Feb 282014
Scotia Bank Saddledome

A dome is an architectural element. Simply, think of it as the hollow upper half of a sphere or ball. Often used as the topping of a building or as a roof, many sports stadiums the world over have been built with this feature. Such an application requires large open and unbroken spaces, with no interfering beams, pillars or supports to get in the way – a dome style structure fits that need perfectly. While some sporting venues built to this plan have a solid truss roof, many are made of a flexible cloth and are air or cable supported. Now matter what, as long as they have a bubble shaped top, they are by definition a dome.

So there you have it, a brief summary of what a dome is and how it applies to the sporting world.

Which brings us to the subject of this report, the Scotia Bank SaddleDOME, Calgary’s’ main indoor sporting and events complex. It’s a very cool building but there is only one problem…it’s anything but a dome! Instead, in technical terms, it’s a reverse hyperbolic paraboloid, a “dip” if you will. It’s the Scotia Bank Saddledip! I guess those who named the building, or rather okayed it, did not look up exactly what a dome is before green lighting the choice. I am told the name was picked somewhat randomly (pulled from hat) from suggestions submitted by the general public. Since most sports stadiums have dome in their names, they must have thought the same should apply here. Even if it’s wrong. Am I being picky here?

I think it looks more like a Pringles potato chip…The Pringlesdome! I mean Pringlesdip…no dome!

Be sure to comment on this post (below pictures).

Interestingly, the designers were not thinking of a saddle when they envisioned the building. The dip was simply a design element, which for one allowed a smaller air space while still providing an unbroken open area. This made the building more economical to heat and cool, a big advantage in a town were temperatures can go from -30c to +30c in a season and back again. The fact that it ended up looking like a saddle was a complete coincidence that was quickly embraced by the public. I guess it’s seen to tie in well with Calgary’s uncosmopolitan (some say tacky or hillbilly-like) cowtown image. Yee-Haw!

The building was constructed in the early 1980s on a location just east of the stadium which it was to replace, the Stampede Corral with a seating capacity of roughly 8,000. In the end, they kept the old structure as a second smaller venue. Not every event needed the capacity of the Saddledome, which has seating for roughly 20,000. Both these buildings are within the Calgary Stampede grounds.

The Calgary Saddledome was conceived for two reasons. One, the Calgary Flames hockey team (formerly Atlanta Flames) recently moved to the city and the Corral where the games were held, proved to be woefully inadequate. Second, Calgary had was hoping to win the bid to host the 1988 Winter Olympics and needed a primary venue for main event hockey and figure skating competitions (the Corral was used as a secondary venue). This building, started before the city won the competition, helped seal the deal however. It showed that they were serious about hosting that event.

When construction was started Calgary was in the midst of a building boom and flush with money. By the time it was finished however, those heady days were over and while this did not cause any problems in completing the building, those handling the money must have worried some. Would the money run out before it was done? As it turned out, no.

During construction there were of course the obligatory cost overruns and completion delays – what major building has ever come in under budget and on time? Opened in late 1983, the areas was immediately put to use hosting Flames hockey games (always sold out it seems), and concert events.

Upgraded a few times since it was built, there is talk of replacing it as it is getting old. It suffered some major damage from the spring 2013 floods. The Elbow River runs in behind it and spilled over its banks and inundated the building. For a time, it was an Olympic sized swimming pool.

As built it was known as the Olympic Saddledome. Starting in the he mid-1990s the name was changed to Canadian Airlines Saddledome, later Pengrowth Saddledome, and today is known as the Scotia Bank…you guessed it…Saddledome. Each of those respective companies of course paid dearly for the privilege of attaching their name to the building.

We’ve been supplied an old picture which shows it under construction as some unspecified date. Given how far along it is, it must have been shot in late 1982 or thereabouts (note the snow). This view allows one a good look at the bones of the building. Very interesting!

The location where these two photos were taken is known as Scotsman’s (or Scotchman’s) Hill. It’s the name for the top of a high embankment well above the Elbow River (not seen in the photos but directly below us). It’s where those too cheap to pay for Calgary Stampede tickets go to watch certain events for free. From this lofty vantage point one can clearly see most, but not all, the rodeo grounds, off to the left from our view. I guess the moniker, which stereotypes Scots as stingy, could be considered a bit insensitive, if not politically incorrect.

On arriving here, we are quickly able to establish from where the original photo was taken. Out shot, by the way, was not cropped or anything and was lined up only by sight. I think we did a good job.

Notice how different the downtown skyline is from then to now and about half the high-rise buildings seen in our picture were constructed after the original image was captured. One constant of course is the distinctive Calgary Tower, which today is getting swallowed up by other buildings. When constructed in the 1960s it was the tallest building in town and was known as the Husky Energy Tower. Then, as today, it is a tourist attraction. During the ’88 Winter Olympics (remember them) a stylized representation of the building was used for the Olympic Torch.

Seen under construction in the original picture are the PetroCanada towers (extreme right), now the Suncor Energy buildings. Of note in our picture are the twin towers of Banker’s Hall, a few buildings to the left of the Calgary Tower. Note all the new condos to the left of the Saddledome. More are on the way!

The original image was shot in B&W (so ours was too) and is courtesy Canadian Geographic, used with permission.

To see more posts like this, follow these links…
Calgary then and now – St Mary’s Church and CNR train station.
Calgary then and now – Scarboro United Church.
Calgary then and now – Mewata Armoury.

If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: February, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.

Olympic Saddledome

The Saddledome (dip?) under construction in the early 1980s. Courtesy Canadian Geographic.

Scotia Bank Saddledome

The building today is known as the Scotia Bank Saddledome.


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6 Comments on "Calgary then and now – the Saddledome"

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Dan O
Dan O

Nice shot! The skyline before Banker’s Hall and PetroCanada. (Plus many others…)

Connie Biggart
Connie Biggart

Wow, spot on!

Gail Paish Walt
Gail Paish Walt

Luv to see these kinds of pics for comparison…thanx.. Chris!