Alaska Western Canada

Northern Adventure

The bustling cities, near-silent forests and vast spaces found in the state of Alaska and the provinces of Western Canada have so many secret sights to offer visitors that it could almost take a lifetime to experience them all.

These northerly reaches of North America also offer everything necessary for an efficient, enticing meeting, from group transportation options to on-site hospitality professionals to well-positioned resorts that make the most of the stunning scenery. Pack your camera and your laptop because in Alaska and Western Canada, there will be time to put both to good use.

British Columbia: West Coast Wonders

The jewel in Western Canada’s crown is Vancouver, a perennially popular place to meet with first-class event and hotel facilities that cement its position as a true international city. In fact, more than 9,000 attendees from around the world recently came to town for the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery Foundation’s annual meeting and expo, held at the 466,500-square-foot, platinum LEED–certified Vancouver Convention Centre.

The convention center is attached to the Fairmont/Pacific Rim and its sister property, the adjacent Fairmont/Waterfront, which is currently undergoing a $12 million face-lift that is scheduled for completion late this year. The two hotels offer nearly 40,000 square feet of event space. Downtown, the Sutton Place/Vancouver just finished a $5 million renovation of its guest rooms.

Another local landmark is BC Place Stadium, which is just the spot for thoroughly modern meetings. It’s one of the country’s most advanced sports and entertainment complexes, with everything from a 162,000-square-foot adaptable event surface to small meeting rooms. Fifteen miles east is the new Hard Rock Casino/Vancouver, which opened last month with a 1,100-seat theater and seven restaurants.

The natural goodness that surrounds Richmond, south of Vancouver, makes it an ideal host city for meetings. Tourism Richmond focuses on serving healthy, farm-to-fork food to visitors and providing wellness opportunities that will get attendees moving outside, which may well leave them feeling even better than when they arrived.

Venues that can double as grounds for exercise and work include the Richmond Olympic Oval, which hosted speedskating competition during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. It has five large meeting rooms and a variety of sports spaces (including a climbing wall) for groups looking to offer a workout between meetings. The nearby Richmond Curling Club can host groups of up to 160, and the University of British Columbia Boathouse, located on the Fraser River, offers space for functions of up to 190 and group rowing or paddling options.

Beautiful Whistler has so much to offer that meeting planners will want to encourage attendees to extend their stay and bring their families along to take advantage of the Whistler Blackcomb mountain resort. Atop Whistler Mountain, the Roundhouse Lodge can host up to 1,500 people, and on Blackcomb Mountain, the Whistler Sliding Centre has event space for up to 800 people as well as public bobsled and skeleton experiences. In the center of the alpine village, the Whistler Conference Centre has more than 40,000 square feet of event space. Just south of town, the Whistler Brewing Company welcomes tastings, tours or events of up to 120, and farther west, Whistler Olympic Park can host as many as 10,000 attendees.

British Columbia’s beautiful capital is Victoria, located on Vancouver Island. One of its main venues is the eco-friendly Victoria Conference Centre, which has 73,000 square feet of event space and is decorated with an extensive art collection that includes pieces representing each of the First Nations and Métis peoples of the province. The convention center is located next to the genteel Fairmont Empress Hotel, which has 23,000 square feet of function space and is still renowned for its afternoon tea.

Other options for meetings include the Royal BC Museum, which welcomes groups of up to 2,000; the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, which has a 17,000-square-foot, 7,000-seat arena; and Craigdarroch Castle, which has indoor space for up to 200 people as well as expansive outdoor space. The Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort & Spa, which opened in 2012, renovated its 13,500 square feet of meeting space last spring. And west of town, in Colwood, there is conference space for groups of up to 250 within the Hatley Park National Historic Site. Groups that have held events in the greater Victoria area recently include the Association of Canadian Archivists, the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation and the National Fenestration Rating Council.

Just north of Victoria, in Saanichton, the 10-acre Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse has a venue suitable for gatherings of up to 160 people, and planners can also incorporate a cider-making class into the agenda (cider tasting is a given). A few miles north, in Sidney, the Mary Winspear Centre has 38,000 square feet of event space, and the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre can host events of up to 300. Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay has event spaces that can seat up to 400 guests. The Mount Washington Alpine Resort in Courtenay is a popular place to enjoy outdoor pursuits, such as skiing and snowshoeing, and the resort’s hotels have meeting spaces for groups of up to 500 people as well as accommodations for more than 4,000.

