Western Canada is one of those regions that could have inspired the term “God’s country.” The beautiful and pristine destinations in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan welcome groups looking for meetings with a view.
Following are ideas for planners seeking additional scenic experiences and settings beyond the boardroom or convention hall.
Western Canada offers many intriguing outdoor excursions in all seasons.
An iconic winter option is a Johnston Canyon ice walk in Banff National Park.
“The ice walk is on many bucket lists worldwide,” said Ally Reeves, B2B marketing manager for Banff & Lake Louise Tourism. “Imagine walking amongst canyon walls that look like a cathedral of ice with airy views into the gorge below.”
She added that placing this outing midway during a meeting program enables groups to recharge while marveling at an awe-inspiring setting.
Meanwhile, Elk Island National Park, located near Edmonton, lets groups plan outings featuring bison during the day, and in the evenings starry skies.
After a behind-the-scenes experience exploring bison conservation at the park, groups often conclude with a campfire featuring hot cocoa, according to Anna Look, director of meetings and conventions for Edmonton Tourism.
“During the winter months, Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve is one of the best places in the world to catch the most magnificent show on Earth—the northern lights,” she added.
Groups based in Calgary, the gateway to the Canadian Rockies, can visit WinSport, site of the Olympic Winter Games in 1988. Adventures include ziplining from the top of Ski Jump Tower on what is touted as North America’s fastest zipline for scenic views over the park. Another option is a chairlift ride with vistas of the Rockies.
Whale-watching experiences top many to-do lists for groups in British Columbia, where orcas are the main attraction, according to Lesley Chang, communications manager for Tourism Richmond.
“But depending on the time of year, many species pass through local waters, including humpback whales, gray whales and minke whales,” she said.
Whale-watching tour operators, including Seabreeze Adventures and Vancouver Whale Watch, set off from Steveston from April to October.
Nearby Richmond is Vancouver, another great jumping-off point for whale-watching as well as North Shore nature outings such as exploring Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Grouse Mountain.
“Cross the famed suspension bridge above Capilano River and walk amongst the towering evergreens of the West Coast rainforest,” said Dave Gazley, vice president, meeting and convention sales, for Tourism Vancouver.
A few minutes up the road is Grouse Mountain, where groups in winter can take an evening snowshoe tour featuring a three-course fondue meal at Altitudes Bistro, and in summer they can zipline or try axe-throwing with a champion lumberjack.
In Whistler, two longtime activity providers facilitate picturesque outdoor adventures for groups of all sizes.
According to Preston Miller, director of sales and conference services for Tourism Whistler and the Whistler Conference Centre, The Adventure Group specializes in custom itineraries, from ziplining to spa packages. Meanwhile, Canadian Wilderness Adventures offers year-round options from summertime off-roading to snowmobiling and dog-sledding during winter.
When convening in Kelowna, which is situated on Okanagan Lake in the Okanagan Valley, groups can visit one or more of the area’s 40 quality wineries.
According to Jennifer Horsnell, director of sales for Tourism Kelowna, the wineries all offer unique experiences and settings, including family-run tours/tastings and iconic architectural landscapes that rival those of ancient Europe.
“What they do have in common is vast vineyards all leading down to Okanagan Lake and views of our Monashee Mountains in the background,” she said. “Tours vary, but all end with a glass in hand tasting the unique terroir of the region.”
Delegates have plenty of scenic add-ons to choose from in Winnipeg, including the new half-day Exploring a Canadian Landmark tour package at the must-see Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
According to Natalie Thiesen, director of sales for Tourism Winnipeg, the tour includes browsing galleries, a gourmet lunch and exploring the building’s architecture.
“The museum is located on-site at The Forks, where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet, so delegates will get postcard-worthy views of Winnipeg’s downtown skyline and nearby character neighborhoods,” she added.
New museum Remai Modern, which opened last October, is also a favorite scenic experience for groups meeting in Saskatoon. According to Candace Schierling, director of national conventions and event marketing for Tourism Saskatoon, it is already winning accolades for its architecture, views of the South Saskatchewan River and the world’s most comprehensive Picasso linocut collection.
Groups can have a meal on-site, take a guided tour or participate in a hands-on art project in the museum’s art studio.
Regina is home to Wascana Centre, a park around Wascana Lake, where groups can take a Segway tour with new local operator, Regina Rolling Robot Tours.
According to Kirk Morrison, director, events, conventions and tradeshows, for Tourism Regina, the tour includes sightseeing of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building and Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
“Wascana Centre is one of the largest urban parks in North America—it’s great for those looking to enjoy both historic and natural features,” he said.
The Willow on Wascana, a restaurant at Wascana Centre, has indoor and outdoor spaces with lake views for events.
Among Western Canada’s many options for off-site gatherings set amid scenic surroundings is Banff National Park-based Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
“With breathtaking views from the Belvedere viewing decks, it provides an ideal starting point for group outdoor programming, teambuilding and event staging,” Banff & Lake Louise Tourism’s Reeves said.
She added cave tours by lantern and various other programming is available to enhance an event.
Situated 25 minutes north of Edmonton is Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farm, where groups can enjoy a long-table plated meal for up to 100 people or a block party-style barbecue for even larger groups.
The venue will also hire local entertainers to perform during an event and tailor workshops for groups, including terrarium-making and moonshine-tasting.
Located five minutes from downtown Calgary on a natural island in the Bow River is the Calgary Zoo, which can host everything from a five-person meeting to a 500-person gala.
“Here you can watch snow leopards and tigers during your coffee break and chimpanzees and hippos over the lunch hour,” said Carolyn Watson, manager, marketing and communications for Meetings + Conventions Calgary. “Book a behind-the-scenes tour with the penguins to wow your VIPs.”
Tucked amid the rose garden in Vancouver’s Stanley Park is the circa-1911 Stanley Park Pavilion, which offers views of beautifully landscaped gardens and lush forest.
“With its prime location within the park, groups can enjoy a number of activities before or after an event, including a horse-drawn carriage tour,” Tourism Vancouver’s Gazley said.
Whistler’s Lost Lake Park can also host events for up to 500 people, such as picnics and barbecues.
“The beautiful lake is secluded and tucked away into a cedar forest and offers magnificent views of Whistler, Blackcomb and Sprout mountains,” he added.
The Richmond Olympic Oval also hosts events, including in its outdoor plaza, which sports mountain and river views.
In Kelowna, lakeside resorts offer traditional indoor meeting spaces as well as patios and lawns that can be used for picturesque outdoor events. Plus, according to Tourism Kelowna’s Horsnell, a variety of activities may coincide with group gatherings, including yoga on the beach, culinary classes and water sports.
Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo is a terrific host for large groups.
“The Gateway to the Arctic facility will have delegates strolling through an underwater-viewing tunnel while polar bears and seals swim and play overhead,” Tourism Winnipeg’s Thiesen said.
In the Aurora Borealis Theatre, groups can enjoy dinner while watching the northern lights projected on a 360-degree dome.
In Saskatoon, Delta Bessborough Gardens offers a natural setting for receptions along the South Saskatchewan River.
“There are numerous annual concerts that take place in this venue, so groups could be creative with how they use the space for a unique event,” Tourism Saskatoon’s Schierling said.
Banff & Lake Louise Tourism
Meetings + Conventions Calgary