Picture the Canadian Prairies and you’ll most likely conjure up images of vast grasslands, wheat fields and big open skies. It’s an area known for its laid-back nature, friendly people and historic past.
Centrally located in the heart of Canada, the Prairie Provinces include Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta – -all of which are easily accessible by plane, train and automobile. Therefore, meeting delegates looking for a convenient destination to do business are wise to choose the Prairies.
However, the Prairies have a lot more to offer than mere convenience. The area is rich in culture, boasts diverse landscapes (yes, there’s more than wheat fields) and offers unique meeting and touring opportunities. In addition, for delegates without deep pockets, the Prairies are one of the most affordable destinations in the country, offering first-class amenities at a lesser rate. So, meeting planners will get more bang for their buck and never have to worry about getting short-changed on an unforgettable experience.
Manitoba boasts diverse landscapes province-wide – from prairie lands and boreal forest to northern tundra. With nearly 650,000 square kilometres of majestic wilderness, pristine parkland, granite ridges and sparkling lakes, Manitoba will suit any outdoor enthusiast.
“Regardless of where your meeting site is located, there is plenty of exploring to do in Manitoba,” says Brigitte Sandron, vice-president of product and market development for Travel Manitoba.
One of the most popular places to explore in northern Manitoba is Churchill, otherwise known as the “Polar Bear Capital of Canada.” The area offers exquisite polar bear and beluga whale-watching opportunities that attract visitors from around the globe.
Delegates can stay on the unique Tundra Buggy Lodge. The mobile lodging is transported out and assembled in the best location for ’round the clock’ bear viewing. It is comprised of specialized modules that, when linked end to end, stretch almost 100 metres long. The Lodge consists of two sleeper cars (housing 18 and 20 guests respectively), the lounge, dining and utility cars.
Tundra Buggy Lodge guests have a chance to wake up and get going right in the bear’s playground. When Lodge guests awake, and if the conditions are right, they can often experience polar bears emerging from their snow blankets, tucked gently around them during the night by Mother Nature.
“Smaller meetings or pre- and post-tours to Manitoba’s North are forever memorable,” says Sandron. “Discover the wilderness frontier where northern lights dance across still night skies, polar bears stroll along the ice-packed shoreline of Churchill and beluga whales emerge gracefully from the surface to Hudson Bay, sharing their unique song with the world.”
Home to more than 100,000 lakes, Manitoba is also renowned for its Master Angler Fishing. World-class trophy fishing can be found in Canadian Shield country where the scenery is as awesome as the sport.
“Remote fly-in fishing camps make great sites for team-building programs, executive board meetings and corporate retreats,” says Sandron. “More populated resorts offer exciting fishing along with plenty of luxuries. Anglers at all levels will enjoy the challenge presented by Manitoba’s thousands of pristine lakes and rushing rivers, teeming with trophy fish.”
For seasoned hikers, The Canadian Shield also boasts the Mantario Hiking Trail — the longest in the Canadian Shield area of Western Canada. Located in the province’s most eastern area in Whiteshell Provincial Park, hikers trek more than 60 kilometres of rugged Precambrian terrain surrounded by lakes, streams and peat bogs.
Nature-loving delegates will also want to visit Riding Mountain National Park. Riding Mountain, covering 2973 sq. km of rolling hills and valleys, stretches eastward from a dramatic rise of land known as Manitoba Escarpment. This park includes expanses of boreal (northern) forest, a strip of eastern deciduous forest along the foot of the escarpment, huge meadows of rough fescue grasslands in its west end, and significant tracts of marsh and river-bottom wetland. This area of wilderness surrounded by agriculture is home to wolves, moose, elk, black bear, hundreds of bird species, countless insects and a captive bison herd. It’s also home to one of the province’s finest meeting accommodations – Elkhorn Resort.
Elkhorn Resort offers 5,000 square feet of banquet and conference space in a fresh country setting. But just because it’s surrounded by pristine wilderness doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer big-city amenities. The resort can accommodate up to 200 delegates and to ensure a successful meeting, the resort boasts state-of-the-art equipment such as an LCD projector, PA and sound system, slide projector and screen, wireless Internet service and more. When the meeting is adjourned, delegates can relax at the resort’s Solstice Spa and soak in the day’s events at the spa’s Equinox Mineral Pool.
Riding Mountain National Park is also a great place for team-building activities. Earth Rhythms develops customized programs for corporate retreats. “The company’s programs combine nature, culture, cuisine and history with unique GPS adventure quests and agri-tourism experiences,” says Sandron.
