As Canada’s largest city, Toronto is a vibrant and fascinating mix of neighbourhoods, cultures, languages and cuisines. As a tourist destination, few Canadian cities can rival the sheer number and variety of attractions that Toronto has to offer.
From tourist havens such as the iconic CN Tower to the flourishing theatre and entertainment district; the chi-chi shoppes of trendy Yorkville to the big-league excitement of professional sports, Toronto should be able to please both the budget-conscious planner and fun-seeking delegate alike. And with more than 35,000 centrally located hotel rooms providing out-of-town guests with countless lodging options, it’s a virtual panacea for meeting and event planners looking for one-stop shopping within the downtown core.
“Globalization is as synonymous with the meetings industry and its constituents as it has become for just about everyone,” explains David Whitaker, President and CEO of Tourism Toronto. “In the specific case of a Canadian- or US-based corporation seeking an international platform – be it host city, content, sponsorships or attendees – Toronto is providing this.”
Business travel and in particular, convention and meetings bookings, continue to provide solid, long-term business for the region. In July 2011, Toronto won one of the most prestigious and sought-after meetings in the world as Microsoft chose the city for its 2012 Worldwide Partner Conference. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend, representing technology companies in 130 countries. Over 500 events take place during the conference and at least 30 hotels across the Toronto region will host delegates.
“Winning a prestigious meeting for such a widely admired company is not only a boost to the local economy but a testament to Toronto’s ability to host major events,” says Whitaker. “There’s a new buzz about Toronto that is translating into a growing awareness and interest in this community as a visitor and meetings destination that can deliver on our guests’ expectations.”
In addition to Toronto’s close proximity by air or car to major U.S. and Canadian population centres, the city’s multicultural flavour is also proving to be an attraction unto itself.
“One of my favorite factoids about Toronto is that in our most recent census, 50 per cent of Toronto’s population was not born in Canada,” says Whitaker. “This provides a mosaic and richness of cultural and international diversity simply not found in its abundance just about anywhere else. If diversity matters to a client or customer, Toronto can provide amazing opportunities, particularly when a planner wants to organize an event outside of a traditional hotel or meeting space to enhance a meeting experience that, quite frankly, few others can replicate.”
But what happens when you are willing to venture off the grid of traditional meeting and event venues? Plenty, if our brief tour of Toronto’s unique spaces and places is any indication. Here’s a look at just a few of the historical, cultural and tourist-friendly options to be found in the GTA:
The Distillery District
Located in the downtown core minutes from Toronto’s financial district, the Distillery District has become an increasingly popular site for hosting special events for up to 600 people. A rising star on Ontario’s tourist scene, the Distillery District is a historically fascinating 13-acre village of brick-lined streets and vibrantly refurbished Victorian industrial buildings and factories. And with its pedestrian-only streets (ample parking is available nearby), traffic distractions and street noise are minimal. The Distillery District boasts a full range of unique event venues, from small intimate spaces to impressive industrial chic settings with soaring 35-foot ceilings. Another noteworthy aspect of the Distillery is its reputation for food – courtesy of world-renowned chefs Jason Rosso and Andre Walker. www.thedistillerydistrict.com
An architectural masterpiece, the Carlu has been completely refurbished and restored to its sleek original Art Moderne glory. Designated as a National Historic Site, the Carlu offers a unique combination of multi-functionality and simple sophistication that provides guests with an experience of the world-class service of days gone by. Just minutes from hotels, restaurants and entertainment, the Carlu features a multitude of modern upgrades. A 10,000 sq. ft. Grand Foyer welcomes guests to the glamour of 1930’s retro-chic and serves as the main meeting space for larger events, while several smaller function spaces, including the spectacular Round Room, are well suited for more intimate events ranging anywhere from 10 to 350 people. www.thecarlu.com
