Published on March 16, 2022
More than just an iconic, often-photographed building in downtown Ottawa, Shaw Centre is in many ways a hub for our city and even for Canada as a whole. As one of the country’s most successful convention centres, it has continuously fulfilled its economic mandate while providing millions of memorable moments for guests and staff alike.
“When I first arrived at the Shaw Centre for my interview, I walked into the beautiful glass building overlooking the canal and lovely city of Ottawa,” recalls Nina Kressler, who served as the Centre’s general manager from October 2013 to June 2015, after which she became president and CEO. “It was welcoming, bright, modern and bustling with business. My interaction with the team, both front and back of house, illustrated a tremendous sense of pride in the staff no matter what their role. Whether in housekeeping, maintenance or serving a banquet, I could tell that everyone loved working at the centre and delivering our vision of ‘Inspired people creating extraordinary events’ and I couldn’t wait to join the team.”
As an agency of the Government of Ontario, Shaw Centre is very transparent in its financial reporting and the numbers offer proof of the Centre’s success. Over the past ten years, Shaw Centre has hosted thousands of events and, more importantly, welcomed over 500,000 out-of-town visitors who have collectively boosted our region’s economy with over $955 million in direct spending. Competitive advantages for the Centre include Ottawa’s status as a multi-lingual city and proximity to Quebec, both of which play well when bidding against other cities in Canada. The region’s cultural strength is appealing, too, with six of Canada’s national museums located here plus vibrant recreation, visual and performing arts sectors. In addition to being home to Canada’s Parliament, Ottawa offers tremendous access to political and academic leaders which help position our city as a serious player in the international and national meetings and convention market.
The executive team of Kressler, vice-president and COO Dan Young and general manager Loretta Briard were pleased to recall some of the events which represent their personal highlights from the past ten years. Their collective list includes a baker’s dozen of activities and events:
• Hosting Loblaws’ national kick-off meeting in 2016 was an event which Kressler describes as a ‘career highlight’ as it was not only a significant revenue opportunity for the centre, but it also brought the entire Shaw Centre team together like never before to help execute. It attracted national media attention in its contribution back to the Ottawa and Gatineau food banks by contributing three 50 foot tractor trailers full of food and personal hygiene products.
• Also in 2016, One Young World brought together youth from over 196 countries with many delivering key-note addresses on personal survival in the worst of human atrocities and struggles. It also attracted celebrities such as Cher, Emma Watson and our own Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
• The Grey Cup in 2017 had the building bustling with excitement and energy.
• Juno Gala dinners in 2012 and 2017 involved some of Canada’s greatest recording artists into the Centre as part of a week-long celebration of Canadian music
• The NHL All Star Fan Fair 2012 brought in over 25,000 hockey fans to enjoy everything hockey – game, displays, and other activities
• The annual Ottawa Race Weekend Health and Fitness Expo and Race Kit Pick Up brings together tens of thousands of runners, both amateur and elite, from across Canada and around the world.
• The installation of Adirondack chairs enhanced the way visitors enjoy the Centre. While seemly a simple and casual seating option, these sturdy red chairs have become one of the most photographed items in the Centre. Commissioning their construction by a local firm provided an opportunity to give back to a small company employing adults looking to reintegrate into the workforce after personal setbacks.
• Hosting both the regional and national culinary championships – Gold Medal Plates and Canada’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party – brought top chefs from across Canada to our Centre along with stellar musical performers and Olympic athletes, as part of an important fundraising initiative.
• For the Open Government Partnership Summit in 2019, we welcomed over 2000 delegates including global leaders, for this international event featuring 79 member countries and 20 local governments.
• GoMedia 2019, Destination Canada’s premier marketing show, was a very lively event attended by 135 Canadian tourism organizations and 131 members of the media from 11 countries.
• The Ringside for Youth annual gala in support of the Boys and Girls Club involved dinner for 1,200, amateur boxing matches and featured world-class champions including Sugar Ray Leonard.
• The 2018 Canadian Tire Dealer Convention, the premier event for this national retailer, drew their cross-Canada network of 3,000 Canadian Tire Dealers, store staff, corporate executives, employees, and vendors for a city-wide convention. Most impressively, in just one week, the interior of the Shaw Centre was transformed to resemble a fully constructed Canadian Tire store, with over 500 product booths.
• Northern Lights, a high-profile business and cultural showcase of Nunavut, Nunavik, and Labrador / Nunatsiavut, attracted over 1200 delegates and 200 presenters.
Notable visitors to Shaw Centre over the past decade have included:
Malala Yousafzai, Kofi Annan, Khloe Kardashian, Kiefer Sutherland, Rick Hansen, Sugar Ray Leonard, Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the Barenaked Ladies, Tony Robbins, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, President Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, Doug Ford, Col. Chris Hadfield, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Kevin O’Leary, Arlene Dickenson, Blue Rodeo, David Suzuki, Jessica Holmes, Jon Landau, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Alex Trebek, Rob Ford, Cher, Emma Watson, former Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Jane Goodall and Bill Nye.
One of the greatest highlights perhaps of the entire decade was winning the AIPC APEX Award for the World’s Best Convention Centre in 2021. The Shaw Centre joins a prestigious list of convention centres from around the world who have claimed this title. The award is granted every two years in recognition of the highest rating on client surveys received by a convention centre. It is based on a comprehensive analysis of the centre’s performance based on customer satisfaction surveys. “This is a historic moment for the Shaw Centre and the city of Ottawa. Winning this award will elevate our world-class facility and draw international attention.” says Jo-Anne Poirier, Chair of the Shaw Centre’s Board of Directors. “This global recognition amongst convention centres will assist in attracting events to the Shaw Centre and the city, which will aid in the economic recovery of the hospitality sector.”
Everyone at Shaw Centre is enthusiastic about the return to hosting events and welcoming guests. Kressler says she is particularly excited to walk into the Centre and find it buzzing again, noting that the sales team has been working diligently to bring events back into the building. “In fact, we have done one of the best jobs in the industry of postponing events rather than cancelling them, which speaks to the loyalty of returning guests and the keen interest others have in holding events here,” she notes. “We anticipate a near-term upswing in visitors from across the country who may prefer to travel within our national borders and I am very optimistic about seeing our building full once again.”