Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
A milestone year inspires appreciation for a rich heritageAll of Canada is in a celebratory mood, as this year marks the 150th anniversary of the confederation of all provinces under one flag. Fittingly, Toronto, the country’s biggest city, will host many special events to mark the occasion. A commemorative event program named “TO Canada with Love”—a nod to the local shorthand for Toronto, Ontario—will offer visiting groups even more enticing options for activities and excursions. In Montreal, there’s more to celebrate than just Canada’s confederation. The city turns 375 years old this year, and a slew of attractions are finding special ways to commemorate the anniversary. From light shows in Old Montreal to festivals in Quartier des Spectacles to nightly illumination of the massive Ile Sainte-Helene Biosphere, the city will be bustling with events throughout the year. “There is so much history to this city,” says Kareem Jenkins, director of meetings for American Sociological Association. “We’re very interested in urban areas with lots of culture in terms of music, race, class and diversity, so that’s why Montreal appeals to us like New York, Chicago and San Francisco do.” A couple of hours northeast of Montreal sits an even older settlement: Quebec City. Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, the only fortified city north of Mexico actively promotes its deep history to visitors, while also making regular improvements to its transportation and hospitality offerings. To join in the festivities, groups can explore the broad range of museums, historic properties and cultural attractions peppered throughout these three cities.
TorontoRoyal Ontario Museum (ROM), the 105-year-old grande dame of Canada’s cultural institutions, contains more than 40 galleries that can feature only a portion of the 6 million items in the museum’s possession. ROM showcases both world culture and natural history through notable collections of dinosaurs and meteorites, in addition to European historical artifacts; art from the Near East, Africa and East Asia; and Canadian works and artifacts. The Crystal, its enormous, ultra-modern entrance pavilion built in 2007, awes attendees gathering for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before exploring the galleries. As one of the largest galleries in all of North America, the 480,000-square-foot Art Gallery of Ontario is adept at handling groups of more than 2,500 for after-hours receptions and up to 400 for sit-down meals. Its collections encompass works from around the globe. The museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of Canadian art, plus a European Old Master collection with Dutch, Italian and French paintings from the 1600s through the 1800s. Its collection of African and Australian Aboriginal sculpture spans several centuries. In addition to gallery spaces, a lecture hall, several state-of-the-art meeting rooms and a high-end restaurant are available for after-hours private use. Just across from Royal Ontario Museum is Gardiner Museum, Canada’s national ceramic museum. Its collection encompasses field pottery from the ancient Americas, 17th-century European pottery and rare porcelain from around the world. Housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, the museum has a 14,000-square-foot retail shop, cafe and special events area.
Aga Khan Museum, TorontoAga Khan Museum—which contains Persian art, Islamic art and Muslim cultural artifacts—occupies a striking modern hilltop building. Its collection showcases the artistic, intellectual and scientific contributions of Muslim civilizations through more than 1,000 objects, some of which date to the eighth century. Spaces available for groups include a 350-seat auditorium; a stone-tiled, glass-enclosed courtyard; garden and patio areas; and a lounge with panoramic views of Toronto. At Diwan restaurant, floor-to-ceiling windows and hand-carved 19th-century wooden panels from Damascus complement cuisine inspired by the Middle East, North Africa and India.
