1. The first sporting event, Whitecaps-Sounders:
A packed house of almost 60,000 people turned out in June of 1983 to watch the NASL Vancouver Whitecaps take on the Seattle Sounders in the brand-spanking-new B.C. Place.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, who was among the players on the pitch that day, said while some people were there to cheer on the ‘Caps, others were there only to check out the new stadium.
“Coming out and seeing 60,000 people in the building was certainly a great experience,” Lenarduzzi said.
BCTV televised the match and Lenarduzzi remembers being interviewed about what it was like to play in the dome in front of a sell-out crowd.
“I remember my response,” Lenarduzzi said. “If someone had told me, as a teenager, that we would be playing in a domed stadium in downtown Vancouver in front of 60,000 people, I would have said they needed to be taken away in a straightjacket … It really was something special.”
2. Pope John Paul II, a Celebration of Life:
The first major event held under the dome at B.C. Place was the visit by Pope John Paul II in September 1984.
Monsignor Gregory Smith, pastor of Christ the Redeemer Parish in West Vancouver, said the cheer the pope received when he came into the stadium in a pickup truck “just about lifted off the roof … Honestly, I swear it lifted a few inches.”
Smith, then 28, was a seminary student in Rome but had returned to B.C. for the summer to work as an aide to Archbishop James Carney.
Smith was in charge of the archbishop’s speech that day and was on a helicopter, with then-premier Bill Bennett and Lt.-Gov. Robert Rogers, that was late getting to Vancouver from Abbotsford.
The pilot, who wanted to get a better view of the pope in Abbotsford, had wandered outside the security perimeter and lacked the clearance to get back.
When they finally arrived in Vancouver, it was too late for the lieutenant-governor to give his speech.
“I was as strung out as I had ever been and yet it all melted away when the pope came into the stadium.”
The pope, Smith said, was seated on a swivel chair on the stage. There were costumed dancers and singers, banners and streamers. Smith called it a choreographed celebration of joy and welcome.
“It was like a small-scale version of the Olympic opening — there were no inflatables.”
3. Rick Hansen, Man in Motion and Olympic and Paralympic opening ceremonies:
Three times — so far — Man in Motion Rick Hansen has wheeled his way onto a stage under the dome to thunderous applause.
And all three times, Hansen said, he has been blown away by the energy and support.
“The enthusiasm was palpable,” said Hansen of the March 1987 homecoming celebration at B.C. Place that concluded his 40,000-kilometre Man in Motion Tour.
Fans held up signs and large letters that spelled Welcome Home Rick. David Foster and British musician John Parr performed St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion), which was written by Foster in Hansen’s honor.
“It really was all that I ever could have imagined the tour being, coming to life,” he said. “The dream and reality were the same.“
This past spring — 25 years later — Hansen again rolled onto a stage at B.C. Place as an Olympic torchbearer and cauldron lighter in the most spectacular event ever held under the dome.
“It was clear how much joy and enthusiasm there was in the crowd and how clear and easy it was for me to express that joy … We welcomed the world.”
One month later, Hansen was back as a speaker during the Paralympic opening ceremonies and said the look on the faces of the athletes was a phenomenal experience.