Delegates can take a Guided Learning Adventure where professionally trained Earth Rhythms guides lead them into uncommon wild wanderings to view wildlife, taste regional cuisine and local culture, experience local art with outstanding people in the area, and try their hands at GPS Adventure Quests.
For those who would rather go it alone, Self Guided Adventures give delegates the opportunity to rent self-guided adventure kits, GPS satellite receivers and information packages so they can do their own exploring inside Riding Mountain National Park and in the communities and back roads of the Riding Mountain International Biosphere Reserve.
Southern Manitoba is the most popular area for delegates to host meetings — especially in Winnipeg, the province’s capital city. Winnipeg, situated at the geographical centre of Canada, is a mid-sized city of more than 700,000. Renowned for its culture and diversity, Winnipeg boasts more than 100 ethnic groups, speaking more than 80 languages.
To celebrate its multiculturalism, Winnipeg hosts Folklorama, North America’s largest multicultural festival. Folklorama, voted by the World Tourism Organization as the festival that best depicts Canadian culture, takes place the first two weeks of August and features 40-plus cultural pavilions where visitors can taste exotic foods and learn about their different cultures.
The Festival du Voyageur is another popular event with meeting delegates wanting to experience the city’s French culture. Winnipeg is home to the largest community of French Canadians west of the Great Lakes. This 10-day winter festival, which takes place in mid-February, includes breathtaking snow sculptures, a fiddling and jigging contest and authentic French cuisine. And the best part for meeting delegates – even if their meeting doesn’t fall during these peak festival times, they won’t miss out on all the fun.
“Both Festival du Voyageur and Folklorama are Team Winnipeg partners and offer meeting planners mini-festivals including full event theming, entertainment and menu catering,” says Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, director of tourism for Destination Winnipeg. “This way, regardless of the time of year, delegates can enjoy some of Winnipeg’s finest festivals.”
Besides being known for its multiculturism, Winnipeg is also renowned for its vibrant arts scene. The Winnipeg Art Gallery is a popular attraction as it displays the world’s largest collection of contemporary Inuit art. Winnipeg is also home to world-class ballet, theatre, visual arts, opera, contemporary dance, jazz, pop, blues symphonic music — which have all been touted by the Globe and Mail as being some of the best in the country.
In addition to being a great tourism destination, Winnipeg is also one of the hottest spots to do business. During 2006, Destination Winnipeg and its partners were involved in securing 145 future conferences confirmed for meetings and conventions in 2006 – 2012 that collectively total more than 46,000 delegates.
One of the most popular venues for a meeting in Winnipeg is the Winnipeg Convention Centre. The WCC has 160,000 sq. ft of space on three levels including a state-of-the-art 5,100 sq. ft presentation theatre with movie theatre screen and sound quality. Further service enhancements are planned for 2007, including the introduction of a second floor concierge service. The addition of the permanent service desk will allow the WCC to provide a variety of information to delegates, attendees and other visitors to the Centre and further build on their award-winning customer service.
The Canad Inns is another hot meeting destination in Winnipeg. There are seven Canad Inn hotels in Winnipeg, all offering their own unique facilities. The largest meeting/banquet space is at the Polo Park location, located just seven minutes for the city’s airport. The Inns’ Ambassador Banquet and Conference centres provide the latest in technology with many venues having built-in screens and projectors for Powerpoint and video presentations.
“Meeting planners can arrange full co-ordination of the use of the Ambassador Banquet & Conference Centre meeting rooms, breakout rooms, guest room requirements, food and beverage services as well as audio and visual requirements,” says Lorne Perrin, vice-president, sales and marketing and standards of Canad Inns.
“At Canad Inns, we also offer some very unique venues. Our night club facilities can be utilized for private events where a unique theme may be required to enhance the overall event experience.”
For team-building or down-time experiences, delegates have an array of choices at each Canad Inns location. For instance its Fort Garry location comes complete with a Celebrations Dinner theatre, which can provide evening entertainment for groups up to 400. Its Club Regent Casino location is connected directly to the casino for delegates who wish to try their luck at the Video Lottery Terminals or gaming tables. And its Polo Park location is located within walking distance of the city’s most popular shopping malls, movie theatres, restaurants and a 15-minute drive from the Assiniboia Downs Horse Racing track.
“Canad Inns venues are ‘destination centres where you have a number of services available under one roof — making it easier to co-ordinate events,'” says Perrin.