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge LondonIn Canada, one game receives the same reverence as high art and culture: hockey. The Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto is an impressive facility that can handle up to 1,000 people for evening events, or smaller groups for morning business events or meals. Its Esso Great Hall, built in 1885, previously served as financial headquarters for Bank of Montreal. Inside, a 24-panel stained-glass dome rises above the National Hockey League’s famed championship trophy, The Stanley Cup. This space accommodates up to 225 people. An adjacent concourse provides room for 775 and offers several small theaters and interactive exhibits to entertain attendees. If a meeting group can’t make it to the hall, entertaining mobile exhibits can bring the hall to the group’s meeting venue elsewhere in Toronto. If the meeting agenda calls for a dine-around, Toronto has several strong options. The Entertainment District, just west of the Financial District, is home to several dozen restaurants, pubs, nightclubs and live theaters, while the Yorkville area, on the north side of the city, boasts similar variety. St. Lawrence Market and Kensington Market are one-stop shops for foodies. Culinary Adventure Company leads tours in the King West and Queen West neighborhoods, where folks can sample chocolate chip cookies, a culture-bending fusion brunch, local pizza, Nutella-filled treats and butter croissants. In a forward-thinking move, Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) is partnering with the mobile app Voyage Control to simplify the exhibitor move-in experience while reducing carbon emissions. Voyage Control lets exhibitors reserve a time for unloading materials directly at MTCC rather than going to a marshalling yard, and offers instant communication from dock staff plus a real-time truck-location finder. When tested on 125 exhibitors at Toronto ComiCon 2017, the app saved an average of 20 minutes per exhibitor, and decreased carbon emissions by 2.5 pounds per exhibitor—more than 300 pounds in total. Among Toronto’s largest business hotels, two recent refurbishments have central relevance. Hilton Toronto Downtown debuted new carpeting, wall coverings, artwork and furniture across its entire convention level, which includes the 9,300-square-foot Toronto Ballroom plus seven breakout rooms and 8,500 sq. ft. of foyer space.
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge LondonIn late 2016, the historic Omni King Edward Hotel spent $6.5 million to upgrade its 5,000-square-foot Crystal Ballroom, balancing Old World charm with modern style and technology. The refresh complements the $40 million renovation the rest of the property received in 2015.
Montreal Museum of Fine ArtsBoth artistically and architecturally, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is impressive. Located in the Golden Square Mile district at the foot of Mount Royal, the museum’s five pavilions contain 42,000 works on permanent display, plus rotating exhibitions. Holdings range from paintings to sculptures to furniture and decorative arts from all over the world. The buildings that house the five pavilions vary between Beaux Arts, classical and modernist styles. A magnificent church featuring stained-glass windows coexists with atriums made of steel and glass, from which groups can survey sweeping views of the city and Mount Royal.
Pointe-a-Calliere Museum, MontrealPointe-a-Calliere, located in historic Old Montreal, is a renowned archaeology and history museum founded in 1992 to mark the city’s 350th birthday. A huge collection of artifacts from the First Nations people—Canada’s indigenous population—is juxtaposed with exhibits showcasing French and British influence upon the territory starting in the 17th century. In fact, some archaeological and historical sites are incorporated into the footprint of the facility, ranging from a below-ground ancient crypt to 19th-century buildings such as Old Customs House and Youville Pumping Station. For special events, there are 11 rooms that groups can use, including a multimedia theater, bistro and 360-degree glass room on the museum’s rooftop that makes receptions for up to 175 people unforgettable.
Musee National des Beaux Arts du Quebec, Quebec CityMusee d’art contemporain de Montreal (Montreal Contemporary Art Museum) is located in Quartier des Spectacles/Entertainment District, at the heart of one of the liveliest neighborhoods in the city. It features more than 7,600 works on permanent display, including painting, photography, sculpture, video, sound and object installations. In its main hall, a 50-foot-tall circular space accented by four immense copper-clad columns can accommodate 400 for a reception. Afterward, attendees can browse more than 30 independent art galleries in the nearby Belgo Building, or follow the Luminous Pathway that shines on the sidewalk to guide people as they watch huge moving light shows projected onto the sides of buildings. This flurry of activity takes place in Quartier des Spectacles throughout the year. When the event schedule permits, attendees can wander the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal—less than a five-minute walk from Palais de Congres de Montreal—and sample food and drink from bustling pubs and bistros along Place Jacques-Cartier. In warmer months, outdoor terraces at restaurants and pubs are hugely popular for locals and visitors alike. The rooftop terrace at Place D’Armes Hotel & Suites in Old Montreal may be the best in town. Scenic lunch or dinner cruises from tour provider Le Bateau-Mouche offer an outdoor dining alternative. One truly unique aspect of Montreal is Underground City, a 20-mile network of indoor pedestrian corridors that are home to offices, retail shops and restaurants. With a subway component added over the years, the system allows more than 500,000 people each day to cross the city without going outside. For interesting group dine-around possibilities in Underground City, start at the lower-level cafes at Place Ville Marie. Attendees can take an elevator from there to a 46th-floor observation deck. Two top-notch restaurants—Gazette and Osco—are also connected to Underground City. On the hotel front, two developments take center stage. Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth, one of the most historic hotels in the city, will reopen June 30 after a $140 million overhaul. The transformative renovation will turn the property into a contemporary lifestyle space with a new business hub and meeting space. Four Seasons Montreal is presently being built downtown. When completed in late 2018, the 11-story property will include a ballroom for 400 people.
