Business trip: Toronto
Toronto's famous CN Tower now stands amid a sea of new high rises. (Chris McGinnis)
Over the last decade, Toronto has come of age. No longer the quiet Canadian town it once was, the city is now a sparkling, bustling metropolis of 2.8 million people that feels more like Dubai or Shanghai.
Just like these two rapidly expanding cities where the skylines are often peppered with cranes, high rises are being built here at a rapid rate. In January 2011, there were 97 high-rise buildings under construction in Toronto and by June 2012 that number nearly doubled to 189.
In the last two years, four luxury high-rise hotels have also opened, welcoming the increasing number of upscale business travellers that are drawn to Toronto’s — and Canada’s — impressive economic expansion and stability in recent years.
International arrivals at the city’s Pearson International Airport were up 6% in the first half of 2012 compared to a year earlier. Currently, there is no rail connection between the airport and the city, and taxi fares are high – 50 to 60 Canadian dollars each way. However, a new Air Rail Link should be operational by 2015.
Toronto (pronounced “Traw-no” by locals) is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. The city’s central business district generally runs along an east-west axis, and the commercial core – including much of the new high-rise development and Bay Street, the heart of Canada’s financial industry, is located along the southern edge of the city. On the northern edge of downtown is the upscale Yorkville district, home to many of the city’s high-end hotels and restaurants. To the west of downtown is the massive suburb of Mississauga, with its own central core of skyscrapers and a population approaching 800,000.
But even with the massive development and in spite of its position as an emerging global capital of commerce, Toronto still feels comfortable, courteous and convenient for both visitors and locals.
Since the 267-room Ritz-Carlton, Toronto opened in the city’s central business district near the famous CN Tower in 2011, a parade of other luxury hotels have rushed in to capitalise on the surge of upscale visitors from across Canada and around the world. At the Ritz, every room offers dramatic city or lake views through floor-to-ceiling windows; from south-facing rooms, the CN Tower seems close enough to touch. Busy travellers who lack the time to soak up Toronto’s dynamic dining scene can instead enjoy the generous hospitality of its club level rooms, which come with access to a complimentary buffet of food and beverages throughout the day, as well as free wi-fi.
It is Manhattan-meets-Toronto at the chic, spire-capped, 261-room Trump International Hotel and Tower which opened in February 2012 on Bay Street near the head offices of Canada’s largest banks such as the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada. There is a small reception area and a bar on the ground level, but the action takes place on the higher floors; its Quartz Crystal spa on the 31st and 32nd floors sports a 20m saltwater lap pool and a big, bright fully-equipped fitness centre with expansive skyline views. Thoughtfully, when accessing the hotel’s fast and free in-room wi-fi, the connection is good for a week, even if the stay is for only a few days, which eliminates the irritating exercise of having to sign in each day.
The 202-room Shangri-La Toronto opened in August 2012, just in time to host the stars and starlets in town for the annual Toronto International Film Festival, which takes over the city each September. The modern-with-hints-of-Asia hotel/condo tower is a perfect example of Vancouverism, the glassy see-in, see-out architectural style of most of the city’s new high rises, inspired by similar architecture found in Vancouver. If you need some comfort food after a long day of meetings, dive into the ramen and pork buns at the brand new Momofuku Noodle Bar just off the hotel lobby.
Further north in the tony Yorkville neighbourhood, Four Seasons Hotels, which is headquartered in Toronto, opened a new flagship in October 2012. The all-glass, super-luxe 259-room Four Seasons Toronto is home to Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud’s new Café Boulud , offering a contemporary, local take on French cuisine.