THE OLYMPIC SADDLEDOME

CALGARY, ALBERTA

The NHL rink in Calgary, Alberta is one of the most iconic and unique buildings in the National Hockey League.  As a nod to the cowboy heritage of Alberta, the Saddledome is shaped, well, like a saddle.  Its domed roof highlights the Calgary skyscape and is emblematic of a lone cowboy riding across the desolate Alberta prairie.

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The 19,289 seat Saddledome was built to replace the Stampede Corral, which had served Calgary for more than 30 years when the Flames arrived from Atlanta in 1980.  The Corral was built in 1950 and at 8,700 seats was the largest arena west of Toronto at the time.   By the 1970s, the Corral had fallen below pro standards and, as a result, the Calgary Cowboys of the Western Hockey Association decided to fold.

The combination of Calgary’s bid for the 1988 Winter Olympics and the impending arrival of the Flames created the need for a new arena in Calgary.  Calgary’s City Council debated the benefits of several locations and eventually settled on the Stampede grounds immediately east of the Corral as the location of a new building.   

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 8: A general view of the interior of the Scotiabank Saddledome during an NHL game between the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks on October 8, 2014 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The arena was designed by Graham McCourt Architects.  The firm set out to design a unique building with a reverse hyperbolic paraboloid, allowing for a pillar free view from all seats.   No surprise, when the design was unveiled, the roof was compared to a saddle because of its shape.  

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There were more than 1,270 entries submitted in the naming content and the winning name, Olympic Saddledome, was drawn from a cowboy hat of other finalists.  The name received a mixed response, including from Frank King, then chairman of Calgary’s Olympic Organizing Committee, who said:

“It is neither Olympic nor western, and it’s not even a dome.”

The Saddledome was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1987 with an associated article discussing the 1988 Olympics.  As of 2008, the Saddledome was still reported as the world record holder for the longest spanning hyperbolic parabloid concrete shell (better known as a “saddledome “ J ).

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The Saddledome has had two major renovations, one planned and the other not.  In 1994 / 95, renovations occurred that saw the addition of 41 new luxury suites at the top of the lower bowl, a 1,172 club section, and a new restaurant.   In June 2013, flooding reached up to the eighth row and rendered the event level almost useless.   Despite the damage, the Saddledome was open for the 2013/14 NHL season.

The most well-known tenant of the Saddledome is the NHL’s Calgary Flames.  The Flames have had many memorable moments in the Saddledome including three Stanley Cup Finals series: 1986, 1989, and 2004.   The Flames won the Cup in 1989, but it was on visiting ice in Montreal.  In addition to the memorable Cup Finals series, the Saddledome hosted the 1985 All-Star game and the 2000 NHL draft.  

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Currently, the Scotiabank Saddledome is not only home to the NHL’s Calgary Flames, but also the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League and the Calgary Roughnecks of the National Lacrosse League.  The ‘Dome also hosts concerts, conferences, and events for the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede with the Moody Blues being the first musical group to appear and Rod Stewart with the most appearances at eleven.

As one of the oldest arenas in the NHL, the future of the Saddledome is far from certain.  No doubt the day will come in the not so distant future in which the ‘Dome’s “number will be hung from the rafters”.  But even when that day comes, the Saddledome can rest easy know it has served its city, province, and country about as well as anyone could ask.

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