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Calgary Meeting Venues Saddle Up for an Inclusive Future

Photo of Calgary skyline with snow-capped mountains in the distance.

In the Marriott Downtown Calgary, a mixologist torched pieces of cedar to create smoky cocktail glasses for the hotel’s signature old fashioned. Joining Meetings Today in the property’s whisky bar, ONE18 EMPIRE, was Director of Sales and Marketing Glenn Iles, who told us the drink could be adapted to whatever color scheme a planner wanted.  

On a recent visit to Calgary, Meetings Today learned that new hotels, revamped meeting spaces and urban development projects are taking the city in progressive new directions, with C-level executives at convention venues proudly extolling their venues’ accessibility features and being well versed in the importance of using correct personal pronouns. 

And while the Calgary Stampede remains the greatest outdoor show on Earth and Alberta still produces some of the world’s best beef, the city offers so much more. 

[Related: Western Canada's MICE Destinations Are Pillars of Success]

Photo of massed champagne glasses at Marriott Downtown Calgary.
Marriott Downtown Calgary. Credit: Gary Singh.

New Hotels and Accessible Convention Space 

Just in Calgary proper, Marriott has more than 20 properties for groups to choose from. At the Marriott Downtown Calgary, an outdoor patio common for weddings and networking events overlooked a rainbow flag painted on Stephen Ave, a popular pedestrian walkway. 

“We’ve outgrown our Western roots,” Iles explained.   

Laura Pallotta, Marriott’s regional sales VP for Canada, echoed those sentiments as we dined on Alberta Trout at The Wilde, a new 27th-floor restaurant in The Dorian, the Autograph Collection’s only property named after an Oscar Wilde novel. Wilde’s aestheticism influenced all the decor, adding some British whimsy to the Autograph product line. This clearly isn’t the old Calgary. 

“It's such a young, vibrant city,” Pallotta said. “You can feel it.” 

The Dorian opened in July 2022 on a former parking lot. Now a tearoom sells Dorian Gray swag and the upstairs meeting rooms are named after characters in the novel. In a rare scenario, the lavish Dorian is even connected to a similarly new Courtyard by Marriott, enabling groups with delegates at different price points to share the same second-floor restaurant. 

[Related: Expert Tips for Bringing a U.S. Meeting to Canada]

Photo of a piano player at The Dorian hotel in Calgary, Alberta.
The Dorian: Credit: Gary Singh.

Also exemplifying Calgary’s transformation over the last several years was the Calgary Telus Convention Centre, where even President & CEO Kurby Court had his pronouns on his name badge displayed. As we toured the facility, Court emphasized how drab and industrial the convention center was years ago, providing context for how his team successfully transformed the center on many fronts. Now it is colorful, abstract and artsy. 

Photo of a set table at Calgary's Deane House.
Deane House. Credit: Gary Singh.

“I can tell you, we’ll never have straight-lined carpet ever again,” Court said, pointing out numerous examples of curved design elements as we toured the facility.  

Behavioral psychologists were consulted for every aspect of the current design, Court explained, straight down to the chairs and tables. For neurodivergent delegates, specific spaces filter out bombastic distractions for a softer, non-anxiety-producing experience.  

Court also regularly invites an accessibility expert in a 500-pound motorized wheelchair to speak at events without telling planners and delegates ahead of time. The goal: Demonstrate the challenges he had while navigating the room, just because of the way the room was set by the planner. 

“He’s smiling and genuine the whole time,” Court said. “It’s a great teaching tool. Nowadays, we don’t touch one thing on capital projects without his eyes on it.” 

Offsite Venue Highlights 

Even the Calgary Stampede neighborhood is transforming in dramatic fashion. The light rail station is expanding. Streets are widening. A new hockey arena is in the works. All of which is set to complement the gargantuan BMO Centre, the boldest, largest and most ambitious convention facility in Western Canada, slotted to open in summer 2024. With the Stampede already bringing in a million people every July, plus numerous related events all year long, the BMO Centre is expected to ratchet up the entire operation. 

While Calgary has always excelled at large-scale pageantry, even the smaller offsite options reveal a dramatic transformation over the last several years. The National Music Centre at Studio Bell regularly hosts weddings and corporate blowouts. The historic Deane House right at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers—where indigenous groups held meetings 2,000 years ago—now ranks among the finest of sustainable local restaurants. 

Collage of food items from restaurants in Calgary, Alberta.
A taste of Calgary. Clockwise, from left: The Dorian; Pomeroy Kananaskis Lodge; Deane House; The Dorian. Credit: Gary Singh.
Photo boots being made at Alberta Boot Company.
Alberta Boot Company. Credit: Gary Singh.

Sidetracking from Calgary seemed just as productive, especially for groups with kids. The Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, likewise an Autograph property, was loaded up with families and outdoor activities during our visit.  

In the end, Calgary by all means still retains its charming Western heritage while still modernizing its reach. Over at the Alberta Boot Company manufacturing facility, Sydney Langridge walked us through the entire handcrafted boot assembly process. The shop recently made footwear for TV shows like Yellowstone, Fargo and The Last of Us. Even the retail store often transformed itself into a creative event space. 

“We’ve had horses in here,” Langridge said. 


Tourism Calgary

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About the author
Gary Singh

Gary Singh's byline has appeared more than 1,500 times, including on newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro Silicon Valley columns, "Silicon Alleys," was published in 2020. He still lives in San Jose.