Then and now: Lasting physical legacies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics (PHOTOS)

Feb 12 2020, 1:17 am

The seven-year-long Herculean effort to prepare Vancouver and Whistler for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games was kick-started on July 2, 2003, when the International Olympic Committee named Vancouver as the host city of the 21st Olympic Winter Games.

This was certainly the largest endeavour undertaken in BC since Expo ’86, with the Games transforming the region, providing new housing and recreational and community facilities, leaving lasting transportation infrastructure, creating new tourism and event-hosting infrastructure and experience.

All new and renovated sports venue projects were completed well in advance of the Games to allow for test competitions, such as World Cups and World Championships. VANOC’s budget for sports venue construction was $600 million, with the provincial and federal governments each contributing about $300 million. Unlike other Olympic host cities, the venues of Vancouver and Whistler have carried on with a highly positive and useful post-Games legacy for the communities they serve.

Here is a rundown of the sites, venues, facilities, and infrastructure built and/or improved for Vancouver 2010:

Sports venues

Richmond Olympic Oval

The Fraser River waterfront venue for speed skating competitions was built on the site of a trailer park at a cost of $178 million, with the organizing committee (VANOC) providing $63 million, and the remainder from the City of Richmond from revenues generated by River Rock Casino and nearby real estate developments.

Building exterior of Richmond Olympic Oval. (City of Richmond)

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Richmond Olympic Oval during the Olympics. (VANOC)

The venue had a capacity for 7,600 spectators, before it was converted into a recreational and community centre with two international-sized ice rinks, eight gymnasiums, a 200-metre running track, a 23,000-sq-ft fitness centre, and the Richmond Olympic Experience museum. This project, earning a LEED Silver green building certification, was designed by New York-based CannonDesign.

Richmond Olympic Oval

Interior of the Richmond Olympic Oval in its post-Games, multi-sport mode, with the speed skating ice surface removed. (Richmond Olympic Oval)

Hillcrest Centre

The curling venue’s Olympic-time name, Vancouver Olympic Centre, did not stick, as it was renamed the Hillcrest Centre after the Games.

Hillcrest Centre had a capacity for 5,600 spectators and was later converted into a recreational and community centre with a hockey rink, gymnasium, Vancouver Public Library branch, and eight sheets of curling ice.

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Post-Games conversion of Vancouver Olympic Centre. (HMCA)

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Vancouver Olympic Centre during curling events for 2010. (VANOC)

VANOC provided $40 million towards the cost of building the venue, and the City of Vancouver funded $48.8 million for the post-Games conversion and the construction of the attached aquatic centre. HCMA Architects is responsible for the design, which achieved a LEED Gold certification.

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Vancouver Olympic Centre during curling events for 2010. (VANOC)

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Post-Games conversion of Vancouver Olympic Centre. (HMCA)

Canada Hockey Place

GM Place, now known as Rogers Arena, was temporarily renamed Canada Hockey Place due to Olympic regulations on sponsorship. It served as the primary ice hockey venue, with a seating capacity of 19,300.

Some upgrades were made to the arena by the owners of the Vancouver Canucks in the years leading up to the Games, including new centre and ribbon video boards. During the bid, there was a plan to expand the ice surface to an international-sized rink, but this was abandoned to reduce costs and environmental impact.

UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre

The secondary ice hockey venue was located at the University of British Columbia’s campus. The $48.5-million project constructed two new NHL-sized rinks, including the 6,800-seat main arena, and renovated the existing Father Bauer Arena. VANOC provided $38.5 million, and UBC covered the balance.

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UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre during the Olympics. (Squeaky Marmot / Flickr)


UBC’s Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre during the 2010 Paralympics (UBC)

Pacific Coliseum

The historic Pacific Coliseum at the PNE underwent $20 million in VANOC-funded renovations, including minor aesthetic upgrades, new replacement seats, expanding the ice surface to international size, ice plant improvements, upgraded washrooms and concessions, and new climate control systems. This venue hosted the figure skating and short-track speed skating events.

