Calgary

Secret Olympic reports show how ill-fated bid evolved over time

Now that Calgary's scuttled 2026 Winter Olympics bid has been legally and officially laid to rest by city council, some of the hidden details have been released by the city.

Release of confidential reports reveal gems like 'hosting the Games is inherently high risk'

The City of Calgary has released some formerly confidential Olympic documents, like this handwritten note confirming Scott Hutcheson's hiring for the bid corporation. (CBC)

Now that Calgary's scuttled 2026 Winter Olympics bid has been legally and officially laid to rest by city council, some of the hidden details have been released by the city.

Some 398 documents and reports were prepared for city council, but 39 of those documents were withheld from the public under the terms of Alberta's Freedom of Information legislation.

Following a city council vote Monday, the city has now released 27 of those reports. The remaining 12 reports will not be released as they contain legally sensitive information or third party details that the city cannot release without permission.

In all, 221 pages of documents are now on the city's website.

The reports cover the full 2016-18 term of the ill-fated Olympic bid which was shut down after Calgarians voted in last November's plebiscite against proceeding with the project.

It's now mostly the stuff of trivia or what-might-have-been.

Rail transit to Banff?

A 2016 document spells out a long list of things that the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee might want to have looked at. It included the possibility of a 5,000 seat arena at the Tsuut'ina Nation and a transit project "from Calgary to Bow Valley using existing CPR line."

Another document from 2017 outlines details of capital investments in sports facilities, including costs related to the Olympics but also what the facilities might cost if Calgary doesn't host the Games.

One of the previously confidential documents includes a rendering of what the athlete's village for the Games could have looked like. (City of Calgary)

A field house at Foothills Athletic Park comes with an Olympic pricetag of $272 million but a non-Olympic cost of $255 million for the city. The price difference is Olympic organizers envisioned there being an ice plant in the field house for the Games.

That same 2017 document estimates that the city's costs if it landed the Olympics would be in the range of $330-550 million. 

The risks

One document from 2017 considers the possible risks of proceeding with a bid. The likelihood of insufficient federal and provincial support for the project was rated as "medium" but the impact of that would be "high."

The key "high" risks to an Olympic bid were that housing demand would be insufficient and that public trust might be diminished.

A May 28, 2018, document shows what is likely a clerk's handwritten version of council's decision to hire businessman Scott Hutcheson for 18 months as the chair of the Calgary 2026 bid corporation.

The document reveals the city anticipated negotiations with the federal and provincial governments on a multi-party agreement to fund the Olympics would take from August to October with a deal being signed in October 2018.

Unresolved curling venue mystery

One unresolved mystery of Calgary's scrapped Olympic bid is where organizers wanted to hold the curling events.

A June 2018 report to city council reveals that another municipality was being considered for curling but had not been determined. Later in the report, it notes that when it comes to investment (either a new build or upgrades), the curling venue was going to be used "as is."

Calgary 2026 officials never did reveal what venue was being considered.
 
At that time, the report shows Lake Louise was still deemed to be the site of downhill ski events if the 2026 Games came to southern Alberta.

That plan was later altered by the bid corporation to have the downhill events held at Nakiska.

Final months

The June 2018 document also shows a rendering of the proposed athletes village which would have been located on the site of the Victoria Park bus barn.

That plan changed by Calgary 2026 after cost considerations forced it to revise its budget downwards.

The documents show the plebiscite question which ultimately was used by Calgarians to reject the bid was approved by city council on July 17, 2018.

In one of the newest documents, there are some lines in a confidential report to council from October 2, 2018, on risks.

The plebiscite was just a month away.

The report noted: "Hosting the 2026 OPWG is a complex and unique undertaking" and "Hosting the Games is inherently high risk."

It was Calgarians who decided that those risks weren't worth it when they voted in the plebiscite to halt the bid in its tracks.

About the Author

Scott Dippel

Politics Reporter

Scott Dippel has been at CBC News for more than two decades across four provinces. His roles have included legislative reporter, news reader, assignment editor and national reporter. When not at Calgary's City Hall, it's still all politics, all the time.

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