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At 1:45 p.m., after two years of construction, and as part of a festival gala that draws more than 41,000 people, BC Place — the world’s largest air-supported stadium — is officially opened and dedicated by Premier Bill Bennett.
“It was billed as an entertainment extravaganza, complete with singers, dancers, ice-skaters, and musicians,” gushes The Province. “But it was clear from the start that the real star of the show was not the cast of 1200 performers but the B.C. Place stadium itself.”
“The patchwork fabric roof vaulted overhead,” adds The Sun‘s Pete McMartin. “It looked wonderful, and let in a milky white light from the outside. The fabric roof is vastly more interesting than a conventional concrete roof and people in their seats spent a good deal of the time looking up at it, as if the thing had a life of its own.”
The $126-million facility, completed on time and on budget, features concession stands that serve wine and craft beer, a stadium video-board billed by the Province as “the most modern and advanced in the world,” and, much to the amusement of reporters, a series of “vomitories” — defined by Webster’s as “an entrance piercing the banks of seats of a theatre or amphitheatre.”
“The corridors are a stadium’s streets, and the streets were crowded,” McMartin continues. “Hawkers’ shouts echoed through them and what would a ballpark be without the musical barking of hawkers? ‘Get your official B.C. Place stadium souvenir programs here! Programs here! Programs!’”
Other highlights include the Canadian Brass, skaters Karen Magnussen and Toller Cranston, and a “spectacular dancing waters display”. However, despite the pomp and ceremony, its is estimated that the celebration (televised in its entirety on BCTV and described by McMartin as “mercifully swift and decidedly middle-of-the-road”) actually lost money, falling short of selling the 50,000 tickets needed simply to break even.
“Is this show on TV?” an attendee asks, overheard by a Province reporter.
“Yes,” his companion responds. “People all over the country are starting to turn off their sets now.”
IMAGE: BC Place under construction, circa 1981. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library.