Pacific Coliseum during the Olympics. (Lisa Brideau / Flickr)

Cypress Mountain

Metro Vancouver’s largest ski hill of Cypress Mountain was the venue for all freestyle skiing and snowboard events. VANOC spent $17 million in upgrades, including modifications to existing runs, a new in-ground halfpipe, a snowmaking system and water reservoir, ungraded lighting, a new freestyle site for aerials and moguls, and a parallel giant slalom course.

Spectator capacities were 12,000 for freestyle skiing, 12,000 for snowboard, and 8,000 for the snowboard halfpipe. Temporary grandstand seating from Olympic venues such as Cypress Mountain were later reassembled at Empire Field in Hastings Park to create a temporary football and soccer stadium while BC Place Stadium underwent its post-Games renovations.

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Cypress Mountain during the Olympics. (John Biehler / Flickr)

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Cypress Mountain during the Olympics. (VANOC)

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Cypress Mountain during the Olympics. (VANOC)

Whistler Creekside

The existing Dave Murray Downhill course ending at Whistler Creekside served as the venue for all downhill skiing events. A total of $27.6 million was invested in the venue, including adding extra width to the existing men’s course, creating a new ladies course, doubling the snowmaking capacity, installing upgraded timing infrastructure, and doubling the width of the finish corral. Due to the base’s tight footprint, the venue had a relatively small Olympic capacity of 7,700 spectators.

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Whistler Creekside during the Olympics. (Cecilia Cotton / Flickr)

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Whistler Creekside during the Olympics. (VANOC)

Whistler Olympic Park

Whistler Olympic Park, built in an area of previously logged forest in the Callaghan Valley, served as the venue of biathlon, cross-country skiing, nordic combined, and ski jumping. Three temporary stadiums, each with a capacity of 12,000 spectators, were constructed.

The ski jump at Whistler Olympic Park during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. (IOC / YouTube screenshot)

The stadiums and facilities had a compact, one-square-km footprint, located about 400 metres apart, plus 15 kms of Olympic competition trails for cross-country skiing and biathlon. Two ski jumps, normal hill and large hill, were built with a ski jump snow refrigeration and track setting systems. The facility’s cost of construction, $120 million, was covered by VANOC.

The site is now a popular all-season training, recreational, and tourist attraction, with the ski jump also seeing unique uses such as the annual Red Bull 400 vertical climb race.

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Whistler Olympic Park during the Games. (VANOC)

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Whistler Olympic Park during the Games. (VANOC)

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Whistler Olympic Park during the Games. (VANOC)

Whistler Sliding Centre

Whistler Sliding Centre near the base of Blackcomb Mountain held bobsleigh, skeleton, and luge competitions. The track has a length of 1.45 km and a vertical drop of 152 metres from start to finish, with spectator capacity for 12,000 people. It remains as a training site, tourist attraction, and competition venue for both international and domestic events.

VANOC constructed the sliding centre at a cost of $105 million.

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Whistler Sliding Centre during the Olympics. (VANOC)

Practice venues

VANOC constructed two small ice rinks in East Vancouver for athletes to use as practice. This includes the $16-million Trout Lake Rink used by figure skaters, and the $15-million Killarney Rink for short-track speed skaters. Both venues were later handed over to the Vancouver Park Board for a post-Games recreational legacy.

The existing Britannia Centre received minor renovations for ice hockey practice uses.

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Trout Lake Ice Rink. (Francl Architecture)

Ceremonies venues

BC Place Stadium

With a Games-time capacity of 60,000 seats, BC Place Stadium was the venue for the Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, nightly concerts and Olympic Medal Ceremonies for competitions held in Vancouver, and the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. For the Medal Ceremonies, the stadium’s configuration was split in half, with a seating capacity for 30,000 spectators.

The first phase of upgrades to BC Place Stadium were completed just in time for the Games, with $65 million in renovations focusing on improved concessions, washrooms and suites, and improved accessibility and directional signage.

