With its stunning design and massive footprint, the RBC Convention Centre represents the vibrancy of Winnipeg’s downtown.
By Joelle Kidd
Even the most lively discussion seems to pause when a group of travellers reaches York Avenue. Suddenly, they are awash in colourful light from glittering bulbs suspended over their heads. Most likely, the colours were chosen by an event organizer; rainbow stripes for the city’s Pride Parade, the logo colours of a corporation hosting a conference. Streetside, it hardly matters—all eyes are gazing upward.
This display is part of what has surely become downtown’s new showpiece. It’s hard not to gush about the newly expanded RBC Convention Centre, with its colourful lights, spectacular glass facade, and airy, open spaces stretching on and on.
What can’t be seen are the years of dreaming and meticulous planning that led to this building’s creation.
The Winnipeg Convention Centre (as it was then called) has been a staple of the city’s downtown since 1975. Holding the distinction of being the first purpose-built centre of its kind in Canada, the space was imagined as a revitalizing force for Winnipeg. The project had its share of detractors—after all, it involved recognizing the destination potential of a relatively small prairie city. But jump forward a few decades and demand had far outgrown the building’s limitations.
Winnipeg, steadily and surely, has been growing, and with that growth have come numerous attractions: the MTS Centre and the return of the beloved Winnipeg Jets, an award-winning airport, the state-of-the-art Journey to Churchill Exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo and the stunning Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The energy is infectious, and the Convention Centre found itself at the heart of it all. With everything from annual trade shows to massive conventions clamouring for the space, it was clear that it was time for an upgrade.
Plans for the expansion began in 2000, when the Convention Centre’s architectural firm, LM Architectural Group, was approached by President and CEO Klaus Lahr. As architect Terry Danelley remembers, “We made drawings, created budgets … and then we waited.” The process of approval for plans and funding led to a 16 year gestation period. Finally, ground was broken for the new addition in 2012.
More than three years and countless man-hours later, in late November of 2015, the project was nearly complete. A one-day occupancy permit was secured to celebrate the way Canadians do: by watching the Grey Cup. The Big Game was being hosted in Winnipeg. It was the perfect time to show off the new space. At the end of the glittering gala that took place in the newly completed City View Room, a shower of fireworks rained over the glass walls.
The showy display was not just a celebration of the city and the event; it was recognition of an accomplishment more than a decade in the making.
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SEE AND BE SEEN
The most striking feature of the new Convention Centre is its glazed facade, the glass walls of the third floor exhibition space (the City View Room) flooding the building with sunlight during the day and transforming it into a glowing beacon at night. This design choice was born out of the need to create a large enough exhibition space by spanning over York Avenue, which presents an architectural challenge: to build across the street without blocking light or disrupting flow. The floor to ceiling windows of the Centre’s public spaces along York Avenue and Carlton Street keep these downtown thoroughfares pedestrian friendly, giving passersby a glimpse at the excitement inside.
By its very nature, a convention centre has to be able to transform into anything—which makes it difficult to build a space that captures the spirit of its city. From first designs to final result, maintaining a local connection in the building has been an important consideration. In the planning stages, Winnipeg-based companies LM Architectural Group and Number Ten Architecture partnered with a design team from LMN Architects in Seattle. To ensure the design represented Manitoba and its people, they prepared a collection of 18 images of the province, carefully selecting photos that showed off the colours and textures of Manitoba’s many environments. The open design showing the vast prairie sky, colour scheme, and use of wood all reflect these themes. Most impressive is the lighting installation criss-crossing the ceiling of the City View Room, the snaking, geometric pattern of which was inspired by a photo of cracked ice. The commitment to Manitoba’s land and people goes beyond stylistic choices, however: the building is LEED Silver Certified for sustainability, and on the walls you’ll find a donated collection of 60 pieces of Indigenous art.
The original building has been seamlessly integrated into the new addition with its own décor update. Along with multipurpose meeting and conference rooms, the space houses the Centre Place Café. The Centre’s stellar food service team shows off their skills to visitors at this cafeteria-style spot. Full entrées are offered daily for lunch, like fillet of salmon and carved roast beef, ringing in at a very per-diem-friendly $10-$15. In lieu of a dining room, seating is spread throughout the glass-enclosed walkway over York Avenue that separates the original building and the new addition, giving diners a birds eye view of the downtown street.
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CHANGING IT UP
A far cry from the fusty images of chintz and chandeliers that may be conjured up by the word “ballroom”, the York Ballroom is an ultra-modern and tech-integrated addition with free Wi-Fi, massive projection screens, and a stylish mix of hanging pendant and round lights to match the glittering eye candy hanging over York Avenue. The ballroom, like the third floor exhibition space, is infinitely customizeable. This flexibility was proven over one weekend, when the RBC Convention Centre played host to a business forum with attendance in the thousands, a national dance competition, and the biennial convention of the Liberal Party of Canada. Since opening, the third floor exhibition space has hosted events as diverse as a massive boat show, volleyball championship, and International pow wow. Visit the RBC Convention Centre’s website for upcoming events.