For a unique meeting experience, Studios In the Exchange (SITE) offer a friendly, casual ambience. Delegates will note the venue’s uniqueness the moment they walk through the door. The entire facility is adorned with paintings, photography and abstract pieces from local artists.
“Our venue will promote a comfortable space with many areas to move about freely therefore promoting a sociable meeting space whether networking, promoting or hosting a sales event,” says Debbie Karpyza, executive director of SITE.
The facility boasts 7,500 sq. ft of meeting space, including a full-service main studio that seats up to 80 guests for a sit-down dinner or 150 people for a lecture-style meeting. The studio comes complete with LCD equipment for presentations. SITE also has a full-service boardroom that seats up to 30 guests, round-table style, complete with LCD equipment and stereo surround sound for presentations.
What makes SITE most unique is not its meeting facilities but rather its amenities for downtime and team-building fun.
“We offer a unique experience, as well as a beautiful and unique environment,” says Karpyza. “Whether it’s a small group or a large one, we can customize a unique experience that promotes a more relaxed, fun and memorable experience. We do not promote stuffy meetings…we advocate and offer creative, artistic options.”
And there’s nothing stuffy about the options available at SITE. The venue comes complete with services such as massage therapy, spa services such as manicures, pedicures and facials and psychic readings from a reputable resident clairvoyant.
Moreover SITE offers delegates a fun workout after a day of meetings with its in-house pole. “Women delegates can indulge in a lesson of exotic, pole or belly dancing,” says Karpyza.
And men – don’t feel left out. There are facilities that can accommodate a game of cards or even catch an action flick on the venue’s high-definition, flat-screen TV.
One of the greatest aspects of SITE, is its location. Situated in central, downtown Winnipeg, it’s a three-minute walk from Winnipeg’s historical Exchange District. The Exchange District has been designated as a National Historic Site by the Canadian Government due to its rich collection of turn-of-the-century terracotta and stone-cut buildings, unrivalled in all of North America. This area has played host to Hollywood on several occasions providing settings for flicks such as Shall We Dance? and The Assassination of Jesse James.
The Exchange District is also one of Winnipeg’s hottest shopping spots. Cobblestone roads lead to furniture stores, galleries and funky fashion boutiques such as Candie & Dolls and Cake Clothing. Both shops sell high-end, original clothing imported from Los Angeles and Europe.
It’s also close to another one of Winnipeg’s most popular attractions, The Forks.
Sitting at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, The Forks was once an important trading spot for native aboriginal tribes. Today, it’s a vibrant area packed with restaurants, patios and shops. It’s also home to one of Winnipeg’s finest meeting destinations – The Inn at the Forks. Newly opened in 2004, the Inn at the Forks is a distinctive luxury boutique hotel with 116 suites, including 43 deluxe rooms and 13 suites. It offers facilities to accommodate private meetings for 10 people up to gala receptions for up to 250 delegates. Its main meeting rooms on the second floor are connected to a spectacular open gathering space offering open glass views of The Forks and features a large step-out terrace so delegates can enjoy the sights and sounds during social occasions or breaks during their meetings. The hotel also includes the Riverstone Spa where delegates can be pampered with the spa’s signature treatment — the hot stone massage. The Current Restaurant is also attached, which serves up decadent regional fare.
Just west of Manitoba, Saskatchewan is a great destination for meetings, workshops and conferences either large or small. Regina and Saskatoon offer world-class accommodations, excellent meeting, convention and trade-show facilities and a wide range of opportunities for off-site activities and pre- or post-tours.
Known as Canada’s sunniest capital city, Regina is the 16th largest city in the country with a growing population quickly approaching 200,000 people. The city is rich in resources such as agriculture, tourism, oil and gas. It also has an interesting history.
Regina was originally known as “Pile of Bones” due to the large amount of buffalo bones in the area. It was renamed Regina in 1882 in honour of Queen Victoria, the British monarch at the time.
Another interesting fact about Regina — the city is in the Guiness Book of World Records for having the widest bridge (Albert Street Bridge) over the narrowest body of water.
Although the bridge makes for a great photo-op, it’s not the only attraction Regina has to offer.
“The No.1 attraction is Casino Regina,” says Gayle Zimmerman, director of communications and conference services for Tourism Regina. “This beautiful building is located within the walls of what used to be the Via Rail station.”