Work on the second phase of improvements, including the new retractable roof, began shortly after the Games. There was a desire to have the entire project completed before the Games, but there were concerns over the tight timeline. These extensive renovations and the new roof were only planned after the January 2007 deflation incident of the stadium’s previous air-supported roof. The provincial government spearheaded and funded the entire scope of the retrofits.

A portion of VANOC’s $48.5-million budget for the ceremonies held at BC Place Stadium provided temporary improvements. About 110 tons of equipment and fixtures were suspended from the air-supported roof for the ceremonies.

Whistler Medals Plaza

The 8,000-capacity Whistler Medals Plaza held the nightly concerts and Olympic Medal Ceremonies for Whistler area events and the Paralympic Games Closing Ceremony. The outdoor amphitheatre carried a program cost of $13 million, with VANOC providing $7 million, the federal government with $5 million, and the municipal government with $1 million.

A further $13.6 million was spent for the site’s post-Games conversion, replacing the temporary asphalt with an open grass field, and constructing a new covered outdoor pavilion that doubles as both an ice rink and performance venue. A set of legacy Olympic rings were installed, and the Whistler Olympic Cauldron remained at the location.

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Whistler Medals Plaza during the Olympics. (Kyle Lane / Flickr)

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Whistler Celebration Plaza after the Olympics. (Shutterstock)

Olympic Villages

Vancouver Olympic Village

The 12-acre Vancouver Olympic Village development on former industrial lands on the Southeast False Creek waterfront had a peak Winter Games population of 2,730 athletes and officials, serving those who had their sports venues located in the Vancouver area.

The 1,100-unit project achieved various levels of LEED green building certification, restored the shoreline and contaminated lands, introduced new wildlife habitats, and created extensive new public spaces such as parks, plazas, and the extension of the seawall.

Buildings are extensively topped off with green roofs and fed by a neighbourhood energy utility system that captures heat from the city’s sewers. This Olympic Village has been a catalyst for redevelopment for the remainder of Southeast False Creek’s industrial sites.

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A sea of cranes in Southeast False Creek near downtown Vancouver in December 2007 for the construction of the Vancouver Olympic Village. (Al Harvey / Flickr)

Construction began in 2006, but it hit a major snag in 2008 when the private developer’s construction financing source, a New York-based hedge fund, stopped funding the project due to the recession. To ensure the Olympic Village’s completion, in early 2009 the City of Vancouver intervened and funded the remainder of the $1-billion total cost of the project.

But the municipal government’s debt from the Olympic Village, which had been experiencing slow condominium units sales, was short lived. In 2014, Aquilini Development Group acquired the remaining 67 condominium units for $91 million, ending the city’s involvement in the project.

It allowed the city to officially cover its entire $630-million debt from the Olympic Village, plus a net profit of $70 million. The post-Games social housing component was reduced to help achieve this end, but overall the Olympic Village is considered today a highly successful and vibrant mixed-use community with retail, restaurants, and a diverse population. The training centre used by athletes was later converted into a community centre.

Olympic Village in False creek, Vancouver in 2010 (AlexAranda/Shutterstock)

Olympic Village in False creek, Vancouver in 2010. (Shutterstock)

Whistler Olympic Village

Whistler Olympic Village, constructed on a former landfill in the Cheakamus Valley near the Sea to Sky Highway, was the Games-time home of 2,850 athletes and officials in Whistler-area events.

Today, the village is a new community that provides affordable housing for locals, as well as a lodge with up to 330 beds for both winter and summer sport athletes to use while they are training in Whistler. There is also a 20,000-sq-ft on-site training facility, and a hostel. The success of the village has become a model for development in Whistler.

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Whistler Olympic Village during the Games. (Green Building Brain)

Media facilities

Main Media Centre

The $883-million West Building expansion of the Vancouver Convention Centre tripled the capacity of the original facility, now known as the East Building, inside Canada Place.