From its origins as one of Canada’s pre-eminent brickyards in the 1880s, the Evergreen Brick Works has evolved into a unique collection of restored heritage buildings nestled in Toronto’s lush ravines and is an ideal venue for a special event. The Brick Works offer a variety of historical event spaces, from the 225-seat BMO Atrium to the Pavilions and Holcim Gallery, which have a standing reception capacity of up to 2,000. The Evergreen Brick Works also features several smaller meeting and event spaces, ranging in capacity from 15 to 1,500 people. www.ebw.evergreen.ca
Art Gallery of Ontario
Featuring a spectacular collection of more than 73,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. After undergoing a major renovation and expansion starting in 2002, the 110-year-old AGO provides a dramatic backdrop to corporate functions in several well-designed spaces. The Weston Family Learning Centre offers spacious, open meeting rooms which hold up to 80 people, while the Jackman Hall meeting space has a theatre-style capacity of 200 with a stage that can be arranged in multiple setups. On-site catering is available for both rooms or delegates can enjoy lunch or dinner at the AGO’s FRANK restaurant. www.ago.net
Royal Ontario Museum
If you’d like to add a little historical or cultural flavor to your next corporate event, the Royal Ontario Museum presents a few unique options. Along with over 30 galleries showcasing art, archaeology and natural science, the ROM offers a number of beautiful and functional meeting spaces for a variety of purposes. The Hyacinth Gloria Chen Crystal Court is a soaring atrium lobby with large walls and a vast interior space for special events. The Rotunda, considered one of Toronto’s finest architectural spaces, was formerly the museum’s main entrance and is now used for special occasions. And if lectures or presentations are required, the Signy and Cleophee Eaton Theatre has capacity for 300 and features extensive technical amenities. www.rom.on.ca
Toronto Centre for the Arts
From the simple to the extravagant, the Toronto Centre for the Arts provides an uptown option for meetings and events in the GTA. Just minutes from Highway 401 in the heart of North York, the Toronto Centre for the Arts offers numerous unique and impressive spaces. One of the most flexible rooms is the streamlined Studio Theatre, with a traditional proscenium theatre-style set-up as its most popular configuration. Alternatively, the Centre features two elegant event spaces, including the Piano Lounge and the airy Art Deco Lobby, as well as an additional theatre option in the George Weston Recital Hall with its exposed wood finish to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. www.tocentre.com
As the focal point of Toronto’s skyline since the 1970s, the CN Tower is virtually synonymous with tourism in Toronto. Once you get past the obvious thrills of walking on a glass floor thousands of feet above the city below or the breathtaking views from the signature 360 Restaurant, the CN Tower is proving to be a popular combination of tourist destination and meeting venue in a single location. “One of our most important selling features is the ability to combine spectacular unique settings not found anywhere in the world with award-winning cuisine and ambiance,” says Jack Robinson, Chief Operating Officer. “Plus our versatility allows for all manner of creative and innovative events which can be easily customized.” In 2006, the CN Tower added new meeting and event space at the base, which includes 1,100 sq. ft. of flexible space adjacent to the tower’s 144-seat Maple Leaf Cinema. www.cntower.ca
Ontario Science Centre
Just 15 minutes from downtown Toronto in the Don Valley parkland, the Ontario Science Centre is another venue that does a great job of playing to its strengths as both a major tourist draw and increasingly popular meeting space. From team-building workshops to corporate “scavenger hunts,” the Science Centre offers a unique opportunity to combine education with business in a fun but professional atmosphere. From the Procter & Gamble Great Hall with its dramatic two-storey, floor-to-ceiling windows to a wide assortment of studio and theatre style-spaces, the Science Centre is definitely an off-the-grid venue worth exploring. www.ontariosciencecentre.ca
Hockey Hall of Fame
For planners looking to add some nostalgia and fun to the meeting itinerary, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a world-class attraction centrally located in the heart of downtown Toronto. It is home to Canada’s national sport and treasures such as hockey’s Holy Grail – the legendary Stanley Cup – and can accommodate a variety of meetings and events. The Esso Theatre can be set up in any configuration, from theatre to classroom to rounds, while the Hartland Molson is the perfect space for presentations. It has 125 fixed theatre seats and an HD projection system with 12’ by 20’ HD screen. www.hhof.com