Conference began in the morning and also included various evening activities, including banquets and receptions. Located at the center of downtown Calgary, the CTCC is directly connected to the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel, Fairmont Palliser and Hyatt Regency Calgary, bringing people together from Calgary and around the world for events, meetings, special occasions and conferences. The CTCC has 122,000 sf of flexible convention space, 47,000 sf of exhibit space, five pre-function areas and 36 meeting rooms for a variety of configurations.
“We moved the conference to Calgary from a city in Asia due to security and other concerns,” Lightfoot says. “Calgary was chosen because of the ability to handle a conference of our size; the flexibility of the space offered, the accommodations available in the city and the general willingness of Calgary Conventions to support our needs. We made this change about six months before the conference, which was quite a task.”
“Calgary was a great draw,” Lightfoot says. “Many attendees had been to Canada although never to Calgary. All of the attendees I spoke to were very impressed with the city, the amenities and the general attitude of the people of Calgary. The city really did roll out the red carpet for us.”
Sigma Theta Tau International (SIGMA) also held its 30th International Nursing Research Congress at the CTCC for 1,231 research nurses from around the globe. This five-day event featured plenary sessions, concurrent sessions and a social activity at a local ranch on the last night.
“We move this meeting yearly through the seven global regions of our organization,” says a SIGMA Events spokesperson. “We felt this was a great spot to represent the North American region. The city offered a great international airport and close proximity to the city. It was a safe destination for our members and the draw was the size of the center and the surrounding assets with so many local restaurants and shopping.”
As planners in North America, the SIGMA Events spokesperson says it was easy to reach their contacts — the time difference was minimal, the convention bureau was very helpful and made sure the event was a success. “The hospitality of the city and its many volunteers, made everyone feel welcome,” the SIGMA spokesperson says.
Calgary has not one, but two great venues to consider for large events — the BMO Centre at Stampede Park and the CTCC – both of which are in downtown Calgary within walking distance of choice restaurants, hotels, theaters and shopping.
Calgary Stampede Park is a multi-purpose group of facilities, with over 500,000 sf of flexible function space, situated at the edge of downtown Calgary. The BMO Centre has recently announced a $500 million expansion, set to be completed by 2024, which will make it the second-largest convention center in Canada.
“When one looks at Canada one tends to see Québec, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. But Calgary really is a hidden gem in the middle of Canada,” Lightfoot says. “Getting there is easy and the culture and history of the city and region will draw attendees.”
Lightfoot says planners should engage customs and border services early because if they know what you are planning they will help make your life much easier.
“Do not be shy about engaging the local vendor community,” Lightfoot says. “If they know you are coming they will provide you incentives to help welcome your attendees. This is good for everybody.”
Calgary currently boasts more than 14,000 guest rooms in the city, but that number is expanding as new hotels and accommodations grace the city.
In addition, Calgary International Airport, only 20 minutes from downtown, has flights to 80 non-stop destinations worldwide. Also, the $2 billion airport development program is now complete.
Last year Meetings & Conventions Calgary (MCC) stats show that Calgary hosted 53 events representing 79,486 definite room nights. MCC believes that the economic impact of events is estimated to be approximately CAD$200M.
As Canada’s capital, Ottawa truly reflects Canada’s beauty while celebrating its spirit and diversity. Located at the foot of the rugged Canadian Shield geographical area, Ottawa is home to 1 million residents who revel in the urban landscape filled with historic and national sites, monuments and cultural institutions.
With annual festivals celebrating everything from the arts to diverse cultural nuances to food and music, Ottawa is the ideal location for meeting planners looking for an international feel, yet a location that is relatively close to home. A vibrant city hugging the edge of nature, Ottawa offers a wealth of adventure and outdoor activities for meeting and event attendees, while also offering a pristine backdrop for meetings and events of all types.
Having played host to myriad national and international events and meetings, Ottawa is a highly experienced and accomplished host destination accessible from major U.S. hubs. Its international airport is a mere 15-minute drive from downtown.
As far as venues, Ottawa is home to Shaw Centre, the city’s premier, state-of-the-art convention venue located in the heart of downtown next to the Rideau Canal UNESCO World Heritage Site and within easy walking distance of more than 6,000 hotel rooms. And while the city’s downtown is very compact and walkable, the city’s light rail transit system links hotels to the Shaw Centre and other meeting facilities and venues in the city.
For more unique meeting locales, the city’s national museums and National Arts Centre offer ideal public spaces for off-site receptions, galas and events. Ottawa also features a wealth of diverse accommodations that include major international hotel brands and unique boutique and local properties to meet every need and budget. Many of the city’s larger properties offer significant meeting space and smaller rooms for executive and breakout sessions.
The diverse culinary scene in Ottawa offers unique urban experiences, excellent craft beers and nightlife that range from the performing arts to live music venues, casinos and relaxed patios and pubs. And while summer is a great time to visit, there are an array of outdoor activities that meeting and event attendees can enjoy throughout the year, including: ice skating on the world’s largest outdoor rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway; cross-country skiing downtown and downhill skiing minutes away in the Gatineau Hills; more than 800 km of cycling trails and mountain biking; canoeing; white water rafting; zip lining; and Canada’s highest bungee jump.
Reflecting the dynamism of the capital’s region, recent hotel openings have added a significant choice for business travelers and meeting planners to consider, and Ottawa Tourism is offering Winter Meeting Icentives to meetings held in Ottawa between December 1 and March 31 to entice meeting planners to host an event in Ottawa and experience a true winter wonderland.
When Melinda Bernstein, global events director with Radius Travel was planning her company’s annual global meeting, she selected Vancouver because it is a convenient destination for a global audience. This annual global meeting rotates around the world and this year it was slated to be in North America with 150 attendees.
Held at the DOUGLAS, Autograph Collection in Vancouver, the annual global meeting welcomed a mix of travel agency owners and senior management along with preferred supplier partners, and included 2 1/2 days of meetings and meals.
“Vancouver is definitely more affordable than the US,” Bernstein says. “It’s great value for the dollar.”
While Québec City may exude a French flair at every turn, Vancouver celebrates a tapestry of mountains and sea with memorable natural attractions and cultural experiences.
Located on Vancouver’s waterfront with a dramatic mountain backdrop, the award-winning Vancouver Convention Centre offers convenient access to all of the major visitor amenities in downtown. The facility is recognized as one of the leading convention centers in the world, hosting more than 550 events and welcoming hundreds of thousands of attendees each year. Consisting of two uniquely designed buildings, the iconic East Building and connected West Building, the Centre can host up to 16,000 attendees in its 466,500 sf of pre-function, meeting, exhibition and ballroom space.
For a truly unique venue, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is situated at the edge of downtown Vancouver, offering a quiet retreat in the midst of the bustling city. Pavilions and rooms throughout the venue offer a distinct cultural flair to any event. Courtyards and pathways offer attendees ample space for more informal affairs.
Located in picturesque False Creek, the Rocky Mountaineer Station boasts over 20,000 sf of conference and event space. Exposed timber and brick, 35-foot vaulted ceilings, and full-length glass walls grace this building that was remodelled for use as the Rocky Mountaineer train station.
Being situated on the sea means that many of Vancouver’s meeting and event spaces celebrate the beauty of the adjacent waters. The Vancouver Aquarium provides a stunning backdrop for events, both large and small. Accommodating up to 2,400 guests, the Vancouver Aquarium provides live backdrops featuring some of its 55,000 marine animals and several indoor and outdoor spaces.
Of course, Vancouver’s plethora of downtown convention hotels offer many options for alternative meeting spaces, and most of the downtown hotel rooms are within walking distance of the Centre. C&IT