Groups that count wine aficionados among their members might consider a trip to the Thompson Okanagan region, the province’s renowned wine country. Visitors often base themselves in its biggest city, Kelowna, whose meeting hotels include the new Sheraton Four Points/Kelowna Airport, which opened last year with 120 guest rooms and 6,200 square feet of meeting space, and the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort & Conference Centre, which has renovated its North Tower and is upgrading its South Tower. The University of British Columbia/Okanagan campus is nearby and offers event spaces for groups of up to 300 during the summer months.

Groups that have recently met in the area include the Canadian Gas Association, the Canadian Water & Wastewater Association—and the Canadian Academy of Sport & Exercise Medicine, which held an event last year at the Delta Resort. “It was fantastic. We basically took up the entire hotel,” said Dawn Haworth, the group’s executive director. “One evening we invited a number of the wineries to come and showcase their wines and serve food, and the second evening we did an off-site visit to one of the wineries nearby for a tour and dinner.” She added that the Thompson Okanagan region was perfect for the attendees, whom she described as fit sports-medicine physicians who enjoyed the outdoor options such as biking, kayaking and running.

If the viticulture is what attracted your group to the area, several local vineyards stand ready to welcome your event. Summerhill Pyramid Winery, overlooking Okanagan Lake, can host events of up to 500; the historic Laurel Packinghouse, home to two museums, offers space for up to 300; and the Mission Hill Family Estate in West Kelowna has its own theater and outdoor marquee and a renowned restaurant. In Kamloops, 100 miles to the north, the Coast Kamloops Hotel & Conference Centre (formerly the Kamloops Towne Lodge) completed a major renovation last year. It offers 30,000 square feet of meeting space and a 475-seat theater. Additionally, a 202-room Sandman Hotel opened last year with small meeting space.

The outdoors is also celebrated in the Kootenay Rockies, a region accessible via the Canadian Rockies International Airport near Cranbrook. Just a few miles north of the airport, the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino has 4,000 square feet of meeting space and a 7,200-square-foot banquet pavilion. Farther north, in Kimberley, groups can hold functions at the 24,000-square-foot Kimberley Conference & Athlete Training Centre, located at the base of the Kimberley Alpine Resort and close to some 600 guest rooms, suites and condos.

Alberta: Adventure Abounds

All kinds of wild adventures are on the agenda in the province of Alberta. The first stop for many first-time visitors is the massive Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two towns within the park, Banff and the smaller Lake Louise, are home to the majority of the park’s hotel accommodations (unaffiliated with the park itself).

Banff is home to more than a dozen hotels and resorts that have meeting space, the largest of which is the historic Fairmont/Banff Springs, which celebrated its 125th year in 2013 with a series of renovations. Another popular option in town is the Banff Centre, which can host up to 1,000 people.

When the International Energy Credit Association visited the park for its 21st annual conference, its 115 attendees stayed Rimrock Resort Hotel, which features 18,000 square feet of meeting space. Their stay included a tournament at the Fairmont’s golf course and tours of both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

“Alberta is such a beautiful part of the country, and Banff is an especially nice area to host a meeting—it gives it an intimate feel,” said Caitlin Dougherty, the association’s meeting manager. “At the Rimrock Resort Hotel we are the big fish in a little pond, and the mountains surround the meeting rooms, which makes it even more magnificent.”

Lake Louise (the name of the town and the lake) is 40 miles northwest, and the main conference hotel is the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which was recently renovated and features 36,000 square feet of event space.

Jasper National Park, about 150 miles up the highway, is another scenic destination amid the Canadian wilds. In May, the Glacier Skywalk is scheduled to open an observation platform that stretches 30 meters out over the Sunwapta Valley, offering a bird’s eye view of the valley’s large waterfall. Meeting hotels, which are located in or near the town of Jasper, include the Amethyst Lodge, which is scheduled to reopen this summer after a major renovation.

Calgary, the province’s largest city, is experiencing an economic boom thanks to the area’s prospering oil and gas industries. For many associations, however, the Calgary Stampede is what will ring a bell to their attendees, and groups can meet at Stampede Park, which boasts 450,000 square feet of space. Other venues include the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts, with numerous event spaces including the 1,797-seat Jack Singer Concert Hall, and, south of town, Spruce Meadows, a world-renowned equestrian center that welcomes events of up to 10,000.

Two new hotels opened last year: the uptown, 62-room Hotel Elan, with three dedicated meeting spaces and 41 guest suites that were designed with meeting space, and the Radisson Hotel & Conference Centre/Calgary Airport East, which offers 120 guest rooms and 10,000 square feet of meeting space for up to 350 people. And Calgary International Airport is currently undergoing a $2.1 billion expansion, which is expected to create Canada’s longest runway, a new international terminal and a new 300-room hotel.

