Preparations to demolish Stampede Corral now underway

Not much of the Stampede Corral may still be standing when the 70th anniversary of its opening comes this December.

Aging arena to make way for BMO Centre but heritage elements will be preserved

A look at the Stampede Corral before it disappears

1 year ago
While there won't be a dramatic implosion, the Stampede Corral is slowly fading into history over the next six months. 3:54

Not much of the Stampede Corral may still be standing when the 70th anniversary of its opening comes this December.

Workers are now on site as preparations for the demolition of the arena start to accelerate.

Over the past two months, items have been removed from the Corral to prepare for demolition.

  • WATCH | Take a tour inside and reflect on the memories as demolition preparations continue in the video above.

The vice president of park planning and development, Jim Laurendeau, said the concrete and cinder block structure won't be imploded nor will a wrecking ball be brought in.

Instead, it will come down gradually.

"Over time, the structural elements of the building will be weakened and then excavators will, over a six-month process, start to remove portions of the building and take it away," said Laurendeau.  

Hazardous materials like asbestos will be removed over the next two months but then Calgarians should notice in October that the building will slowly start coming down, Laurendeau said.

"It will change a little bit every day," he said.

The demolition work is expected to be finished by next March. Then, construction on the new $500-million expansion of the BMO Centre can get underway on the site.

Some Corral artifacts saved

Some heritage elements of the Corral have been removed for future generations to appreciate.

The sign which displays the building's name was recently taken down. It will be restored but it isn't known yet where it will be displayed in the future.

The demolition work on the Stampede Corral is expected to be finished by next March. Then, construction on the new $500-million expansion of the BMO Centre can get underway. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The organ used to entertain crowds during stoppages in play during hockey games was removed for preservation.

Large paintings of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, which were displayed in the rafters, have been put into storage.

A volunteer with the Stampede's historical committee, Don Wilson, said the items will resurface.

"Whatever we could take out of the building and preserve, even though we may not have a spot for it to go right now, we've actually taken the time and preserved it and put it away for future use," Wilson said.

The digital Corral

However, some of the Corral's features can't be physically saved.

There are several larger than life-sized figures cast in concrete at the building's two front doors. They'll be preserved using laser imaging.

"It basically digitizes the image so that it can be recreated in its exact form later on. You could have a mold built and pour new concrete into the molds and recreate the reliefs in total," Wilson said.

Several heritage elements of the Stampede Corral will be preserved, such as the sign which displays the building's name, pictured boxed up here. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The large neon cowboy sign added to the front outside wall of the Corral in the mid-1950s will also be digitally captured. It's expected to be reborn as a display in the BMO Centre expansion.

Some things won't be saved.

A large collection of photos covering Calgary's hockey history as well as performers and events from the Corral's past which were on display in the concourse will not be saved.

They are copies of originals which are safely stored in the Stampede's archives. Officials say the copies are literally bolted to the walls and would be damaged when removed.

Nostalgia buffs also won't get the chance to buy or bid on original wooden seats from the building.

Stampede officials say the red coloured seats are covered with lead paint and they would be dangerous if they end up in people's basements or garages.

A special video of the buildings has been recorded and will be posted on the internet, allowing viewers to see what it was like to stand at centre ice, to walk the concourse or to check out the view from those wooden seats.

"Vault of history"

Perhaps the biggest heritage artifact, the building itself, cannot be saved.

"It's a tremendous vault of history," said Wilson.

"It's important to Stampede Park but it's more important I think to the community as a whole. Everybody in Calgary has probably been in this building for some kind of event."

Several larger than life-sized figures cast in concrete at the building's two front doors will be preserved using laser imaging. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The Corral was opened in December 1950. It cost the Stampede about $1.5 million to build.

Prior to the opening of the Scotiabank Saddledome in 1983, it was the home of top level hockey in Calgary.

Teams like the Calgary Stampeders, Calgary Centennials, Calgary Cowboys and the Calgary Wranglers all played in its cozy confines.

When the NHL's Calgary Flames started playing, the Corral was their home for three seasons in front of sold-out crowds of 7,200 fans before the Saddledome opened. 

Perhaps the biggest heritage artifact, the Stampede Corral building itself, was opened in December 1950. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Over the years, it's been the site for countless rodeos, figure skating, circuses, royal visits, religious events, wrestling nights and trade shows.

Big name acts like Chuck Berry, The Who, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Rogers, Snoop Dogg and Rihanna all played on stage at the Corral.

"It's small. It's comfortable," said Wilson. "My first concert here was Meat Loaf. It was up close and personal."

Lots of construction coming

Losing the Corral is just the beginning of the changes in this part of Stampede Park. 

Hall A of the BMO Centre, which is just west of the Corral's front door, is also coming down to make way for the BMO expansion.

Construction of the new convention centre starts next spring and it will open in 2024. 

A short distance away, construction on Calgary's new event centre is slated to start in August 2021. 

When that building opens in 2024, the arena that replaced the Corral, the Saddledome, will then be demolished.

The Stampede Corral was home to numerous hockey teams, including the Calgary Flames in the early 1980s. (Justin Pennell/CBC)


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