In 1948, a group of leading Calgary businessmen shared a common vision: the establishment of an exclusive not-for-profit club where they and their peers could gather to meet, dine and connect for both business and social purposes. The founders envisioned a place in downtown Calgary to share information, make deals, cement relationships and which would become the epicentre of the city’s business community.
This vision culminated, soon after, in the formation of the Calgary Petroleum Club (the CPC or the club).
Today – 70 years later – the CPC is all of these things and much more. It is the premier club for Calgary business while at the same time, the CPC has adapted to changing times. Membership represents the diversity of Calgary’s business community, and includes young business leaders and executives from new industries as well as energy professionals. The CPC is focused on the services, offerings and atmosphere that reflect what today’s business people desire. The CPC remains as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1948.
“The CPC has a rich history and tradition in the Calgary community,” says Michael Erickson, 2017-18 CPC president, and president and CEO of Chronos Resources Ltd. “We have worked hard to hold onto that history and tradition, while continuing to adapt to the rapid changes in our business environment.” The youngest president in the CPC’s history (he is 42 years old), Erickson is determined to ensure the club is relevant to its increasingly diverse member base.
To this end, a $7-million, four-month rejuvenation of the CPC was just completed under his watch. The final product when it reopened on October 16: a modern, world-class facility. “What you now see is a blend of keeping with the rich tradition and history of the club, but bringing the facility to a new level,” Erickson says proudly. “I think the new facility sets the club up for success for many years to come.”
In the Beginning
Oilmen and their companies have called Calgary home since the early 1900s, when drillers discovered the Turner Valley oilfield, southwest of the city. Imperial Oil, Shell and Sun Oil opened offices in Calgary, as did other international companies. By the Second World War, Alberta was producing more than 95 per cent of all the oil in Canada. And Calgary was the centre of the Canadian oil industry.
The inaugural meeting of the CPC took place in the Sun Room of the Palliser Hotel, Calgary’s premier hotel and the city’s tallest building at the time. Club meetings were held in a suite on the Palliser’s 11th floor. The approximately 60 original CPC members established what would quickly become Calgary’s top business club. The stature of the CPC was affirmed when, on April 13, 1950, the Duke of Windsor attended lunch at the CPC and became its first honorary member. He was also the first person to sign the club’s guestbook.
In 1950, the CPC merged with the Renfrew Club (a competing business club). Integral to the merger was the understanding that the CPC would be a club for all businessmen – including bankers, ranchers, farmers and merchants – not exclusively oilmen. To honour this understanding, Ron Jenkins of Jenkins Grocery Store (a forerunner to Safeway in Calgary), a prominent businessman and household name, became president of the newly-merged club.
In 1958, a single-storey clubhouse was opened at 319 Fifth Avenue South West, and has remained the CPC’s home since. Members own both the land and the building, the latter to which significant changes have been made in the last 60 years – all part of the continual progression of the club. A second storey was added in 1977, and in 2005 an arson fire in the loading dock, which caused major smoke damage to the rest of the building, required four-and-a-half months of repairs. In 2007, the Wine Cellar replaced the billiards room in the basement.
A More Diverse Club
The evolution of the CPC’s membership has been fundamental to its longevity and continued stature within the business community. Today, the approximately 1,700 members constitute a broad mix of business people of varying ages (from 21 years to 90-plus years), genders and from a cross section of industries. The CPC’s history illustrates the wisdom of adapting to progressive change. The CPC is a stronger club today as it enjoys a rich past and operates with a vision for the future.
An all-men’s club for decades, women were first invited to become full members in 1988. This change in the club’s membership policy was one of the most valuable changes the CPC has made since its inception.
In 2007, Bonnie DuPont became the first female president in the history of the CPC. DuPont joined the club in 1998 when she was a group vice president at Enbridge. “I was encouraged to join by my boss,” she recalls. “He was a member and really thought that it was a valuable experience. Good networking opportunities and a great place to entertain for business.”
At the time there were very few female members. “It was a different club,” she reflects. “Often when I entertained at lunch, I was the only woman in the room. But that started to change in the late 1990s, and of course, we have a great many women members now.”
In 2001, the late Bud McCaig, club president at the time, asked her to join the board. “I was thrilled and immediately said yes,” she recounts, “for two reasons. One, I really liked the CPC and I respected its history and traditions, and two, Bud told me I would be the first woman board member and I was thrilled by the challenge of being the first.”
DuPont worked to ensure more women joined the board. “I may have been the first, but I certainly was not the last,” she says proudly. In addition to more gender diversity, DuPont highlights other changes too. “We not only have gender diversity, but we are a more ethnically-diverse club. We are also more age diverse. We attract younger members, and members not only from the petroleum sector, but from other sectors as well.”
Younger members – between the ages of 21 and 36 – are a category of particular focus for the CPC. In 2014, the membership voted to create a separate Young Professionals (YP) category for these business people. YP members pay lower monthly dues and have a lower annual spend requirement. Today, there are approximately 300 YP members.
“With a club like the CPC, it is important to respect the history and tradition of the club and its long-standing members, while continuing to gain new members to carry the future of the club for the next generation,” says Erickson.
