Standing right at the bottom of the CN Tower looking up no one could fail to be impressed. At 1,815.4 feet (533.3 metres) high, it is, after all, one of the tallest buildings in the world. In fact, for thirty four years, until the Burj Khalifa and the Canton Towers were built, it was the tallest and it remains the tallest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere. Not bad for something that was opened in 1976. We weren’t just going to stand there looking up though, we were going to the top to have lunch in the revolving restaurant. Whatever the food was like the views were going to be spectacular.
“At least we don’t have to climb the stairs like we did at the Eiffel Tower,” I said as we waited in the queue to go through security. Thankfully, it wasn’t a long queue and neither of us minded the airport style precautions with x ray machines for us and our bags. If you’re going to have lunch in a revolving pod at the top of the world it’s comforting to know someone’s on the lookout for terrorists and loonies.
While we waited for the lift we had our photo taken and were given a ticket to collect it at the end. Usually the lifts travel at fifteen miles an hour and get from ground floor to Skypod in just fifty eight seconds.
“Because of the wind today we will be travelling at half speed,” the lift operator informed us. By the time she’d said it in French and English, we were at the top, or so it seemed. Seven and a half miles an hour sounds slow but believe me, when you’re talking about a lift that’s super fast. As the lift had a glass floor I can’t say I was disappointed to get out. The glass floors were installed in the lifts in 2008, entering the record books as the world’s first and highest glass floor lifts. Personally I’d rather they hadn’t bothered, it made my knees go funny.
As soon as we walked into the restaurant the lifts were forgotten. Before we’d even been led to a table we could see the stunning views out over Lake Ontario. There are actually two rows of tables in the circular restaurant, an inner circle and an outer circle right next to the windows. Luckily the waiter led us to the latter, telling us as he did that the restaurant takes about seventy five minutes to complete one revolution. Then, with a warning not to leave anything on the windowsills, he left us with the menu. The reason for the warning is that only the inner floor of the restaurant revolves so anything left on the windowsill will end up disappearing.
The views outside made it difficult to concentrate on the menu but, eventually, we tore our eyes away long enough to choose. As we were having three courses I began with a salad, Commando had soup. Then we sipped our drinks and sat back to take in the view.
“I can see our hotel from here,” Commando said.
It took me a while to spot it amongst the hotchpotch of skyscrapers but when I did I was surprised because it seemed far shorter than I’d thought. Behind it I could just make out the curved shape of the City Hall building in Nathan Phillips square and the edge of the flying saucer half hidden behind the towering Sheraton Centre. Looking at the city from such a great height certainly gave a sense of scale and, for someone who’s not the biggest fan of heights, I was surprised not to have any feelings of vertigo.
Strangely, it didn’t feel as if we were moving at all, although I knew we must be. The idea of a revolving restaurant does tend to conjur up some kind of fairground ride with food being flung from plates. The reality is very different. Like the London Eye, it moves extremely slowly. It wasn’t until we were half way through our starter that we noticed our hotel had moved, or, at least, we had. Beyond the skyscrapers we could see green parks and, further still distant suburbs.
By the time the starters were finished we were looking at a completely different set of buildings. The blues and greens had given way to black and white with one glorious triangular copper coloured building standing out amongst them. A while later we were looking out over the railway lines and lots of tiny, toy like goods trains.
“Look, there’s a building down there with a grass roof,” Commando pointed. “I wonder how they mow that?”
“It’d probably be easier to keep goats or sheep on it,” I laughed.
“Imagine a goat falling out of the sky on your head as you walked down the street.”
“Maybe not then.”
“I think that one’s got a helipad.”
While we waited for our main course to arrive we took photos of each other, just to prove we were really there. Surprisingly, in 1968, when the tower was first discussed, revolving restaurants and Skypods were not part of the plan. This is not, as you might think, a tourist attraction, although it draws in over two million visitors every year, it’s actually a TV and radio communication tower. As the city grew over the sixties and early seventies and more and more skyscrapers went up in downtown Toronto the new buildings of glass and steel played havoc with broadcasting signals. The answer was obvious, build something even taller and that is just what Canadian National Railway did, on the redundant railway lands.
As we tucked into our main course Lake Ontario came into view, along with some of Toronto’s islands. That is one seriously big lake. They say on a clear day you can see New York State on the other side but all I could see was water stretching off to the horizon. It seemed more sea than lake to me. Back when the tower was first built this would have been a very different view. Right up until the mid 1980’s it was almost the only development along this part of Front Street with nothing but car parks between the tower and the lake. Now it’s all tall buildings, the baseball stadium, even an aquarium. The little islands looked green and inviting, what a shame we wouldn’t have time to visit them.