The casino boasts 800 slot machines and 35 table games, including Blackjack, Baccarat, Craps, Roulette, Caribbean Stud Poker, Red Dog and Three Card Poker. Its three annual poker tournaments boast some of the biggest prize pools in Canada, attracting players throughout North America. Beyond a casino, it’s also a full-service entertainment destination. Casino Regina’s Vegas-style Show Lounge is home to world-class music, comedy and magic, and the Last Spike Restaurant provides a relaxed dining atmosphere.
“The state-of-the-art show lounge hosts big-name entertainment,” says Zimmerman. “Delegates can enjoy elegant dining in the attached dining car and play the games of chance abound.”
Another attraction, which is brand new to the city, is the $40-million RCMP Heritage Centre. Newly opened on May 24, 2007, the RCMP Heritage Centre tells the story of the RCMP through the use of state-of-the-art exhibits, multimedia technologies and engaging educational programming. Owned and operated by the Mounted Police Heritage Centre, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to telling the RCMP story to the world, visitors to the centre will learn about the history of the RCMP as well as modern workings of the Force.
One of the many exhibits delegates can enjoy is the Cracking the Case exhibit. Perfect for delegates with a love for all things C.S.I., this exhibit presents the high tech side of modern policing and is very hands-on for visitors with many technologies introduced through interactive exhibits. The Cracking the Case area showcases the importance of learning and knowledge in the RCMP and demonstrates that the Force constantly works to stay at the leading edge of policing techniques. Specific topics covered include: Solving Crimes with Science, Fingerprinting, Counterfeiting, Tire Track and Shoe Wear Analysis, Chemistry in Forensic Science, Ballistics, and DNA Analysis.
One of the most popular getaways for delegates — whether it’s for a one-hour lunch break or an evening out — is Wascana Park. The largest urban park in North America, Wascana Park is complete with a revitalized lake, which recently hosted the Canada Summer Games and the Canadian Kayak Championships. The park is home to several attractions including the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Kramer Imax Theatre, the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the Saskatchewan Legislative Building — the largest in Canada.
Besides offering great sight-seeing opportunities, Regina is also an idea place to do business. “The most popular meeting space is the Saskatchewan Trade and Convention Centre,” says Zimmerman.
One of the reasons for the popularity of the Saskatchewan Trade and Convention Centre is because it’s conveniently attached to the Delta Hotel Regina via skywalk, which is ideally located across the street from the Casino Regina and beside the Cornwall Shopping Centre. The 274-guestroom hotel and the Saskatchewan Trade & Convention Centre offer a combined 25,000 square feet of meeting space capable of hosting up to 1,900 meeting attendees.
Another great meeting destination is the Conexus Art Centre — formally known as the Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts. “This unique structure has a lobby ideal for functions with windows that are about five stories high and look out onto the beautiful Wascana Lake, the park and they city skyline,” says Zimmerman.
The theatre can accommodate up to 2,033 people, ideal for a large lecture-style meeting. Catering can also be supplied at Conexus Art Centre so your delegates will leave fulfilled.
Regina isn’t just a great place to host meetings, it’s also a key destination for team-building activities. Eco-Party Dragon Boat Tours conducts a team-building exercise called Survivor Wascana. “They offer up survivor-based games that teach business and corporate lessons,” says Zimmerman.
Team-building activities take place in the scenic Wascana Park with some portions taking place on islands within the park. Recipients receive a photo and commemorative key chain once they “survive” Wascana.
Saskatoon is renowned for its inviting people and pristine scenery. A city of bridges, graced by beauty of the South Saskatchewan River, Saskatoon boasts more than 300 acres of riverbank parks and trails.
“Saskatoon offers a quality of life amongst the best in the world,” says Silvia Martini, director, convention marketing & travel trade for Tourism Saskatoon. “Visitors quickly fall in love with this warm and inviting city.”
Delegates who like to hit the links, will be more than happy visiting Saskatoon. The city boasts more golf courses per capita than anywhere else in Canada. One of the most popular golf courses is the Saskatoon Golf & Country Club. Founded in 1907, this Bill Kinnear designed golf course has stood the test of time and is still widely regarded as one of the finest courses in the province. Gently rolling fairways enveloped by towering pines are the signature of this fully mature 36-hole course, which offers a private 18-hole members course as well as an 18-hole public west course. The 19,000 sq. ft. clubhouse, which opened in 1999, is chock-full of amenities to serve all the course’s members.