Just north of Calgary, in Balzac, visitors can live out their Wild West fantasies at the Girletz Rodeo Ranch, which has western-themed event space and team-building activities for up to 1,200 attendees. West of the city, in Kananaskis, the Boundary Ranch can host groups of up to 1,000 people and runs helicopter tours, dog sledding, pack trips and more, and in Exshaw, the Rafter Six Ranch has three types of overnight accommodations and event space for up to 175 guests.

Groups that meet in Lethbridge, in the south of the province, can take excursions to two nearby UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Waterton Lakes National Park and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. In town, meeting facilities include the Coast Lethbridge Hotel & Conference Centre, which has 13,500 square feet of event space, and the Galt Museum & Archives, which has event space for up to 250 people (and is rumored to be haunted). Another choice is the Fort Whoop-Up National Historic Site, with indoor space for up to 45 and outdoor space for up to 300.

Another major meetings hub is the city of Edmonton, which entices planners with the 522,000-square-foot Edmonton Exposition & Conference Centre (known as Edmonton Expo), the largest venue in town, followed by the 300,000-square-foot Shaw Conference Centre. The city isn’t lacking in new developments, either. Downtown, the Chateau Lacombe Hotel recently changed ownership (it was formerly a Crowne Plaza property) and has refurbished all 307 guest rooms, while the Sutton Place/Edmonton is continuing its renovation. West of town, the Mayfield Inn is scheduled to be rebranded as the DoubleTree by Hilton/West Edmonton on March 1, and in Enoch, the Edmonton Marriott at River Cree Resort has a newly renovated lobby. South of the city, the new Renaissance/Edmonton Airport is scheduled to open this spring with 213 guest rooms, 20,000 square feet of event space and a skybridge connection to the airport.

Saskatchewan: Prairie Delights

Last fall saw the debut of the first new passenger area of the expanding international airport in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s largest city, and the second phase of the $53 million project is expected to be completed later this year, at which point the airport will have doubled in size.

Planners bringing large groups have two notable options in Saskatoon: Prairieland Park, with 240,000 square feet of meeting space, and TCU Place—Saskatoon’s Arts & Convention Centre, with 104,000 square feet of meeting space including a banquet area, 21 meeting rooms and a 2,003-seat theater.

Saskatchewan’s capital, Regina, often attracts groups from nearby North Dakota and Montana, as well as elsewhere in Canada, thanks to its glorious green spaces, outdoor attractions and a world-class hospitality infrastructure. Regina’s largest event facility is Evraz Place, which has 307,000 square feet of contiguous space. The complex’s venues include the 6,000-seat Brandt Centre; the Queensbury Convention Centre, for up to 1,500 people; and the 90,000-square-foot Credit Union EventPlex. In addition, there are plans for a new 33,000-seat stadium.

Other local gathering spots include the Conexus Arts Centre, which can accommodate up to 2,033 people theater-style, and the Saskatchewan Trade & Convention Centre and connected Delta/Regina, which offer a combined 25,000 square feet of meeting space for groups as large as 1,900. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Training Academy is an unmistakably Canadian experience and can accommodate groups with a 124-seat theater, a dining room for up to 200 and gallery reception space for up to 300 guests. In hotel news, a $30 million renovation was completed late last year at the former Regina Inn, which is now a 235-room DoubleTree by Hilton.

Manitoba: Glorious for Groups

The motto of Manitoba—“Glorious & Free”—speaks to its natural attractions, which include lakes, prairies, forests and wilder reaches still inhabited by moose and polar bears (Churchill, for example, is known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World.) One thing is certain: You won’t run out of room to gather in Manitoba.

The state capital, Winnipeg, has no shortage of sophisticated meeting spaces, and groups that have recently taken advantage of them include the Canadian Society of Association Executives, the Canadian Library Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

Downtown, the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg features 160,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space and is within walking distance of 2,500 guest rooms. A $180 million expansion began last year that is expected to double the facility’s size by 2016. In September, the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights is expected to make its debut at the Forks National Historic Site. Planned features for groups include a restaurant, classroom space and a 350-seat theater.

Other popular venues include the Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg, located at what was formerly the Canadian Pacific Railway Station, with event space for up to 500 people in its rotunda; the Manitoba Club, which can host events of up to several hundred; and the 2,305-seat Centennial Concert Hall, with an additional 22 meeting rooms. Assiniboine Park Zoo has small meeting space and a new polar bear exhibit. Larger functions (up to 500) can be held at the park’s Leo Mol Sculpture Garden.

