When it opened to the public on June 26,1976 the CN Tower — at once a humble and triumphant pour of concrete -- became the symbol of a provincial town's big city aspirations. It also instantly redefined the Toronto skyline. For a big, gray building, it's an oddly comforting sight that you can see from everywhere. (It's like the "Where's Waldo?" of towers.) Driving in on the 401, biking along the Lakeshore, peeking out from the surrounding parks and the ever-expanding tourist area immediately surrounding it—including the SkyDome (AKA Roger's Centre), Skywalk, Maple Leaf Square, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and the never ending parade of glassy condo towers overlooking Lake Ontario—the CN Tower is never far from view.
From the day it was built it became the star of the city, taking center stage on local postcards, but has also appeared in countless movies (and in my favorite SCTV episode). It's where one of my best friends got engaged, and where the annual WWF fundraiser gives participants a chance to run up the core of the tower for this one day each year, all 1776 stairs. (I've done it; a fit person can do it in about 20 minutes though from down below it looks like it could take days.) It has also been a boon for tourism, routinely ranking within the top three "must sees" of Toronto attractions.
My Home Town Icon
I've been up my fair share of towers, from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to Chicago's Hancock Tower, yet I was a tourist in those towns, just as tourists to my town tend go up the CN Tower. I'm ashamed to admit that I had never taken the speedy glass-walled elevator up, nor had I visited the CN Tower's Sky Pod (at an elevation of 1,465 feet, it's the world's highest public observation gallery.) I hadn't even eaten at the tower's famous revolving restaurant.
That is, not until last week. Heather, one of my travel writing buddies, is taking off on an around-the-world trip with her family this summer, so as a farewell dinner for Heather, Carol (another travel writing friend) and I decide to properly experience our hometown gem together. Heather lives in the suburbs, was caught in traffic and arrives late, but is all smiles following the 59-second elevator ride up to 360 The Restaurant. "The moment I see the tower I get excited," she tells us. "Thirty-plus years of coming into the city and that never changes."
The skies are blue and we can see for kilometers in every direction as we sip from a lovely bottle of Amarone, sourced from the world's highest wine "cellar", chosen via the iPad wine list delivered to our table. Our fresh seafood tower gives way to New York striploins as the restaurant, raucous, full and spinning, completes two full rotations by the time we've finished our desserts. By that time the sun has set and the city is sparkling far below and all around.
Toronto received some bad news in 2007. Following a nice long run, our beloved tower was no longer the tallest freestanding structure in the land (damn you, Dubai with your soaring Burj Khalifa). Yet the CN Tower remains a shining example of a young Toronto's global aspirations, but more importantly, an unmistakable beacon that is always here, and always will be, just like home.
And on that point, I'm absolutely, 100% certain.
3 Tips for Getting to the Top:
1. Dine at 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower: If you have a reservation you go directly to the restaurant at the appointed time and with your purchase of a main course, your access to the Look Out and Glass Floor Levels are free. In other words, the price of dinner is your free ticket up the tower. CNTOWER.CA
2. Buy tickets online and when you arrive at the CN Tower go directly to the ticketholder line, avoiding the box office lineup. From May to October (the busiest season), the busiest time of the day is from 11am-3pm, so arrive before or after those times to shorten or eliminate waits.
3. Toronto CityPASS offers express tickets to the Look Out and Glass Floor observation levels. The pass includes CN Tower admission plus 4 other must-see attraction admissions (Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Zoo, Casa Loma, and Ontario Science Centre) combined in one discounted ticket booklet: Save nearly 50% and skip most lines with this CityPass link.
Toronto-based food and travel writer Amy Rosen is the food editor for House & Home magazine. A James Beard nominee, and regular contributor to the National Post, enRoute, Maclean's and Food & Wine among other magazines and newspapers. A story Amy wrote is included in the American anthology "Best Food Writing 2008". Her first novel, "Indigestion", will be released soon. Visit her web site at: www.amyrosen.com
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