'Never had this many': Loaded with events, Calgary is having a February to remember

In what’s often a sleepy month for tourism, a slew of major events has injected energy into Calgary

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It’s not over, but Carson Ackroyd believes Calgary is on track to have the “February of all Februarys.”

In what’s often a sleepy month for tourism, a slate of major events has injected an abnormal amount of activity into the city — and it’s packing an economic punch.

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By the end of this leap-year February, Calgary will have hosted Nitrocross, the FIS snowboard and freeski halfpipe world cups, ISU World Speed Skating Championship, Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games.

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It all comes during the annual Chinook Blast winter festival, which wraps up Monday night to end nearly three weeks showcasing Calgary’s arts and culture scene.

“We’ve been working on many of these things, and they all started lining up for us to have this February of all Februarys,” said Ackroyd, senior vice-president of sales at Tourism Calgary. “We’ve never had this many events.”

Between those six events, Calgary is expected to pull in about $31 million in visitor spending — about triple the average amount of tourism activity the city sees in a normal month, Ackroyd said.

Last year, the city agency estimated Calgary raked in about $130 million in economic impact over 62 events.

Not adjusting for activity the Calgary Stampede brings in every July, it averages out to nearly $11 million in monthly tourism spending.

Alberta’s Selena Sturmay practices for the Scotties curling tournament on Friday. Jim Wells/Postmedia

“This February is certainly not typical,” said Ackroyd, who also sits on the board of directors at Sport Tourism Canada. “Some of these are one-off events that we’ve been working on for many years.

“But they’ve all lined up to have this February that has just driven incredible activity into Calgary and created this incredible vibrancy.”

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The World Speed Skating Championships, Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Freeski Halfpipe World Cup all converge this weekend.

The province said it expects the Tournament of Hearts to bring up to $15 million into Calgary’s economy and draw about six million viewers over 10 days. (Alberta is providing the tournament with $137,500 in funding.)

Chinook Blast ‘growing very quickly’ in fourth year

Dubbed Calgary’s most “winterful” festival, Chinook Blast has taken over Olympic Plaza, Stephen Avenue and the atrium of the Calgary Municipal Building since Feb. 2, and will officially wrap on Family Day. 

This year’s festival — which includes 70 partner organizations — boasts more than 200 events and 900 performers. Public attractions have ranged from live concerts and theatre performances to nighttime light installations and pop-up markets.

Jeff Hessel, a member of Chinook Blast’s executive committee, said mild weather has contributed to impressive attendances for what is only the fourth year of the festival.

“Partners are really responding to it and there are lots of ways to participate,” he said. “It just keeps growing and growing, very quickly.”

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Hessel said the festival’s rapid rise in popularity is all the more impressive when considering the first two years were limited by COVID-19 restrictions.

Chinook Blast
The 1000 Faces art installation is part of the Chinook Blast winter festival. Gavin Young/Postmedia

The bulk of this year’s festival has been held downtown, but other parts of the city have also gotten in on the fun, including Inglewood and the Kensington business district.

Chinook Blast also collaborates with other local events, including Calgary Folk Festival’s Block Heater Music Festival, the BIG Winter Classic, High Performance Rodeo and Ethnik Festivals of Arts and Culture.

“We created this open platform so that we could try and have lots of different partners and activations taking place,” said Hessel, who is also Tourism Calgary’s senior vice-president of marketing.

While it’s too early to speculate what the economic impact of this year’s festival will be, Hessel noted Chinook Blast generated $13.48 million in 2023, attracting more than 370,000 visitors.

He said visitation and economic impact numbers for this year’s event will be published by the end of March.

Hessel said there are still a few highlights to check out during its final weekend, including a full suite of concerts at Olympic Plaza on Sunday, hosted by Jazz YYC and the YYC Music Awards.

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Great Canadian Kilt Skate
Dancers perform at the Great Canadian Kilt Skate at Olympic Plaza on Feb. 11. Brent Calver/Postmedia

There’s also a skate-along with townsfolk from Heritage Park on the Olympic Plaza rink on Monday, and Market Collective, which will feature local artisans and entrepreneurs showcasing their wares in the city hall atrium.

The annual YYC Hot Chocolate Fest — the 13-year-old charity fundraiser for Calgary Meals on Wheels — is also running through the month, which raked in record interest from local small businesses ahead of February.

Last year’s festival had 175 participating locations in a record effort that sold more than 70,000 cups of hot chocolate in a month, and raised more than $100,000 for Calgary Meals on Wheels.

This year, it nearly cracked 200 participating businesses. Karen McKeogh, philanthropy and communications manager for Calgary Meals on Wheels, said her team is hoping to beat last year’s record.

“Our social media, it’s so busy . . . we can’t even keep up. From what we can tell, Calgarians are just loving it,” McKeogh said.

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