Canada wins in more ways than one at the Winter Olympics


It didn't start out this way, but Ontario House at the Concord Pacific Site, part of the Winter Olympic facilities, has turned into a bit of a phenomenon for the people thronging Vancouver hungry for Olympic action. As the name suggests, Ontario House is a showcase for the Province of Ontario; like the other provincial pavilions within the site area, it promotes indigenous products and services, tourism and wine being prime examples. But Ontario House is more than a passive exposition, in the wider context it embraces state of the art technology to make its presentation vibrant, exciting; and as it happens, tailored to the visitor at quite an intimate level. Why are they thronging to it? We shall see.

"The project started out about a year ago," began Corry McGibbon, project leader for Apex Sound & Light, one of the principal technical contractors for the delights within Ontario House. "The main contractor for the building, EllisDon construction had to submit a proposal that included its functionality and how it would work and communicate with its visitors. Patrick McKenna from Infinite Stage Design engaged Apex to conceive and design a sound and light solution for the venue." McKenna picks up the story. "The 'Request for proposal' we received from the Government of Ontario was fairly descriptive, but left latitude for creative input. My company, Infinite Stage Design formed part of the team put together by EllisDon in collaboration with Nussli. The idea was not to be static, live acts of various types would appear all day; the aspect of food and beverage available all day inside Ontario House also proved a strong draw. And the 3D and 4D presentation modes we planned would give the visitor an unexpected perspective on events (4D in this context is 3D video with airborne scent enhancement)."

"The master proposal was submitted in the Spring of 2009", said McGibbon. "Naturally the initial idea has evolved quite a bit since then, as these things do. One of the key elements we included was that however complex and dispersed the audio system, we would maintain a one amplifier channel one loudspeaker scenario to enable total control and re-configurability. That has proved an absolute blessing."

The system specified by Apex is a selection from d&b audiotechnik. One of the principal functions of the pavilion is to stage a concert each night of the games and as such there is a main stage performance area with a d&b audiotechnik J-Series. This system is also used during the day for public appearance events, not least the world famous Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky who talks about his Ontario vineyard. But elsewhere Ontario House has other audio demands; the walls are festooned with a variety of video devices, and there are eight 9' by 16' projection screens, all of which require sound reinforcement of one kind or another. "We have drawn upon d&b inventory throughout, E3s as discreet fills, various types of Q-Series for delay and as a separate system in the lounge area." Said McGibbon. "It's all linked and controlled by d&b's R1 software, that remotely controls access to the one amp' channel, one loudspeaker rationale that has given us the flexibility to respond to the audience demand that has grown, even in the few short days since the games opened."

McKenna explained just how dynamically the venues' popularity has grown during the Games. "The first night was tricky because of over demand; the concert hall is licenced for seven hundred and fifty and probably five times that number turned up. But as I said, anticipation is everything; we already had audio set up outside, plus we put an LED video screen out there. It's just a shame it was raining so it wasn't that pleasant for the people outside. We learned lessons that first night and within eighteen hours had implemented changes. That's been a daily event now, where we review the positives and negatives of the day and because of the flexibility in built, make responses. We have for example increased our public access by a factor of three because it seems everyone wants to come here to watch the ice hockey."

Ontario House was designed by Nussli (Swiss specialists for events and expos) and it has solid wood walls concrete footings with insulated wood floor, and roof steel in abundance. "That's how we were able to hang a relatively large J-Series system in what is quite a small auditorium" said McGibbon. "While the acoustics aren't the friendliest, we've easily overcome the dangers of reflective surfaces and a reverberant ceiling with the tight accuracy of d&b pattern control; that was never going to be an issue with this system."

"We always wanted something cutting edge", said McKenna by way of conclusion. "Once we'd secured the bid we were left pretty much to our own devices to bring this to fruition. I've worked with Apex on projects for over eight years now so I was confident I could turn such things over to them and they'd make a great job of it, which is exactly what they've done. They reconfigured audio to suit the audience at any given time and responded particularly to the surges for ice hockey. The fact that Canada won Gold in the hockey tournament on the closing day was arguably the icing on the cake; it certainly had McKenna excited. "I've got a great team, a great client, and it's been a really great job."

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