Elysse Dalla-Longa, of Tidal Energy Marketing Inc., is part of that next generation. She was initially asked to be in a focus group when the CPC was deciding how to structure its new young member initiative. “After attending several events – a father-daughter dinner, a chef’s dinner in the Cellar, and a leaders and mentors lunch – I decided to join as a YP member,” she recounts. “I had just returned to Alberta after working four years in Montreal and saw joining as the best opportunity to grow my network within the Calgary business community.”
Dalla-Longa joined the board in 2016 – the first YP member so honoured. She now chairs the house services subcommittee, and sits on the entertainment and marketing subcommittees.
“The experience has been excellent,” she extols. “I believe the board values my insight as a young professional in our business community as I bring a fresh perspective as well as new ideas on how to further engage the YPs. I’m able to learn how to lead and participate in board-level activity and am a full participant in our planning and decision-making.”
The 2017 Renovation
In 2016, the CPC determined that it had to also update its physical presence, ultimately to ensure it could fulfil its mission to be Calgary’s premier business club. In 2017, after consultations with members, the club executed the most substantial renovation in its history. Toni-Marie Ion-Brown, a 26-year club employee, became the club’s first female general manager in February with the mandate to lead the club through this project.
Ion-Brown worked with the board’s facility enhancement committee, led by past president, Kevin Cumming, and with Lignum Interiors Inc., to bring the renovation project on stream both on time and on budget.
“The board’s strategic planning work in 2015 identified the desire of our membership to update our facility,” Ion-Brown explains. The renovation was extensive and ranged from a new exterior facade with the new CPC branding to a complete modification of all of the membership spaces of the club. “The carpets, the furniture, the wood – all needed a refresh. We created a cohesive facility master plan so that the entire club was updated, has design continuity and has the elegant atmosphere that our members desire.” The woodwork, carpets and new furniture match throughout the club. Modern light fixtures replaced old ones and the CPC’s art collection was cleaned, re-matted, reframed and rearranged for more prominent display.
A key objective of the renovation was to improve club spaces and ambience. Examples include major changes to the entrance and front lounge that now features more seating and glass walls for greater openness. “It’s more inviting and draws people in,” says Ion-Brown.
The renovation team wanted to ensure changes to the club were not simply cosmetic but also developed new themes and enhanced services for members.
The card room in the basement is now a brand-new sports bar, combining classic menu items such as the “derrick steak sandwich” with new ‘pub-style’ menu items, 12 craft beer on tap (a flight of five tasters is available), 20 premium wines by glass, six large TVs and extended weekend hours. This area of the club has a loyal following of diners and card players and the CPC has ensured this area will also be a friendly spot for these members as it provided new card tables and a poker table.
The objective to better accommodate members includes the addition of new services for members on the go. A coffee bar was added beside the Plus 15 entrance. “Today, meetings happen over coffee,” Ion-Brown says. “So we added a ‘fast-and-fresh’ concept there. You can grab breakfast or lunch and take it back to the office, or stay and eat it at the countertop where you can plug in your device and do some work. It’s space to have a casual bite, coffee or meeting.”
The renovation facilitated change but has many aspects that maintain the feel and tradition of the club, including a dedicated area in the main-floor lounge that features historical memorabilia. The original membership certificates, the CPC’s coat of arms, old menus and pictures are important artifacts from the CPC’s rich past. “We have a lot of history, and we wanted to keep a lot of it down in the ‘well’ of the Renfrew Lounge,” Ion-Brown explains.
The CPC’s wine collection – one of the best in Western Canada with approximately 17,000 bottles – is more prominently displayed outside the Wine Cellar too. A wall of wine was added at the Plus 15 entrance, as well as in the Trophy Lounge, which also showcases the Canadian Energy Executive Association (previously the Oilmen’s Association) trophies. “We want to show our members what we do,” Ion-Brown says.
The club made a number of functional changes that ensure it can provide its members exceptional facilities for the wide variety of events it hosts. The audio system was completely replaced and state-of-the-art visual and information technology services were installed, including in all 11 private meeting rooms. The expense account tracking system was updated in order to more easily track member and spousal expenses (spouses receive free memberships).
Accessibility was also enhanced throughout the CPC. Lifts and permanent ramps were added and a member’s elevator installed. New accessible washroom stalls were also added to the upper and basement-floor washrooms.
“I think we’ve found the balance between the past, the present and the future,” Ion-Brown opines. “I’ve got longtime members sending me notes to say how much they love their club, and then we’ve got the young ones who want to join – it’s a good mix.”
“In my opinion, this renovation is helping to increase the relevancy to the younger generations of business persons,” says Eugene Venini, a longtime member. “Professionalism, great food and the quality of the business experience are constants that have not changed.” Venini’s father was a founding member whose certificate hangs on the wall of the ‘well.’ Venini Sr. joined the CPC after returning from the Second World War and maintained his membership until his death in 2007.
