Brandon First Celebrates 20 Years!
In the early 2000s a group of six local hoteliers, businesspeople and representatives from Tourism and the City came together to promote Brandon as a world class event host city and drive the development of event tourism in our community. They knew the economic importance of this type of tourism to Brandon and recognized the opportunity we had to capitalize on something Brandon does really well; host events. And so, on August 20, 2003, Brandon First was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recruiting events to Brandon.
As Brandon First started to grow it started to succeed, recruiting major events like the 2006 Special Olympics and the 2009 Western Canadian Music Awards. One of the largest and most impressive early wins for Brandon was the 2010 Memorial Cup.
So, after the Memorial Cup success the question was “what’s next?” And the obvious answer, especially in hindsight, was curling. We had hosted great curling in the 1990s, in the 1980s, heck we even hosted the McDonald (cigarettes not cheeseburgers) Brier, all the way back in 1962! But we hadn’t hosted anything since the Scotties in 02 and it was time to bring it back. The “Curling Strategy” was thus born, a plan to host a small event like a provincials, then a midsize national event and an ultimate goal of a large national Curling Canada property. And that’s exactly what Brandon executed. In 2015 we hosted the Safeway Men’s Provincials which spring boarded us to a successful bid for the 2016 Canada Cup, a mid-season men’s and women’s championship by Curling Canada. The success of the Canada Cup was critical to our winning the bid for the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier, which we also knocked out of the park!
Around the same time the Curling Strategy was taking off, Brandon was awarded the two-year block for the 2017 and 2018 Royal Canadian Legion National Youth Track and Field Championships. This event saw approximately 350 athletes from across Canada come to compete in a variety of track and field competitions. We had a literal army of volunteers to make it happen, no I mean literally, I don’t know how we’d have ever got all those army tents and tables set up if the base didn’t send us a bunch of soldiers with them!
Seeing how successful the Curling Strategy had been we wanted to use that same model to bring in some national level summer sport competition. With the opening of the Ashley Neufeld Softball Complex in 2017 we knew we had a world class facility right in our own backyard and we had to strike while the iron was hot. Working with local softball representatives, Brandon worked to recruit softball provincials at varying age levels, many of which were then postponed by the pandemic and rescheduled. The softball community rallied and in 2021 hosted the Softball Manitoba U16 Girls Provincials. This summer, I’m pleased to say, we hosted an amazing Softball Canada U15 Girls National Fastpitch Championships. Even though the rain made it a scheduling scramble the committee and volunteers handled everything flawlessly and put on an incredible tournament.
We’ve also worked in the last few years to bring a wide variety of new events to Brandon, world level horse shows in the Percherons in 2022 and the World Clydesdales this July, the 55+ Games, Western Canadian Gymnastics, CIS Women’s Volleyball, meetings, conventions, tradeshows, music festivals and more. There’s a whole list on our website about a mile long if you want to see all of them, it’s a pretty incredible list to just scroll through.
We always talk about economic impact when it comes to why we bring events to Brandon. Event tourism brings substantial dollars into the community and generates thousands of overnight stays each year. Brandon First has either conducted through Sport Tourism Canada’s STEAM model, or Destinations International’s Economic Impact Calculator economic impact studies for some major events and the numbers are incredible.
According to STC, the 2010 Memorial Cup generated an estimated $13 million. The Brier brought $7.4 million in economic impact, up from $2.5 million from the Canada Cup. This year we started using the Destinations International Calculator as members, allowing us to use room nights, attendance and other custom statistics like our Accommodation Tax Rate and provincial taxes to calculate EI almost as soon as the events are over! By these calculations, the Canadian National High School Rodeo Finals generated approximately $650,000 and while we’re still waiting on final numbers, early projections say this summer’s National Softball generated in excess of $1.5 million in direct local spending. On top of this, events showcase our community to the region, the nation, and the world. Brandon’s reputation for excellence grows with every event we successfully host, and we plan to keep building on the foundation of those before.
What does the future look like for Brandon’s event hosting landscape? Well, as I mentioned the Manitoba 55+ Games is coming back to Brandon in June of 2024. As a part of that we are also hosting a bonspiel in March so Curling could be included for the first time in many years. In 2025 Brandon University is confirmed to host the USports Men’s Volleyball Championships. We have a few irons in the fire, and some bids awaiting decision, but we hope to bring even more to Brandon in the next 20 years than we did in the last 20.
On August 31st we gathered together with many of our incredible business stakeholder members and held a 20th Anniversary Celebration at the Dome Building. Some pictures from that evening are below, please take a look and join us in celebrating 20 years of Brandon First!