When the new Ottawa Congress Centre (now Shaw Centre) officially opened on April 13, 2011, there was much anticipation regarding how this state-of-the-art convention facility in the heart of the nation’s capital would perform. With its bold, modern architecture, the building quickly became an iconic part of Ottawa’s landscape, drawing much praise for its unconventional, attractive appearance. The new Centre’s immediate success resulted in it being honoured with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s New Business of the Year Award in 2011 and the awards and accolades have continued to flow in. It’s most recent and prestigious award was announced this year as the International Association of Conference Centres (AIPC) APEX awarded the Shaw Centre “World’s Best Convention Centre”. The Shaw Centre joins a prestigious list of convention centres from around the world who have claimed this title. The award is granted every two years in recognition of the highest rating on client surveys received by a convention centre. It is based on a comprehensive analysis of the centre’s performance based on customer satisfaction surveys.
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2021, Shaw Centre has rightfully earned and maintained its position as Canada’s Meeting Place. “I think one of the things that descriptor best represents is a reflection of the pride everyone associated with the Centre shares at being located in our nation’s beautiful capital city,” reflects Nina Kressler, who has served as president and CEO of Shaw Centre since June 2015. “Ottawa is home to the majority of the country’s association executives so we have the unique ability to stay in touch with our clientele frequently throughout the year. Being known as Canada’s Meeting Place has become increasingly more significant to me since my arrival here as general manager in 2013. I’ve worked hard with my team and our stakeholders in the city to successfully grow our reputation as a first class meeting destination in Canada.”
Far from resting on its laurels, Shaw Centre has been continuously upgrading and enhancing the facility over the past ten years. A partial list of key infrastructure investments includes:
- LED lighting retrofit (2015-2023) – enhanced lighting saves energy and provides greater ambiance and a more comfortable guest experience.
- New main entrance (2020) – with superior cladding and glazing, the new doors provide a significant upgrade in terms of insulation and air entry into the building.
- Building automation optimization and occupancy sensors (2020) – these sensors maximize the efficiency of our systems and reduce our hydro and gas consumption by as much as 80%.
- Free cooling system (in progress) – this upgrade will utilize outdoor air during cooler months to assist in cooling LAN rooms and the refrigeration system.
Sustainability is always on the radar at Shaw Centre. Beyond the eco-features incorporated into the original design and construction of the building, initiatives in this area over the past five years include:
- Purchase of a high-capacity cardboard baler, diverting roughly 30 tonnes of material from landfill each year.
- Implementation of a recycling wall in the loading dock area, making it easier and more efficient to recycle as many items as possible, including metal, batteries, light bulbs, paint cans, etc.
- Installation of an ORCA composting machine, resulting in approximately 40 tonnes of food waste diverted, 30 kg less methane gas generated, almost 40 tonnes less greenhouse gas generated and roughly 7625 litres less diesel fuel used per year.
Health and safety is of paramount importance at Shaw Centre. “Our guests’ comfort and safety, as well as that of our employees, has always been a top priority,” notes Kressler. “We continuously update our website’s health and safety page; this is nothing new for us. The Centre has taken advantage of the pause in hosting events to implement additional safety enhancements, such as:
- Installation of a Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization (NPBI) air purifying system on air handlers and passenger elevators. This system eliminates airborne particulates, odors, and pathogens while also saving 30% on energy consumption and lowering carbon footprint by reducing outdoor air intake by up to 75%.
- Implementation of electrostatic sprayers which utilize electrostatic technology to evenly coat surfaces and provide complete disinfection of surfaces.
- Installation of automatic touchless flush valves on all toilets and urinals.
- Installation of UV-C wavelength scanners on escalator handrails to continuously and effectively eliminate harmful bacteria on high-touch surfaces.
Since opening, Shaw Centre has been committed to culinary excellence with a focus on cuisine that is locally sourced and globally inspired. Executive Chef Patrick Turcot took things a step farther in 2017, ensuring our vision as ‘Canada’s Meeting Place’ was more fully aligned with our menu. Today, the Centre routinely showcases specialized ingredients and products from local and Canadian suppliers with a focus on sustainability. Menu enhancements include a greater range of delicious, health-conscious dishes including an emphasis on plant-based proteins plus other vegan and vegetarian offerings.
It’s not only the menu that gets constantly refreshed; methods of presentation and delivery are always being updated too. From food theatre inspired chef-centered stations, to ‘build your own’ centres, family-style service, taco trucks and street foods, market style, wine and food pairing, small plates, bowls and networking stations, the culinary team at Shaw Centre loves creating new ways to nourish and delight guests. House-made prepackaged meals, likely to be a short-term hallmark of events coming out of the pandemic, are not a new offering but will be expanded and enhanced.
As they continue to expand and refine the Centre’s menus, executive chef Turcot and his brigade also look forward to building on the success of some of the special activities they have introduced such as pop ups offering public concessions, demos and virtual cook-alongs, culinary clashes (interactive cooking competitions) and By55 Lazy Mondays which are collaborative dinners featuring top local chefs, held in the Centre’s unique crEATe kitchen.
Other initiatives which the Shaw Centre team has undertaken which both improve and reflect the outstanding guest experience and contribute to employee satisfaction include:
- Establishing the Leave a Legacy program whereby clients are offered an opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ through donations of surplus supplies, such as delivering 20,000 square feet of gently-used carpeting from the Ottawa Gatineau International Auto Show to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
- Partnering with Mealshare, to extend the opportunity for our clients to support the work of this national, not-for-profit organization helping in the fight to end youth hunger.
- Participating in the Tablée des Chefs program, a sustainable food brokerage service that helps facilities safely and sustainably recover consumable food products and donate them to local charitable institutions such as the Shepherds of Good Hope and the Ottawa Mission.
- Reaching record high customer satisfaction survey scores of 4.8 out of 5.
As Kressler and her team look to build on the achievements of the past decade, she acknowledges that like the rest of the hospitality industry, Shaw Centre knows things will have to be done differently, but nothing can ever replace human interaction. “The sound of a large event breaking for coffee and being able to hardly hear oneself think over the din of happy conversation is something I really miss,” she explains. “You don’t really realize the energy people create when brought together until you walk through an empty building, which I have done frequently during the pandemic. Events draw people together to celebrate success, personal and professional achievements, product launches and medical miracles, to name but a few. People travel far and wide to come to events at Shaw Centre. I see lasting friendships and memories made when we host events and can’t wait for these moments to happen again. Seeing staff busy and smiling while carrying out their duties is heart-warming. I truly miss them all! Without a doubt, COVID19 will likely dominate the conversation as we are start to gather again but I welcome the day when this topic becomes a distant memory.”