“Look, there’s an airport down there on that island,” Commando said, having spotted it first because he was facing that direction.
There was too, running diagonally across what looked to be a rectangle of reclaimed land. This, we found out later, was Billy Bishop Airport. Also called Toronto City Airport, it’s actually the ninth busiest in Canada, connecting to eighty international cities, so perhaps not as small as it looked from our dizzy height. It carries almost two and a half million passengers a year, nearly a million more than Southampton. Apparently, there’s even a pedestrian tunnel connecting it with the mainland. It takes six minutes to walk through. Unsurprisingly, it’s been named one of the top ten most beautiful airport approaches. We probably could have flown into it from New York. For the next quarter of an hour we watched enthralled as planes took off and landed.
Soon enough the airport disappeared from view and our desert arrived. It was good enough to take our attention away from the window for a while. Outside the railway lines were back, looking in the opposite direction now. We could see the smelly bridge and the route we’d walked to the expo the day we’d arrived. In the distance, growing from flat greenery like crystals, was another clump of skyscrapers. Toronto is the largest city in North America and it just goes on and on.
By the time desert was finished we were almost back where we started with the blues and greens of the skyscrapers reappearing and beyond, the mesh of streets filled with lower buildings. Here and there patches of green must have been parks. If we knew the city better we’d have known just what we were looking at. One building stood out, a strangely layered and rounded affair in white and glassy green. The light glinting on the windows made it look as if it was made of mother of pearl, like the wonderfully complicated boxes I saw in Egypt. Later I discovered this was the Hyatt Regency Hotel and it didn’t look half as nice from the street.
By the time coffee was finished and the bill paid we were back to where we started, looking over our hotel. Now it was time for our complementary jaunt up to the SkyPod, the little knobbly bit on the spike above the main pod where we’d eaten. When the tower was built, the SkyPod wasn’t part of the plan but, from there we got the highest view yet. Ok, so it was hardly different from the one we’d had over lunch and I took no pictures for that reason, but just knowing you are at the top of the Western Hemisphere, as high as it gets, was worth the journey.
Our adventure was not quite over. Next we were going down to the Observation Deck. For those not brave enough for the EdgeWalk, walking 1,168 feet (356 metres) above the ground along a narrow platform at the top of the main pod with nothing but a cord between you and certain death, this is the next best thing. Even though no one has ever died doing the EdgeWalk since it opened in 2011, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d even contemplate it. To be honest, I wasn’t all that keen on the idea of the Observation Deck with its open air area encircling the tower even though it’s enclosed by steel tubing, unlike the EdgeWalk.
In the end we didn’t go outside, apart from anything it was way too windy. We did, however, visit the glass floor on the Observation Level. Installed in 1994 with views straight down to the bottom of the tower, it has three layers of laminated glass each a quarter inch thick with a layer of air between them. Apparently it can withstand the weight of fourteen hippos or thirty five moose, although I’m pretty sure they didn’t bring them up in the lift to test it out. At 1,122 feet (342 metres) above the ground, I wasn’t entirely happy having just two and a half inches of glass under my feet no matter how safe they said it was. For a while I stood and looked. It was a looong way down.
Commando was braver and walked straight on.
“Come on,” he said. “It’s perfectly safe. No one has ever fallen.”
“There’s a first time for everything and it’d be just my luck,” I said but stepped on gingerly anyway. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I soon stepped off again but Commando was brave enough to go for a little walk. What a bizarre experience!
It was time to join the queue for the lift back to terra ferma. Standing still with no distracting views, there was a definite feel of being on a ship in dock, an almost imperceptible swaying that felt a little like being slightly drunk, as the wind gently moved the tower. Luckily, there was plenty to keep us occupied while we waited. Around the walls were photographs and snippets of interesting information.
Comforting to learn the tower was designed to withstand an earthquake of 8.5 on the Richter scale and winds of up to two hundred and sixty miles an hour. Not quite so comforting to read that lightning strikes the tower about seventy five times a year. Still there are copper strips running down to grounding rods buried deep below so it’s unlikely to cause a problem. Apparently, on a clear day, it’s possible to see over one hundred miles from the main pod and sometimes the mist over Niagra Falls is visible. Imagine that!
It was a wonderful experience. In fact, in 1995, the CN Tower was designated a Wonder of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was even better to feel my feet firmly back on solid earth though.