It added 221,000 sq. ft. of convention space, 90,000 sq. ft. of retail space along the waterfront promenade, and 400,000 sq. ft. of public spaces, including the promenade and Jack Poole Plaza, where the Olympic Cauldron is located. The landmark building — designed by Seattle-based LMN Architects and Vancouver-based MCM Architects and DA Architects + Planners — was built both on land and over water on pilings. This new building, achieving a LEED Platinum certification, also boasts an expansive green roof, providing wildlife habitat in an urban context.

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Vancouver Convention Centre’s West Building and the Olympic Cauldron during the Olympics. (Shutterstock)

During the Games, the West Building was the hub International Broadcast Centre, while the East Building was the Main Press Centre. Both facilities were used by 10,000 accredited media personnel.

An expansion of the convention centre was first envisioned before the Olympic bid in the mid-1990s, when the facilities at Canada Place were unable to keep up with the growing number and size of meetings and conventions held in the city.

As of April 2019, the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the expansion, the convention centre with the West Building has generated $2.4 billion in local economic impact from 5,561 events attracting over nine million visitors.

Whistler Media Centre

The 1985-built Whistler Conference Centre became the Whistler Media Centre, the secondary hub for accredited media, specifically those covering the sports events held in Whistler. Major renovations were conducted on the 65,000-sq-ft facility in 2004.

Robson Square

The provincial government spent $2.5 million renovating UBC Robson Square into a 30,000-sq-ft International Media Centre for an estimated 3,000 unaccredited media personnel.

Another $40-million was spent by the province on renovating the entire Robson Square complex, which became one of the hubs for free public celebrations. General Electric also provided $1.7 million as a gift to repair and expand the then-broken ice rink. Ever since the repair, the ice rink has become a popular free wintertime skating tradition.

Transportation infrastructure

Canada Line

A long-envisioned rapid transit rail connection between downtown Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport was accelerated in time for the Games.

The 19-km-long, 16-station Canada Line was built at a cost of $2.05 billion as a public-private partnership that involved a $750-million contribution from SNC Lavalin, and additional contributions of $450 million from the federal government, $435 million from the provincial government, $334 million from TransLink, $300 million from the airport, and $29 million from the City of Vancouver.

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Canada Line cut-and-cover tunnel construction on Cambie Street in Vancouver. (Canada Line Photography)

This SkyTrain line, which opened about six months before the Games, was an immediate success upon opening, with actual ridership levels years ahead of original forecasts.

Moreover, during the 17-day Games, the Canada Line saw an average of 228,000 boardings per day — more than double the regular pre-Games ridership. A single-day ridership record of 287,000 boardings was achieved on February 19, 2010.

Although there are growing concerns the system is under-built, the speed and convenience provided by the Canada Line has helped shift more people into choosing public transit as their mode of transportation, and it has become an immense catalyst for redevelopment along its route. Weekday ridership on the Canada Line currently averages at about 150,000 boardings, including about one in five travellers at the airport.

Exterior of Marine Gateway and Marine Drive Station. (Marine Gateway / Perkins+Will Vancouver)

Sea to Sky Highway Upgrades

The Sea to Sky Highway between near Horseshoe Bay and Whistler underwent a $600-million rebuild and widening to improve its safety, capacity, and travel times.

Travel times were reduced from over two hours to around 90 minutes, passing lanes reaching a two-lane standard in each direction was achieved for some areas, a concrete barrier between directions was installed along much of the route, and some of the sharp turns were removed.

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Construction on the Sea to Sky Highway upgrades. (Government of BC)

A new interchange was constructed at Horseshoe Bay, providing improved access to the BC Ferries terminal and the new overland highway route through Eagle Bluffs. A section of the original two-lane highway between Horseshoe Bay and Sampson Park still exists, renamed as Horseshoe Bay Drive.

During the Games, use of the highway was largely restricted to Olympic traffic, such as buses and VIP vehicles.

The upgrades have led to increased economic development and tourism along the Sea to Sky Corridor, specifically at Squamish and Whistler.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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