Delegates who like the outdoors but not necessarily golf, will enjoy the beautiful Meewasin Valley, where they can walk, cycle or jog. “Meewasin” is the Cree word for beautiful — a fitting adjective for this scenic attraction. The Meewasin Valley Trail follows the South Saskatchewan River through the heart of Saskatoon, offering year-round recreation and sightseeing opportunities.
When the weather isn’t co-operating, heading inside the Western Development Museum is another great attraction for delegates to check out. The Saskatchewan Western Development Museum (WDM) is the museum of social and economic history for the Province of Saskatchewan. It is a network of four exhibit branches in the cities of Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Saskatoon and Yorkton, with a headquarters facility, the Curatorial Centre, also in Saskatoon.
The Saskatoon branch explores the crucial role the railway played in Saskatoon’s development. Railway sidings developed into meeting places and became railway towns where groceries, hardware, lumber, blacksmithing, mail, express and freight services were provided. Boomtown – the longest indoor street in North America – portrays Saskatoon during this booming period. More than 30 buildings portray community life – from the general store overflowing with everything from nails to gingham, to the blacksmith shop ringing with the sound of the hammer striking the anvil. Delegates are even transported back in time when the clip clop of horses’ hooves fills the air.
And, of course, no visit to Saskatoon would be complete without visiting the Berry Barn. Located just a 20-minute drive from downtown Saskatoon, the Berry Barn serves up homestyle fare such as delectable Saskatoon berry pie and other desserts. Delegates can take home jars of homemade Saskatoon Berry jam and other berry-related souvenirs.
If the attractions aren’t enough to draw you to the area for your next meeting, the facts about corporate Saskatoon are sure to impress.
Saskatoon ranks No. 1 in Midwest USA for cost-effectiveness, is rated No. 1 in North America for economic potential under 500,000 population by Foreign Direct Investment Magazine, U.K. Financial Times. Moreover, according to the Conference Board of Canada’s Metropolitan Outlook 2006, Saskatoon is the third hottest economy in Canada.
“This together with more than 750,000 square feet of state-of-the-art convention space and more than 3,300 hotel rooms, minutes away from shopping, dining and entertainment, and an average commute of 15 minutes, Saskatoon is quickly becoming a favored location for many convention planners,” says Martini.
One of the most popular places to host meetings in Saskatoon includes TCU Place — Saskatoon’s Art & Convention Centre. Located in the heart of downtown Saskatoon across the street from the Hilton Garden Inn and next door to a large shopping complex, TCU Place is a five-minute walk from three other major hotels and a 10-minute drive from the airport.
“TCU Place is the perfect place to hold a conference of 500 — 1,300 people,” says Donna Melnychuk, director of sales for TCU Place.
The venue boasts more than 104,000 sq. ft of meeting, banquet and convention space. It’s also complete with a 2,003 soft seat theatre where a larger plenary can take place.
“With 21 rooms to choose from, groups can hold breakout sessions, a plenary and a tradeshow for 110 8 booths all at once,” says Melnychuk.
Because the venue is centrally located, delegates have plenty of options when it comes to things to do during their downtime. “There is always lots to do in downtown Saskatoon,” says Melnychuk. “We have festivals such as the Jazz Festival, the Fringe Festival and Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan — all located downtown. Moreover there are more than 400 shops and restaurants in the downtown core alone.”
The Credit Union Sports and Entertainment Centre is another popular meeting destination. The centre has played host to a multitude of national and international events and has the reputation of being one of Canada’s busiest arenas. The centre contains 110,000 sq. ft of meeting space that can accommodate up to 13,192 delegates. If meeting planners are looking for a spot to host a tradeshow or exhibition, the Credit Union Centre can convert the Arena Level into 70,000 sq. ft. of exhibitor space and also has an additional 40,000 sq. ft. of space on the Concourse level.
Another major meeting place is Saskatoon Prairieland Park. The venue has evolved into a provincial leader in the development of trade shows, conferences, special events and industry expositions. The site has invested more than $9 million in infrastructure enhancement in recent years, making it one of Canada’s premier venues. The 136-acre park features easy access, ample on-site parking, and 180,000 square feet of world-class meeting, trade show and conference space. Prairieland Park attracts 1.6 million people and hosts 321 events per year.
Whether your next convention is big or small, Saskatoon can accommodate any sized group. Not only will delegates be treated to first-rate facilities but they’ll experience the beauty and culture of Saskatoon.
“Delegates are known to embark on their return flight home with a smile on their face, a relaxed brow and many wonderful memories,” says Martini.