These three cities, in particular, possess a unique cultural blend that’s attracting a growing share of meetings. Toronto, a city of striking skyscrapers and funky neighborhoods, has traditionally been the English-speaking “capital” of Canada, yet is now one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. Montreal, which blends French language and culture with a cosmopolitan urbanity, is the historic heart of New France in North America. And Quebec City, with 400-year-old neighborhoods (featuring spires and turrets) might be considered the soul of New France.
Toronto: the Master of Metamorphoses
Toronto has re-invented itself several times over the past half-century, from the staid, conservative center of English-speaking Canada in the ’60s to an exciting international capital today. But Toronto’s not done yet, with another re-invention taking place right now.
The city is hosting the Pan Am Games July 10–26 and Parapan Am Games Aug. 7–15. New buildings, public facilities and other additions are popping up on a weekly basis. One of them is Union Express, a train that will run from Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) into Union Station downtown. Union Station itself is now undergoing a renovation that will include adding on a significant amount of meeting space. The city has four major convention centers—two downtown and two at the airport.
Long the home of many government offices and major companies, Toronto now is also known for its booming music scene and plenty of new restaurants.
“Toronto is urban, exciting and always surprising,” says Tara Gordon, vice president of meeting and convention sales at Tourism Toronto. “Right now, for example, we’re seeing a boom in new hotels and event venues, along with the stunning redevelopment of the waterfront.
“Once considered ‘boring,’ Toronto is now one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world: More than half our residents were born outside Canada. This is a place where international ideas intersect with Canadian culture. And for meetings delegates, the result is a very exciting destination.”
The first residents of Toronto were tribal societies that arrived from the south 11,000 years ago, following the big game that sustained them. Then came the Iroquois and the Algonquians, and eventually the French, in the early 1700s. But they were displaced by the British, who won the French and Indian War, and arrived in the area in the early 1760s. From then on, Toronto has been an English-speaking city.
Now, however, it’s truly a multilingual city. More than 150 languages are spoken there. With a population of nearly 3 million, the city long ago passed Montreal as the largest in Canada. And it has one of North America’s most impressive skylines, punctuated by the stunning CN Tower, rising 1,815 feet above the shores of Lake Ontario.
Montreal: the Heart of New France
Montreal is the most bilingual city in North America, and the second-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris. Located on an island in the St. Lawrence Seaway, it’s predominantly French in language and culture, but has both French and English cultural influences.
Duality lies at the heart of Montreal, in its binational history, contrasts of old and modern-day architecture, and traditional and avant-garde styles. In Montreal, sleek skyscrapers nestle with tony boutiques, and major international festivals (including the acclaimed Montreal International Jazz Festival) and cool indie scenes happily co-exist. The metropolitan area has 3.7 million residents and the city is home to more than 80 different nationalities.
As a result, Montreal is very much a go-to culinary destination, with famous eateries ranging from white-glove French/Continental to casual Jewish delis serving up possibly the world’s largest smoked-meat sandwiches.
From the imposing downtown skyscrapers to the centuries-old streets of Old Montreal—lined with interesting boutiques, galleries and sidewalk cafes—meeting attendees will run out of time long before they run out of things to do.
“Montreal has a youthful, irreverent spirit that visitors love,” says Yves Lalumiere, president and CEO of Tourisme Montreal. “It’s a festive city, combining history and modernity with over 100 festivals that bring the streets to life year-round. But I think what makes Montreal truly unique is the rich cultural and creative landscape that attracts some of the brightest talent in the world.
“All that creative energy, in turn, influences Montreal’s thriving international business climate, endowing it with a unique dynamism. Montreal companies such as Cirque du Soleil and the Moment Factory are internationally renowned for their ability to innovate, think outside the box and bring fresh new approaches to everything they do.”
Quebec City: the Soul of New France
Quebec City is the only walled, fortified city north of Mexico on the North American continent. It’s filled with stately provincial government buildings with green turrets and spires. Its “Old City,” the original 400-year-old settlement on the St. Lawrence Seaway, features narrow cobblestone alleys festooned with hanging banners; stone buildings with red-tile roofs; and an ancient plaza and Notre Dame des Victoires Church.
