Building BC Place 1979-1986
In the late 1970s, Erwin Swangard, president of the PNE proposed a new open air stadium, to take over from Empire Stadium, which had been built for the 1954 British Commonwealth Games. After a study commissioned by the provincial government in 1979 to look into the feasibility, including location, of a new stadium, Premier Bill Bennett announced plans for BC Place in January 1980. Nicknamed “Bennet’s Bubble,” the plan for the stadium was part of a much larger proposal for Vancouver to host the 1986 World’s Fair, and was meant to bring new life to a traditionally industrial area. The provincial government proceeded to buy 175 acres from CPR’s Marathon Realty for $60 million, and construction began that same year on the stadium, although infrastructure like roads and water lines needed to be created in the area first. Alvin Narod was appointed CEO of the crown corporation created to oversee BC Place (PavCo), and Jim Pattison became chairman of the board, while Studio Philips Barratt was awarded the design contract.
Caught up in the controversy of the hugely expensive plans for Expo 86, BC Place was met with mixed feelings by the public, but nevertheless was completed on time, costing $126 million, and its success was meant to spur the continuation of development in preparation for Expo. By November 1982, BC Place’s roof was being inflated by an air pump and held aloft by 16 giant fans, making it the largest air-supported dome in the world. The stadium covered 10 acres, with a circumference of 750 metres. A televised ceremony on June 19, 1983 officially opened the building, and the next day the Whitecaps christened the new field, beating the Seattle Sounders 2-1 in front of over 60,000 fans. Its air-filled white teflon roof, often called the “marshmallow in bondage,” was the largest object on the False Creek/downtown skyline until 2010, when it was replaced by a retractable roof.
BC Place: 1983-2010
When BC Place opened, the area was still largely industrial; Its neighbours at the time included a sawmill, a cooperage, and the 1912 swingspan Connaught Bridge, replaced in 1985 by the current Cambie Bridge. For a time, the temporary buildings of Expo 86 occupied the nearby CPR railyards bordering Yaletown’s old warehouses and, following the fair, Concord Pacific began the planning and redevelopment of the area with condominium towers. The Stadium-Chinatown skytrain stop was also part of the plan for BC Place, and it opened in 1985. Two and a half years after being completed, BC Place hosted the Opening Ceremony of Expo 86, an event which featured 7,200 performers and 54,000 guests.
In 1996, a snowstorm nearly brought the roof down, and PavCo considered renovating BC Place to have a smaller sports arena with conference space above, but the plan was deemed too costly. In January 2007 a snowstorm activated alarms for the steam infused heating system, but by the time it was turned on, the pressure in the roof spiked too quickly, rupturing a panel on the western side of the stadium. It took two weeks to patch and reinflate the roof, and it was clear that a long-term solution would need to be found.
A New Roof: 2010 – Present
In May 2008, Premier Gordon Campbell, alongside PavCo, announced plans to replace the roof with a new German retractable system with reinforced steel. Once again, the plans were met with trepidation; Expenditure was never debated in legislature and the public was not consulted. The estimated $150 million budget quickly ballooned to $563 million, making it most expensive renovation in Canadian history (PavCo has until 2049 to repay the province).
BC Place’s original iconic roof said its last farewell to the world during the 2010 Olympic Games’ opening and closing ceremonies. In advance of the Olympics, the concessions, washrooms, suites and lounges were expanded and refurbished. On May 6, 2010 the roof was deflated, and a crew of over 5000 soon got to work on renovations. The German company Schlaic Bergermann and Partner, in collaboration with BC’s Geiger Engineers designed the new roof and facade, while the rest of the renovations were done by Stantec.
BC Place’s new roof is the largest of its kind in the world, and is made up of a hub and spoke system, with 36 steel masts supporting it. It has three sections: fixed fabric above the seating, a ring of glass, and translucent fabric over the field, which takes less than 20 minutes to open. The roof can comfortably carry up to 200kg of snow per square metre and has a inflatable layer to help keeps it shape and slough off snow. Besides those done for the olympics, other improvements to the stadium included new sound and lighting systems, new seats, more wheelchair spaces, and a centre-hung four-sided scorebox (the second largest in the world). The stadium also has a new, high quality turf field for Whitecaps and Lions games. Although renovations were not quite complete, BC Place reopened September 30, 2011, with the BC Lions beating the Edmonton Eskimos, under 7,500 sq metres of exposed sky. The much anticipated re-opening of BC Place also included the Sarah McLachlan singing the national anthem and a half time show featuring hundreds of drummers, musicians, dancers and cheerleaders.
What’s Been Going on at BC Place?
In addition to the BC Lions, in 2011, the Vancouver Whitecaps returned to BC Place and it has been their home field every since. Since its beginnings, the stadium has hosted a variety of trade shows, special events, and concerts. The stadiums new roof and facade is lit up almost every night, with a 35 foot LED light display, often supporting causes and community groups such as World AIDS Day and Autism Speaks, as well as special displays for events and holidays.
The BC Sports Hall of Fame, opened in 1966 at the PNE grounds, has had a dedicated 20,000 square foot space at BC Place since 1992. Through its mission, the organization “preserves, honours BC’s sport heritage by recognizing extraordinary achievement in sport by using our collection and stories to inspire all British Columbians to pursue their dreams.” The Hall of Fame reopened with the stadium in 2011 after renovations, with a new 2010 Gallery and Hall of Champions.
A Few Unforgettable Moments in BC Place History
- Visits from Queen Elizabeth II (1983), Pope John Paul II (1984), Prince Charles and Princess Diana (1986)
- Opening Ceremony of Expo 86
- In 2007, close to 50,000 fans packed into the stadium to watch the Whitecaps play a friendly against LA Galaxy, featuring David Beckham
- Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Olympic Games, featuring 4,500 performers, 61,00 attendees, and an estimated billion TV viewers
- Closing Ceremony of the 2010 Olympic Games
- Opening ceremonies of the 2010 Paralympic Games
- 2014 NHL Heritage Classic (Vancouver Canucks vs Ottawa Senators)
- FIFA World Cup: 2015 Women’s World Cup games (including the final) and 2018 Men’s World Cup Qualifiers
- 8 Grey Cup championships
- Countless sold out concerts, including U2, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Beyonce etc.
Nearby/Related Places That Matter
- Fleming, Andrew. “Archives: BC Place Stadium Opens to the Public.” Vancouver Courier, June 19, 2015.
- Mackin, Bob. “A Stadium Reborn.” Vancouver Courier, September 30, 2011.
- “Our History.” BC Sports Hall of Fame Website.
- Kalman, H and Ward, Robin. Exploring Vancouver. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012.
- “Retractable Roof.” BC Place Website.
- “Our History.” BC Place Website.
- Mulgrew, Ian. “And Now for a Paid Political Announcement.” In The Expo Story edited by Robert Anderson and Eleanor Wachtel. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1986.