If you’ve attended events in Brandon, chances are, some of them have been at the Keystone Centre. The Keystone Centre has been the heart of Brandon and its surrounding communities for nearly half a century. It’s where most locals attend their first concert, cheer at their first hockey game, see their first horse or ride the Ferris wheel for the first time. This exceptional 90 acres of land and all its buildings are operated by a non-profit corporation called the Keystone Agricultural and Recreational Centre Inc. which prides itself on bringing to the community a variety of events that contribute to the quality of life and economy throughout the Western Manitoba region. And they do it really well.
A truly multipurpose facility, there are very few events the Keystone can’t accommodate. “Probably the key item is our size,” says General Manager Neil Thomson, “We’re 540,000 square feet large. We have quite a number of recreation facilities. Three ice surfaces, a curling rink. We have a large agricultural area as well that includes a show ring, barns, and we have a number of convention areas including 11 meeting rooms of all shapes and sizes.” These spaces are all under one roof, allowing for some of the largest events in Western Canada to be held in one of the more modestly sized cities. The combination of incredible facilities and small town hospitality makes experiences at the Keystone Centre memorable and unique.
The Keystone Centre’s official grand opening was on April 2, 1973 and it has been a hosting juggernaut ever since. Home to the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings since it opened, the Keystone has held a variety of major winter sport tournaments, primarily in hockey and curling. Countless WHL playoff games have been played in the main arena, Westman Place, and in 2010 the Mastercard Memorial Cup, Canada’s Junior hockey championship, came to the Wheat City.
In 1982 the Keystone was home to the Brier. When the Brier’s event organizers couldn’t find a convenient location to gather between draws, the Brier Patch was born within the facility. It was thanks in part to the Keystone Centre that the Patch has become a world famous part of the game. The Curling history within the venue continued through the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s with two Scott Tournaments of Hearts (1993 and 2002), the Ford World Men’s and Women’s Curling Championships (1995) and the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in 1997. Brandon is getting back in the game, and have reignited their passion for curling with the 2015 Safeway Men`s Provincials and the upcoming Home Hardware Canada Cup.
Sporting events are not the only specialty events this incredible facility is able to host. The Westoba Credit Union Agricultural Centre of Excellence lives up to its name in the exceptional quality of event it is capable of hosting. The indoor show ring is 200’ x 85’ and its retractable seating can hold up to seven hundred spectators. The ring features a desirable clay and sand footing, excellent lighting, a judges stand, and PA sound system. For the last several years the Canadian National Arabian and Half Arabian Championship Horse Show has enjoyed the Keystone’s ability to provide for its world class show. The show uses the Ag Centre Show Ring, main arena, outdoor show ring, two warm-up rings, a trade show area and stalls more than 700 horses from across North America for this week-long event.
Additionally, the annual Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, hosted by the Provincial Exhibition of MB, is held at the Keystone, with the remarkable distinction of being one of only two fairs in Canada to have received Royal patronage. This agricultural and entertainment exposition attracts in excess of 100,000 people over the course of a week.
Manitoba Ag Days, a three day ag-focused trade show with educational speakers, brings nearly 40,000 regional farmers and ranchers to the Wheat City each year. This unique show uses every square inch of the Keystone’s 540,000 square foot facility and a portion of the 90 acres of land where it’s situated, to showcase the best of the best from the agricultural industry.
The Keystone Centre is also Westman’s largest venue for concerts. The long list of bands who have rocked the arena features some pretty recognizable names; Tragically Hip, Nickleback, Great Big Sea, The Guess Who, KISS, Mötley Crüe, Arcade Fire, and the list goes on. As a very Country-music-friendly region, we have also drawn some of that genre’s top performers over the years, including Tim McGraw, Alabama, Terri Clark, Martina McBride, Paul Brandt, Clint Black, and Sawyer Brown, just to start. In the 80’s, Kenny Rogers sold out two shows in one day! The 5,100 seat arena is a great option for concerts, and its smaller size translates to there not being a bad seat in the house.
Aside from entertainment, the Keystone Centre is also a prime location to host any size of meeting or conference. They have rooms for small intimate meetings of twenty, right up to the Manitoba Room which has held banquets for 1,200 people. Thomson is proud of the centre’s flexibility and wide variety of meeting spaces. “We have other rooms that can accommodate 800 people in the UCT, or 500 people in MNP Hall, so we can handle a lot of people,” he says, “The Amphitheatre seats 550. We have theatre productions in there now and we use it for educational seminars, and entertainment purposes. Because of the way [the Keystone] is structured it’s very multi-purpose.”
In 2005 the Canad Inns Destination Centre Brandon opened, directly connected to the Keystone Centre. This lets convention goers and other guests of the Keystone to have access to the 159 room hotel without having to leave the facility. This convenience cannot be overstated, and has only served to increase the appeal of the outstanding services offered in connection to the Keystone Centre. In addition to the attached hotel, there is a full-service campground available on the sprawling Keystone grounds, utilized primarily during the Brandon Folk Music and Art Festival, the Arabian Horse Show and the Summer Fair, but available to reserve by all.
The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba organizes the Manitoba Summer Fair every June on the Keystone grounds. With a midway full of rides and games, a petting zoo, and agricultural exhibits, it is one of the most anticipated events the city sees annually, appealing to both kids and adults alike. Other outdoor events have included the Super Run Car Show, Monster Trucks, music festivals and the 1997 Canada Games Closing Ceremonies, once again highlighting the diversity of events the complex is able to hold.
The Keystone Centre staff are one of a kind and are eager to assist in any way possible. The facility is fully licensed and offers on-site and off-site catering and service, concessions and basic AV as well as internal marketing and annual community advertising opportunities. Maintenance and engineering staff are always on hand to operate heavy equipment, clean and maintain event space or ensure the room temperatures and ice plants are working accordingly.
Thomson says the easiest way to book the facility is through a direct phone call. “Because of the ability to handle large [events], we deal with a number of clients that haven’t been here before, so it really does require a site visitation. I would suggest that they see the alternatives and the options that we can provide,” he explains, “I think just that personal call or a visitation is the easiest way to get things started and then we take it from there.”
For someone looking to host any size event in a community sure to welcome them, the Keystone Centre is, without a doubt, the largest and most versatile location you will find.