When you stand on the Plains of Abraham, looking down toward the St. Lawrence, you’re standing on hallowed ground—the ground on which, in an epic 1759 battle, the fate of Canada was decided.
Unlike its larger cousins to the west, most of Quebec City’s population is homegrown. As a result, its cuisine, customs and architecture all are reflective of France, with a dose of New World Quebecois thrown in.
Attendees can sample this interesting cultural mixture at places such as Rue de Tresor, an ancient alley where some of the best young artists in Canada display their paintings. Groups can feel it, too, in colorful old restaurants including Aux Anciens Canadiens, where classic French cooking is leavened with an earthy dose of Quebecois and an intimate, warm ambience.
“What hits meeting attendees when they arrive here is the European look and feel of the city,” says Andre Roy, director of L’Office du Tourisme de Quebec. “It is so European and yet so close at the same time. The historic district of Old Quebec City has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1985. But you can be in a ski resort, on a lake or in the forest within 30 minutes.
“Summer is filled with festivals. Our cuisine is not found anywhere else in the world. And we offer meeting planners first-class facilities in an ‘Old Europe’ experience that can’t be duplicated anywhere in North America.”
Whether it’s a two-day convention or an executive retreat, the old-world European aesthetic of Quebec City and deeply French-influenced Montreal are sure to lend a fascinating backdrop to meetings and events of all kinds. Culturally diverse Toronto, only a short distance by train or bus from the French-speaking north, features a wide range of newly constructed hotel and event spaces. With a plethora of choice and cosmopolitan excitement, Canada is a convenient, attractive choice for a gathering.
Team Building With an Edge
If you’re looking for a team-building event that will still be building your team for years afterward, consider CN Tower.
At 1,815 feet above the city and Lake Ontario, it might offer the most dramatic team-building opportunity in the world. And if you would like to inspire your team members to do their jobs better and become stronger leaders, this is the place.
Canada’s National Tower (and popular event venue) partners with Eagle’s Flight, a leader in experiential team building, to offer the world’s highest team-building workshops.
The CN Tower hosts more than 500 events annually, so it’s no stranger to accommodating meeting attendees. Its new “EdgeWalk” program combines a bucket list experience with a workshop, to inspire better team performance.
This is a full-day session centered around the power of teamwork, trust and effective communication. Attendees position themselves backward, on the edge of a platform nearly a half-mile above the city. Slowly, connected by steel rope to a tether above, they lean back farther and farther. They are much higher than the birds circling over the nearby waterfront.
In the process, attendees learn to conquer their fear of the unknown, trust themselves and their co-workers more and realize that even “insurmountable” problems are solvable if everyone works together.
Montreal is Hockey Heaven
Hockey, which is played throughout the world, is particularly popular in Canada. And the capital of Canadian hockey, without a doubt, is Montreal.
If you’re an American baseball fan, think of the Montreal Canadiens as the New York Yankees of hockey, a team that’s won the coveted Stanley Cup 24 times. This team has produced some of the greatest players in NHL history, among them Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Guy Lafleur, Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden and Yvan Cournoyer. The Canadiens are no longer as dominant, but their hold on hockey history remains.
From October to the league playoffs in the spring, Montreal reverberates with chants of “Go, Habs, Go!” (Habs is the abbreviation for Habitants, early French settlers in Quebec province.) Hockey is not only Montreal’s main sport, but, according to some Montreal fans, also borders on being a religion.
On game nights, Montreal’s Centre Bell fills with a deafening roar as a sea of red, white and blue—painted faces, sweaters, hats, shirts, you name it—cheer on the Habs. You can actually hold your meeting or event at the Centre Bell; it can host banquets for 1,200 and receptions for 2,000, and there’s a 10,000-seat theater.
Another part of Montreal’s hockey legacy is the Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame (pictured), where photos and mementos of the team’s 105-year history are displayed.
A Few Minutes From Quebec City… Another World
Just 15 minutes from the turreted towers of Quebec City is a pastoral wonderland—the picturesque island of Ile d’Orleans, home to six parishes surrounded by farms.
The island can be driven in an afternoon. But, once attendees stop in one of the parishes, they’ll want to stay longer.
Traveling counter-clockwise, passing the farm stands and strawberry fields, the first village attendees will hit is Saint-Laurent, where they can visit an old blacksmith’s shop that‘s now an eco-museum called La Forge a Pique Assaut. At Parc Maritime, they will learn of the region’s great sailing history.
