FX Excursions

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Gather for Business and Leisure in Ontario’s Big Cities

by Sharon King Hoge

Dec 5, 2023

PHOTO: © JIAWANGKUN | DREAMSTIME.COM

December 2023

The two major business centers of Ontario, Canada’s second-largest province, are a bustling urban metropolis and a fanciful capital city, both ranked among the five leading places to do business in Canada. Toronto and Ottawa, sitting at the center of the Golden Horseshoe which wraps around Lake Ontario from Niagara to the Durham Region, house companies dealing in steel, automobiles, information, tourism and health care. More than 15,000 technology companies and startups reside here, with technology employing 8 percent of the workforce. Prime Health, Bank of Canada, Gold Star Foods, Chariot Travelware and Specialty Brands all have significant presence. Automotive and aerospace industries are prominent; Ford, General Motors, Honda, Stellantis, Toyota, Volkswagen and Porsche operate plants within the province, now emerging as a force developing and producing electric vehicles.

Toronto, the business hub, financial center of the country and provincial capital, is a dynamic, cosmopolitan urban center. Home to the rocket-esque CN Tower, the tallest freestanding structure in the world, the city bustles with colorful multinational neighborhoods, historical buildings, cultural institutions and a lively waterfront.

A half-hour high-speed train ride from Pearson Airport, the two harborside buildings of the Metro Toronto Conference Centre feature seven exhibit halls, 77 flexible meeting rooms, two large ballrooms and a performing arts theater. Steps away, the convenient, centrally located Ritz-Carlton hotel provides 14 event rooms including an Executive Boardroom with posh leather seating for up to 12. At the hotel’s popular TOCA Restaurant (standing for TOronto CAnada), enjoy the homemade ravioli Capresi, an acclaimed entrée at its book-ahead business lunch serving two courses in less than an hour. In Yorkville’s inland high-end retail Mink Mile district, local officials, finance mavens and celebrities partake of “Canada’s best wine list” — 2,300 varieties served in the discreet and elegant Opus Restaurant. For private entertaining, Chef Jason Cox serves multicultural versions of classic French cuisine in a separate dining room and courtyard accommodating up to 36 people.

Ottawa translates to the Algonquin word for “trade,” and Canada’s capital city proves a place where the seat of government simultaneously offers an industry-friendly environment. Noting its combination of opportunity and understated charm, visitors proclaim it “Canada’s best-kept secret,” reports Tours By Locals guide Sylvie Rancourt. Originally settled as a base for grist and saw mills, construction of the Rideau Canal in the 1820s enabled export logs to be floated downstream, fostering a boom in the forestry industry.

Currently capitalizing on government employment, high levels of education, a strategic location and 128 resident foreign embassies facilitating global trade, Ottawa has developed four principal segments: public service, health care, educational service and such a degree of high tech that the city is dubbed the Silicon Valley of the North. The city’s median household income consistently ranks highest among the nine largest cities in Canada

Perched above the Ottawa River, the buildings of Parliament Hill comprise a picturesque juxtaposition of towers, turrets and spires. It is said romantic watercolor pictures of the city convinced Queen Victoria to choose it as the capital, to the consternation of Montréal and Toronto. Bridges across the Ottawa River lead to the “twin” city, Hull, located in the next-door province of Québec. Light rail transverses the compact city, with plans to extend it to Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, supplanting hotel shuttles and the current $25 taxi fare.

Parks with bicycle paths, jogging trails and colorful flowers adorn the city. In winter, ice skaters glide for miles along the canal, and every spring a giant tulip festival commemorates Holland’s Queen Juliana, who sought refuge here as Crown Princess during World War II.

PHOTO: © JDPHOTOS1 | DREAMSTIME

Hotel rates and availability vary depending on whether Parliament is in session. For traditionalists, the inevitable option remains the grande dame Fairmont Château Laurier, the self-dubbed “epic castle of unmatched splendor.” Palatial guestrooms done up in understated classic elegance offer plush bedding and views of the fanciful Parliament buildings, creating a magical mood. Flounced with crystal chandeliers, brocade draperies and intricate moldings, and some featuring private foyers and reception rooms, the 16 ornate function rooms provide support systems such as audiovisual by Encore and custom catering. Converted from a concert hall, the Zoe Bar proves a popular stop for one of the signature cocktails: a Cinnamon Sunset Spumoni, a Berry Royale or a Squirrel Snack made with pecan-infused whiskey and walnut bitters. A short walk away, find another popular gathering spot, the Parisian-themed Metropolitan Brasserie, with the city’s largest oyster bar.

Revitalization of Ottawa’s longtime business district around World Exchange Plaza brings fine restaurants and hotels to this area across from Parliament Hill. The luxury boutique reStay books one-bedroom penthouse suites for short or extended visits. Nearby, the elevated lounge and must-see five-story Atrium make the architecturally spectacular Metcalfe Hotel an excellent backdrop for business gatherings. Anchoring the far end of Spark Street pedestrian mall, Delta Hotels Ottawa City Centre offers a cool modern décor, geometric furnishings and floor-length windows garnished in natural light.

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