Edmonton's Winspear Centre turning 20 and eyeing expansion

The Rolling Stones have jammed there, it boasts an organ with 6,551 pipes and is praised for its "sublime" acoustics. Now, after 20 years, the Francis Winspear Centre for Music is looking to expand.

$53M addition pitched as the completion of the original dream

Annemarie Petrov, executive director of the Francis Winspear Centre for Music and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, walks us through plans to physically grow the 20 year old centre. 3:00

He was a trumpet player, dreamer, schmoozer and accountant and when Francis Winspear set his mind to something, it generally got done.

That why after decades of pushing for a new concert hall and pouring $6 million of his own money into the project, the Francis Winspear Centre for Music opened in downtown Edmonton in September 1997. 
Annemarie Petrov is the executive director of the ESO and the Winspear Centre. (John Robertson/CBC)

Twenty years later organizers are planning not only an anniversary bash, but also a $53 million expansion.

The plan is to expand into the parking lot behind the building on the west side of 97th Street between 102nd and 102A avenues, said Annemarie Petrov, executive director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Winspear Centre.

The expansion was always part of the plan, she said.

The so-called Winspear Completion Project features a 540-seat multi-use acoustic hall, studio, and education and programming spaces.

Petrov estimates six million people have pass through the doors since the Winspear opened in 1997, whether for concerts featuring the 65-member Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, artists like crooner Tony Bennett, cellist Yo-Yo Ma or community events and graduations.
Watch this video from the CBC Edmonton archive vault of the opening of the Francis Winspear Centre for Music in September of 1997. 1:13

Among the earliest visitors were the Rolling Stones, who used the rehearsal hall for three days in October 1997 to tune up for their Bridges to Babylon world tour. 

The Davis Concert Organ, with its 6,551 pipes, is also draw.

No matter what's on stage, "the acoustics of this hall are absolutely sublime," Petrov said.
Micheal Massey is the music director of the Edmonton Youth Orchestra. (John Robertson/CBC)

Michael Massey, conductor of the Edmonton Youth Orchestra for the past 40 years, credits the hall with helping young musicians move on to just about every orchestra in Canada.

"It makes such a difference to the educational part of our performances having a wonderful hall where the sound is world class, he said. "It's really inspiring to all our young players."

As for the expansion, the City of Edmonton has committed $13 million, but the Winspear is looking for the same amount from both the provincial and federal governments.

The centre also plans to raise an additional $14 million from the community.

"We're shooting to have it open in five years," Petrov said. "So ideally, by the time we're celebrating 25 years we're having another big party, a grand opening."

You can see more from the Francis Winspear Centre for Music on Our Edmonton at 10 a.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday and Monday on CBC TV.
With its gleaming 6,551 pipes, the Davis Concert Organ is a backdrop for Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the Francis Winspear Centre for Music. (John Robertson/CBC)

About the Author

Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.