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SAM Centre reaches milestone in construction towards 2024 opening

Visitors to the Calgary Stampede this year, entering from the north end of Stampede Park, will have noticed the angular beams of a new building taking shape at the Stampede’s youth campus.

The SAM Centre, which will act as an exhibition space for telling Calgary Stampede stories and showing off Stampede artifacts, has been under construction for months but has been nearing a major milestone as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth progresses.

Within several weeks the structure will become weather tight, marking the beginning of the final phase to complete the interior of the centre before it’s opening in May 2024.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is be that place year round that exudes the Calgary Stampede gathering,” said Angie Gelinas, Director of Stampede Campus.

“SAM will be that heart and soul of Stampede year round, telling the stories, sharing stories, inviting community in to actually share their stories of Stampede.”

The $44 million centre was named after Sam Taylor, a restauranteur who ran a hamburger shack at the Calgary Stampede which began the business acumen of Calgary philanthropist and major donor for the project, Don Taylor.

“I think it brings a place to invite our community in all year to have a conversation with them all year. Yes to share stories, but to invite that discussion about community, and how we’re contributing to community, and how together we think about going forward and community,” said Gelinas.

“Calgary Stampede is taking a moment of self-reflection through SAM, and we’re inviting everybody in to join us to talk about it.”

The interior of the Sam Centre while construction is in process on Friday, July 14, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Centre to connect Stampede with visitors year round

Gelinas said that the centre was not a hall of fame, nor a museum or a visitor centre for the Calgary Stampede.

“It is an experience. It’s an experience attraction with artifacts. We don’t refer to it as a museum, but we do use museological practices in terms of how we bring it to life,” she said.

The centre is expected to have around 86,000 visitors in 2024, moving up to 135,000 per year in 2028.

Those visitors, said Dr. Christine Leppard, Manager of Exhibits and Experience for the SAM Centre, would be at the heart of what would be programmed and exhibited at the centre.

“In that space, we really get to explore the idea of what the stampede has meant to the community for over 130 years,” Leppard said.

When complete, the SAM Centre will have a permanent exhibition area that will rotate displays every five to seven years and an activation space called the Ross Klein Gallery that will change programming every three months.

“I use the word experience really intentionally because it might be an artifact of an experience, it might be a messy maker space, it might be immersive art,” said Dr. Leppard.

“This is a space where we will be intentionally co-creating with our community to tell newer different or deeper Stampede stories, and really welcome our community to co-create those experiences with us.”

The new centre will also serve as a climate-controlled Class B facility for artifact storage, which will prevent degradation of some of the Stampede’s more than 10,000 items.

“We do have a wonderful climate-controlled space here at SAM Center where we can bring over elements of our collection that really need good quality climate control, and that will include some elements of our archives including much of our photographic collection as well,” said Leppard.

The lantern, which will let in natural light during the day, and a soft warm glow out at night, under construction at the Sam Centre on Friday, July 14, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Structure not aiming for certification, but using best practices

Kerri Souroil, Director for Park Development with the Calgary Stampede, said that the SAM Centre would have some cutting-edge technology being used in its construction, but that the goal for the building was not to seek any sort of certification.

“We are best practice in terms of environmental, and our architects Diamond Schmitt are leading edge in terms of their work in terms of sustainability,” Souroil said.

She said that a lot of the building’s design was the passive use of elements to cool the building and to effectively use shade to block light when it’s not wanted, and to have other spaces that let light in.

Among those are the porch spaces around the building, which let light in when the sun is low and temperatures are low, and then block light when the sun is high in the sky.

The Lantern, another feature, is a set of central skylights that will let in light during the day and then serve as a pleasing glowing element for local residents around the Sam Centre at night.

The building will also be one of the most prominent ones in Calgary to use laminated wood instead of steel beams as part of that effort to be sustainable, but also as a nod to Western heritage design.

“The wood was sustainably harvested in B.C., and then it was fabricated with a partner Western Archrib out of Edmonton,” Souroil said.

“It really creates a richness to the space. It’s a really dramatic structural system. The wood will stay exposed when the guests are here, and so it’s really it’s a unique structure to Alberta, and in particular to Calgary.”

The design elements that reflect good neighbourly values for the area also extend to other areas of the design, said Souroil.

The HVAC elements that would normally be placed onto a flat roof have been moved inside onto a dedicated second floor in the building, making for a more beautiful structure for local residents to look at.

The surrounding plaza spaces, which will complete the Stampede’s youth campus when finished, will also be community gathering spaces for residents and visitors to Victoria Park.

The centre will also have dedicated parking for visitors located on the two ends of the building, said Souroil.

“Stampede as a whole acts as a campus in terms of parking, but we’re very cognizant that we require parking as well specific to SAM.”