When Crosbie Cotton arrived in Calgary in 1979 as a reporter, it was an exciting time for the city. As a reporter (and eventually editor-in-chief) for the Calgary Herald, Cotton had a front row seat when the Flames, Saddledome and Olympics arrived in succession. Forty years later, a similar situation has arisen, and the Journal spoke with Cotton to see what’s changed in the City of Calgary

Economic prosperity

“Alberta was also rich at the time under (former premier Peter) Lougheed. They had developed Kananaskis Country, they had developed some of the great museums and things like Drumheller, and the Reynolds Carriage, and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. We had a lot of money, and we were spending it on public projects.”

Charming the Olympic committee

“Wrap yourself in the Olympic flag. They wanted to win the Olympic bid, which they did in Baden-Baden, West Germany, that next year. Everything was about showing the seriousness that Calgary had to land the Olympics. It was a very competitive bid against Italy and Sweden, and they wanted to show a symbol that we were moving forward with construction. There ís no other way to describe it, other than they rode the back of the Olympics to a new arena that could house the Flames and Olympic events. It is like the Flames were actually secondary in the public thinking.”

Sharing the load

“The big difference, at the moment, is who is paying for it. It was positioned as an Olympic project, so the Feds payed a third of the cost, the province payed a third of the cost, and the city payed a third of the cost, which was mainly the value of the land and the utilities. And Ralph had a vision for this city, our premier Lougheed had a vision for the province, and they convinced the older Trudeau to support a Calgary Olympic bid. It wasnít just a City-Flames project, it was more driven by the Olympic bid committee. And totals aside, the whole bidding in 1980 and 1981 was funded by the bid committee, not the taxpayers. A big difference. It was an organization in Calgary, a booster club, that drove the bid.”

Mayor Klein,  the fighter

“Klein arrived right in the last stages of the Olympic bid, and he was a bull in a china shop. He didn’t like to take orders. The Olympics are an ego looking for a place to inflate, and Klein refused to kowtow to a bunch of rich people from around the world. He kept fighting for Calgarians, and their right to enjoy the Olympics. When the Saddledome was built, if you’ve ever been to the seats above the 200-level there, the Flames refused to put seats in there, because they wanted to ensure a sellout every game. If they had those seats, it was likely that people wouldnít pay more to be in the lower bowls, and Klein waged war with the Flames to have them put seats in those upper levels to have an extra three thousand people be able to attend Olympic hockey games.”

Flames ownership

“They wanted to make money too, but their prime motivator was to do something for Calgary, and that’s why they went after the Flames. You just have to look at their legacies in medical research in this city, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, McCaig Tower at the hospital. Tens of millions of dollars theyíve contributed to make healthcare in this city better, among other things. Quality people,and I think the owners today are still quality people.”

Emotion in politics

“I hate to say this, but there’s only two things you need to know about a politician: theyíre egotistical, and they donít forget number one. Nenshi’s ego got in the way. Another line is, it’s impossible to be rational when emotion is present, and I think it became an emotional discussion rather than a rational discussion.”


Editor: Jennie Price | jprice@cjournal.ca

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