The Premier Club for Calgary Business
The best time and place to witness the significance of the CPC to the business community is in the main lobby between 11:45a.m. and 12:15p.m. on any given business day. A cross-section of high-profile executives, attorneys, accountants, bankers and community leaders all congregate to meet their luncheon guest or host and to cross-pollinate with one another before heading off to a luncheon to seal a deal, plant a seed or settle a difference. (Location for lunch matters: a high-profile lunch in the McMurray Room might say that we are good friends whereas a deal may be completed in a private space in the basement or a secluded room on the second floor.)
“I joined by basically taking over my father’s membership in my own right to carry on the tradition in our business,” explains Venini. “I have many great memories of business meetings where deals were finalized and great business relationships were developed. Having been introduced to politicians, judges and business leaders by my father has held fond memories for me.”
Indeed, if the walls of the CPC could talk, one can only imagine what they would say. Business leaders have made countless deals in the 70-year-old club, many of them historic. One local success story is the creation of FirstEnergy Capital Corporation through a series of meetings at the club. The unique attributes of the CPC enabled the founders of FirstEnergy to meet privately in a prominent business meeting location.
“FirstEnergy opened its doors September of 1993 and the four founding partners spent a year prior to that planning the strategy around the business,” explains Jim Davidson, deputy chairman at GMP FirstEnergy and one of the founding partners (the others were N. Murray Edwards, Rick Grafton and W. Brett Wilson). “We would go into the CPC on a Tuesday evening once every couple of weeks, into what would now be the Midale Room on the second floor. We would have a working dinner and discuss all of the attributes of the business model that we were proposing, including the philanthropic portion of the business, which was very new to Calgary and the financial services industry, and for which we would become very famous.”
This was all done in secret, with the men arriving and departing the club through different doors.
The four men decided everything in those meetings, including the structure, capital structure, name, size, target employees and timing of the future business development. “The entire business was planned in the CPC and no one figured out that we were doing it,” Davidson marvels. “It was kept completely secret, which, in retrospect, considering how busy the club is, was a bit of a miracle.”
FirstEnergy went on to become a leading energy investment boutique in Canada, and the CPC remained a staple for the business. “After the formation of FirstEnergy, the CPC was still used as our favourite meeting place with clients and for hosting events, and that relationship has survived until this very day,” says Davidson. “If you were to pick one focal point that served as the pin in the centre map of the oil and gas industry, it would be the CPC.”
A Social Gathering Place Too
It’s not all about business though. Venini highlights the many social benefits he’s enjoyed over the years. “Social events during the history of our family from holiday celebrations to special events have been very memorable. More recently New Year’s Eve parties have provided great fun for my wife and me.”
Ion-Brown concurs and notes the various programming that goes beyond business. This includes the leaders/mentors lunches for the YP crowd, member/daughter and member/son nights, seafood nights, Scotch nights and paint-and-sip classes, to name a few. “People are multidimensional,” she says, “so our programming has to be multidimensional. We have lots and lots of programming to appeal to all different segments.”
Erickson enjoys these events because he can involve his two sons in them. “They have been developing memories of coming to the CPC for events such as member/son nights and the annual children’s Christmas party,” he says. “A large part of my motivation for taking on these roles with the CPC is to do my part in ensuring that the club remains so that my sons have the option to become members when they begin building their careers, whatever that might be.”
As a member of the entertainment subcommittee, Dalla-Longa is now in charge of building the CPC’s “clubs within the club” strategy, including expanded mentorship programs and a new wine club, Scotch club, book club and card club, among others. These clubs are all driven by members as volunteers.
The Future: Another 70 Years and Beyond
All agree – the CPC has a bright future. “The CPC has continued to be the “go-to” place for business, political and social leaders to gather and discuss relevant issues facing our city, province and country,” says Erickson. “It carries a well-respected name across North America as being one of the premier business clubs, and works hard to continue to carry that reputation.”
Proof of this reputation: CPC members enjoy privileges at 50 clubs around the world through reciprocal agreements.
“The benefits are different for the various demographics and age groups,” Erickson adds. “The YP members in their career-building stage gain unique exposure to networking and programs such as the leaders/mentors program and many other valuable events which are exclusive to the CPC. Active members (ages 36-65) in their executive-career stages continue to meet with peers and colleagues to discuss the current business and political issues along with consummating the occasional business deal at the club. Equally as important, our senior members, who continue to come and support the club as leaders and mentors of the Calgary business community, are known and recognized by younger members as pillars of industry, and continue to gather with their longtime friends and colleagues. The CPC truly has an iconic place in Calgary’s great tradition of entrepreneurship and relentless positive outlook for our bright future.”
Venini agrees, “The importance of the club can not only be measured by its expansive history but also by its relevance to the current business community and the new generations of Calgary business members.”
“It is a world-class club, just like the city in which it thrives,” declares DuPont. “It is a meeting place; a hub. People say ‘let’s have lunch at the club’ and everyone knows what they are talking about. THE Club. Yes, I think the club will be here 70 years from now.”
An entrenched part of Calgary’s history, the CPC will forever hold an important place in the past. Its place in the future – whatever it may look like – is a certainty: its members, board of governors, senior management and staff guarantee it.