Recent debuts include the Holiday Inn/Winnipeg Airport–Polo Park, with 15,000 square feet of space for functions; the Canad Inns Destination Center, attached to the city’s Health Sciences Centre and offering banquet space for up to 137 people; and the Grand Winnipeg Airport Hotel by Lakeview, with boardroom space. A Homewood Suites by Hilton and a Hampton Inn are also expected to open soon.

Alaska: Wild & Welcoming

Most people think of snow, ice and epic wilderness when they think of Alaska. The 49th state has all that, of course, but it’s also home to some high-tech hubs. The state’s biggest city is Anchorage, where the two main venues are the Dena’ina Civic & Convention Center, with 215,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, and the 85,000-square-foot William A. Egan Civic & Convention Center. Unique local options include the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, with after-hours event space for up to 400 people, and the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, home to several event spaces, including four theaters. About 40 miles south, in Girdwood, the luxury Alyeska Resort has 24,000 square feet of event space.

Groups meeting in Anchorage might also consider a pre- or post-meeting trip to the more remote destinations of Nome or Unalaska. Alaska Airlines offers regular service from Anchorage. In March, visitors to Nome can catch the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. For meetings, Nome’s Mini-Convention Center can host up to 250. And in Unalaska, the largest destination in the Aleutian Islands, the Grand Aleutian Hotel has 2,500 square feet of event space.

In the town of Seward, 125 miles south of Anchorage on Resurrection Bay, up to 1,000 people can meet at the Alaska SeaLife Center, an aquarium and rescue center. And the Alaska Railroad Seward Intermodal Terminal offers 25,000 square feet of function space. In the city of Kenai, 100 miles west, the 64-acre Kenai Landing is a historic cannery-turned-hotel that specializes in conferences with up to 350 people.

The mountainous Kodiak Island, separated from the mainland by the Shelikof Strait, is the country’s second-largest island (the biggest is Hawaii). It’s a wonderfully wild sort of place ideal for exploration. The Kodiak bear and king crab call the island home, and two-thirds of it are part of a national wildlife refuge. There’s plenty of room for events, too. One of the largest options is the 8,500-square-foot Kodiak Harbor Convention Center in downtown Kodiak, served by an 82-room Best Western Inn.

In Valdez, east of Anchorage and accessible by bus, train or air, attendees can head to the sea or the mountains—the area is a haven for deep-sea fishing as well as heli-skiing. The small port city (it’s home to roughly 4,000 full-time residents) boasts the 20,000-square-foot Valdez Convention & Civic Center for events, and the neighboring Best Western Valdez Harbor Inn has meeting space for up to 105 people.

Farther down the coast is the state capital of Juneau. The top meeting facility in the city is the Centennial Hall Convention Center, which features 20,000 square feet of meeting space. There are almost 500 hotel rooms within walking distance. Juneau can also accommodate events in unique locations such as Mount Roberts or along the banks of Auke Lake.

For a taste of the exotic, head south to Baranof Island, where Sitka is known as much for its Russian heritage as its stunning scenery. The historic Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel is worth a visit; originally built in 1848 and then restored after a fire in 1966, its green dome is a prominent part of the skyline. Event facilities in town include the 18,000-square-foot Harrigan Centennial Hall, for events with up to 700 people; the Sitka Performing Arts Center, which can seat more than 600; and the Alaska Raptor Center, for groups of up to 175 people.

In Alaska’s most southeasterly city, Ketchikan, attendees can get an education in local Native American heritage. The totem pole collection at Saxman Native Village is an impressive and colorful starting point. For group functions, planners can look to the 4,500-square-foot Ted Ferry Civic Center and 3,200-square-foot Sunny Point Conference Center at the Best Western Plus Landing Hotel.

And central Fairbanks is having a moment; it was named one of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 U.S. destinations in 2013, thanks in no small part to its enviable location at the gateway to Denali National Park and its reputation as an ideal stopping point on the way to explore the Arctic Circle. It’s not all nature, though; there are plenty of places to get down to work, too. Hotels with meeting space for large groups include the Wedgewood Resort and the Westmark Hotel. Nearby, on the banks of the Chena River, the Carlson Center has 50,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, including a 35,000-square-foot arena. The University of Alaska–Fairbanks regularly hosts scientific and education-based conferences.

Experiences to Remember

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences,” said Eleanor Roosevelt, with the continent’s northern reaches in mind, as she supported Alaska’s bid for statehood in the 1940s. Alaska and Western Canada offer excellent destinations that provide rich, new experiences for visiting attendees—just the sorts of places where memorable meetings come naturally.