Next attendees come to Saint-Jean, home to many sailors and boat-builders in the old days. Here they will see the remarkable centre ville (center village), with beautifully preserved homes dating back to 1825. And nearby is Manoir Mauvide-Genest, built in 1734 and a remarkable example of a New France manor home.
In the parish of Saint-Francois, there’s an observation tower with dramatic views of nearby islands and the St. Lawrence.
Sainte-Famille is the island’s oldest parish, with stunning views of Beaupre shoreline and Mont-Sainte-Anne, as well as a number of u-pick apple orchards. In this area, there are stone houses dating back to 17th-century French settlers.
Finally, they come to Saint-Pierre, where, as in every other town on Ile d’Orleans, they’ll find quaint shops offering local cider, terrines, confits, apple butter and blackcurrant liqueur.
Major Meeting Venues
Distinguished circus troupe; offers attendees the opportunity to see a great performance and hold a meeting in the same space; 6,753 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.
Full-service hotel with 456 guest rooms; 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; most meeting rooms have spectacular views of the city, and outdoor terraces; recent $20 million renovation; fitness center; men’s and women’s spas.
In the heart of the commercial district; 982 guest rooms; 50,000 sq. ft. for meetings; three excellent restaurants; 3,000-seat theater; practices sustainability.
Recently renovated downtown property; close to business, cultural and entertainment centers; 825 guest rooms; 51,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 1,770-seat theater.
Across the street from the convention center and close to the picturesque Old Montreal area; 455 guest rooms; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; meeting rooms have natural light; open-air terrace with great views.
Elegant downtown hotel; 142 guest rooms, all with whirlpools; 6,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; ideal for smaller meetings; Le Societe Bistro restaurant serves French cuisine using locally sourced products.
Attendees can participate in big-screen video conferences in Imax Telus Theatre, or a banquet in Panoramic Hall; interactive displays and exhibits; 7,177 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 432-seat theater.
Located in the heart of the city: striking, multi-colored facility with 552,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 20,000 sq. ft. in rooftop garden; innovative digital-display system keeps attendees informed.
Connected to convention center by underground passageway; close to attractions, historic landmarks; 377 guest rooms; 12,048 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Overlooks Old City and St. Lawrence Seaway: one of the world’s great landmark hotels, with a history dating to 1923; castle-like exterior; 611 guest rooms; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. q
A Quebec city landmark on Parliament Hill; distinctive revolving restaurant at top; 571 guest rooms; 46,504 sq. ft. of meeting space; outstanding views of the Old City, the St. Lawrence River and the Laurentian Mountains.
Historic hotel; located close to Grand Alee, the
city’s main boulevard, and the historic Plains of Abraham; 282 guest rooms; 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Located downtown; 294,290 sq. ft. of meeting space; within walking distance of 3,000 hotel rooms; has won Canadian awards for its sustainability ethic.
Located in National Battlefields Park; overlooks the St. Lawrence Seaway; 34,000 sq. ft. for meetings and events.
Situated high atop the TD Bank Tower; two private dining rooms, each accommodating up to 60; 140-seat restaurant (250 for receptions) is available for buyouts on weekends.
46-story hotel that opened in November; near Union Station and Metro Toronto Convention Centre, as well as attractions such as the CN Tower and Harbourfront Centre; 567 guest rooms; 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Close to Union Station; 600 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; connected to PATH system, which provides 17 miles of underground shopping and dining. q
Directly connected to the convention center; 586 guest rooms; 18,800 sq. ft. of meeting space; within steps of CN Tower; spa; fitness center.
Features user-friendly design and plenty of natural light; 460,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 110,400 sq. ft. of meeting space; additional 78,000 sq. ft. in ballrooms and 1,232-seat theater.
Close to CN Tower, attractions and museums; 1,377 guest rooms; 130,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 2.5-acre waterfall garden in the lobby; indoor-outdoor heated pool.
In the heart of downtown Toronto; 1,363 guest rooms; 66,807 sq. ft. of meeting space; five restaurants; four lounges; business center.
Two-building convention center at airport; state-of-the-art technology; more than 1 million sq. ft. of flexible space.