Quebec CitySet within the huge Plains of Abraham urban park, Musee National des Beaux Arts du Quebec (National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec) features more than 35,000 paintings, sculptures and other items produced by artists from Eastern Canada, with some dating to the 18th century. Event spaces include the Grand Hall, with its granite facings and glass walls, a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the park and even a connected 19th-century prison building. About 1,000 people can be accommodated for a reception or buffet. Musee de la Civilisation (Museum of Civilization) on the riverfront has more than 500,000 artifacts that present the varied ways of life of regional inhabitants—including the First Nations and the community of New France, established in the 1600s. Rotating exhibitions also offer glimpses into other world cultures. For special events, the museum offers its modern, naturally lit Grand Hall, which can handle 800 for a reception or buffet, and 350 for a seated banquet. In Vieux Quebec (Old City), Musee de l’Amerique Francophone (Museum of French America) presents the cultural and religious evolution of the region’s French-speaking population and its interactions with other cultures as North America became more populated over four centuries. With its majestic architecture and decor, plus cutting-edge audiovisual capabilities, the chapel is a memorable space for group events. Offering a spectacular view of St. Lawrence River and Quebec bridges, Aquarium du Quebec (Aquarium of Quebec) can accommodate a fine-dining experience for groups of up to 500. Graduation Hall of Quebec City Seminary is a well-preserved 1875 structure at Laval University where groups can host elaborate closing sessions or recognition ceremonies as well as receptions and sit-down banquets.
Le Monastere des Augustines, Quebec CityLe Monastere des Augustines (St. Augustine Monastery) occupies the historic wings of Hotel-Dieu de Quebec monastery, from which emerged the first hospital north of Mexico. The restored former cloister has a museum with 40,000 artifacts drawn from the Augustinian Sisters’ 12 monastery hospitals, plus a restaurant and 11 event rooms. To explore additional available event facilities and activity options, planners can enlist Quebec City Business Destination, which offers comprehensive resources. There are many options for a dine-around on the edges of Old City, with its high stone walls and narrow cobblestone streets. Grande Allee, the main thoroughfare just outside the walls, features sidewalk cafes and bistros as well as nightlife. Interesting dining establishments for groups include Savini Resto-Bar, an Italian mainstay, and Cosmos Restaurant, with its chic stylings and energetic crowd. For a nightcap, the century-old Maurice Salon Bar is always bustling. Ste. Roch District and Rue Cartier are boulevards filled with restaurants and shops, while Place Sainte Foy is an upscale shopping mall where groups can gather for a private evening reception featuring an exclusive fashion show. In their downtime, attendees can explore Old City. Place Royale—the original village that Samuel Champlain settled in 1608—provides a vivid sense of life in that early era. There’s also Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame, a magnificent 1922 structure that represents the oldest Catholic Archdiocese north of Mexico, dating from about 1660. Just beyond the stone fortifications toward the river is La Citadelle fortress, home to an active military unit, the Modern Royal 22nd Regiment, since 1914. An interactive museum greets visitors at the entrance. In more modern news, Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport (YQB) will open a customs and immigration preclearance center for American visitors by the end of 2017, which will save travelers considerable time. December 2016 marked the beginning of a $277 million project to upgrade the airport’s international terminal through improved digital signage, self-serve airline kiosks and automated baggage drop-offs, plus increased baggage carousels and other usable space. Most of the work is scheduled for completion by late 2018.
Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, Quebec CityThis year, Quebec City celebrates the 125th anniversary of its flagship property, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, which blends modern stylings, accents and technology with classical architectural elements.
Rob Carey is a business journalist and principal of Meetings & Hospitality Insight, a content marketing firm for the group-business market.