The live events industry had been completely upended, and the work within it redefined, over the 18 months prior to the 2021 Canadian Event Awards. But in the face of this, the team at Canadian Special Events Magazine (CSE) knew that bringing our community together to celebrate was more important than ever.

“In 2020, the Awards happened in 3 weeks, at a time when no one really believed you could create any kind of experience in a digital event,” shares Jason Koop, Vice President, Sales and Marketing at CSE. “It was a big success… this year, our goal was to go even further with a hybrid event.”

Taking things to the next level meant bringing in the right partners, and that started with TK Events, a live events agency based in Toronto, with offices in Vancouver and the UK. Back at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, TK Events had quickly set to work developing its own “virtual venue” platform, focused on building customization and guest experience into virtual events.

“By the end of the year,” says Trish Knox, President of TK Events, “we’d done over 100 events, with audiences in over 86 countries. It opened our eyes – this is the future of our business and our industry.”

This platform was the perfect launch pad for the 2021 Canadian Event Awards, which would rely heavily on technology to bring together two in-person locations – one at a studio in Toronto and one at Experience Factory in Calgary – as well as watch parties and virtual guests all across Canada. The event had originally been meant to take place at Casa Loma, Toronto, and in lieu of being on-site, TK Events digitally recreated the venue via the TK Events Virtual Platform. Interactive engagement and experience was built into every aspect of the platform, from video chatting and mingling in the pre-show lounge to galleries for viewing the night’s nominees and voting on the Planner’s Choice Awards. 

Throughout the evening, hosts and presenters in front of live audiences in both Toronto and Calgary would guide viewers through the night’s program, intermingled with pre-recorded content. On the ground in the Toronto studio was bbBlanc, who served as command central, leading the production and livestreaming the Calgary feed within the virtual venue platform. In Calgary, the experience was in the hands of the team at Experience Factory – OneWest Event Design and Orange Frog Productions, and audio/visual partner ProShow.

“We had live cameras here in Calgary that fed directly back to the team in Toronto,” Dustin Westling, Managing Partner of OneWest Event Design and co-owner of Experience Factory explains. “We were producing a show here in Calgary, and the production work was being done live and in real time in Toronto.”

“Collaboration between the two was pretty key,” Trish expands. “It definitely took all of us understanding what needed to happen and connecting ahead of time to put all the pieces in place to make it happen.”

In close collaboration with the team at CSE, TK Events sat down to map out the story that would be told throughout the night – stories of innovation, pivoting, and community, stories of entirely new niche industries and businesses being born. Stories that would be told by industry leaders from across Canada. As pre-recorded content was developed and collected by the CSE team, production calls between TK Events, Experience Factory, and bbBlanc detailed every moment of the night from start to finish, to ensure that the evening would flow seamlessly and deliver the type of matchless experience CSE was imagining. 

“We had a team working on the virtual platform and the design of that whole experience,” Trish explains, “and we had two producers – one concerned with what was happening in Toronto and developing the overall flow, and another with the remote locations and the recordings that were being gathered by CSE and coming to us.”

The result was an awards show that went beyond what anyone had expected, at a time when event profs needed to be inspired, celebrated, and reminded of the great potential and possibility that will always exist for an industry tirelessly dedicated to bringing people together, no matter what the challenges.


The 2021 Canadian Event Awards gave event profs in Canada a reason to celebrate, and acknowledged and recognized the incredible work that had been done over the course of the pandemic, despite all odds. The success of the hybrid event was the first step toward big goals that CSE has for the future of the Awards.

“Our industry has some amazing visual content and some great stories,” Jason explains, “and that’s the kind of stuff that makes for a great show. And so, as we evolve this, our goal is to make the Canadian Event Awards a great show – make it bigger, make it something with even wider reach and appeal.”

Additionally, the event demonstrated how experience-based virtual and hybrid events truly are the future of the industry, and when done right, are anything but a consolation prize. 

“There are some things that have come out of this that were sort of a long time coming,” Trish says, “like allowing audiences to consume content on their own terms. People realize that they can pick and choose now; they’re going to pick this conference to go to live, and choose to attend these 2 or 3 virtually. What we’ve found is that we’ve doubled or tripled our attendance, and we can still talk to virtual guests – it can be an experience.”

“Our guests and clients had been asking for this for a long time,” Dustin agrees, adding, “This has made a big impact on accessibility. There’s a big audience out there that doesn’t have the luxury of travel, for a variety of reasons, who can now take advantage of virtual experiences, of closed captioning. It really made the tech companies step up and start addressing these things, and that’s a huge win for our industry.”

Photo credit: Christy Swanberg