Creating memorable events at first-rate destinations without falling into the “been there, done that” trap presents more challenges than ever these days. Why not look beyond the obvious choices to find some unique gems within Canada’s top tourist destinations? Here are some fresh ideas from across the country.
Royal Ontario Museum
Tired of box-shaped, windowless meeting spaces and ballrooms? Treat your group to Toronto’s magnificent architectural splendor, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). The building itself has many separate venues to accommodate any sized event, with one-of-a-kind on-site programming.
“We have something to offer planners that no convention centre or hotel can, because you’re also getting a gallery space and guided tour, either of our museum or an architectural tour of the building itself,” notes Connie MacDonald, senior director of ROM’s hospitality and commercial services.
“It’s a great backdrop for meetings or conferences. Our space is really beautiful, but also has lots of interesting, built-in activities for corporate or convention groups.”
ROM’s new majestic Michael Lee-Chin’s Crystal addition features an 8,000-square-foot reception lobby flowing into an additional 7,200 square feet of open space, and is perfect for a reception or sit-down dinner for up to 600 guests.
“The architecture is so strong, it’s become one of the new wonders of the world,” says MacDonald, adding that several first-floor gallery spaces are also available for touring, food and beverage service, and both the new second floor dinosaur gallery and the mammoth gallery are fantastic options. ROM also has a gorgeous theatre ideal for private screenings, complete with upper floor space to stage upscale chief executive suppers.
There are more options to come, says MacDonald: the Teck Cominco Earth Sciences Gallery opens in December, and the Schad Gallery of Biodiversity makes its debut in January.
You are cordially invited to an extraordinary 400th birthday bash to celebrate Quebec City’s historic charm, warm hospitality and exceptional gourmet delights.
Packed with interesting choices for any sized group, the city features venues such as a restored chapel in Canada’s oldest museum, the Musée de l’Amérique Française, which can accommodate 200 for a banquet, or cocktails for up to 300, says Hélène Pomerleau, director of meetings and incentive Travel for Quebec City Tourism.
The National Assembly’s inner courtyard restaurant, Le Parlementaire, is another popular choice, says Pomerleau, as few parliamentary buildings allow access to the general public after hours. Groups of up to 250 can take a private guided tour of the Assembly before dining at the Parisian-styled restaurant, which was built in 1917.
Conveniently located within the official site of the 400th anniversary festivities, Espace 400e’s newly revamped, glassed-in reception hall and terrace overlooks both the Louise Basin in the Old Port on one side and Old Quebec on the other. It comfortably seats 160, or up to 250 for drinks.
Pomerleau recommends spending a day at Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, where groups can hold breakout sessions in several meeting rooms or the auditorium, then taking in a private viewing of the museum’s featured exhibits before enjoying a sumptuous meal in the elegant grand ballroom.
Pomerleau lists the award-winning Auberge St-Antoine facing the St-Lawrence River as an ideal spot to lodge groups in its 94 rooms and suites. Offering six reception and conference rooms, the Auberge also houses the century-old James Hunt Room, an intimate private dining room linked to the world-class Panache Restaurant.
WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Think Whistler, and you also think of British Columbia’s breathtaking natural surroundings.
“We definitely try to maximize the opportunities that people have to experience and enjoy our incredible vistas,” says Breton Murphy, manager of corporate communications for Tourism Whistler.
“A big advantage with groups coming to Whistler is that for the vast majority of venues, everything is within walking distance.” Murphy cites the Telus Whistler Conference Centre, with its 150,000 square feet of meeting space as a prime venue for large groups.
Want to take it up a notch? Murphy recommends the spectacular Roundhouse Lodge, located more than 6,000 feet above sea level at the top of Whistler Mountain. Groups can be whisked up by gondola to one of the largest on-mountain restaurants in the world, which has a capacity of 1,500. “You’ve got a 360-degree mountain view with 15,000 square feet of space,” says Murphy. An outdoor patio overlooks Blackcomb Mountain, and Whistler Village below.
Stage an activity such as a team-building scavenger hunt, advises Murphy, where teams learn about the resort while exploring, before ending up at Lost Lake Park, which is within walking distance of the upper village resorts such as the Four Seasons or the Fairmont, as well as lower village hotels like the Westin.
“You could also transfer a bit farther out of the village to Green Lake, a beautiful, glacier-fed emerald green lake on the north end of the resort,” says Murphy. “Set up a tent with a clear roof and sides, so your guests can see everything. Our tented, lakeshore events have been really well-received by groups looking to spend an afternoon or an evening outdoors.”
For a truly memorable experience, head out to one of Whistler’s readily accessible glaciers for a golfing picnic. Zip up the gondola to the top of Rainbow Glacier after a very short transfer to a helicopter pad, “and within 15 minutes, you’re on top of a glacier, golfing with bio-degradable, hot pink golf balls, followed by a gourmet lunch,” says Murphy. “It’s an opportunity to experience the extreme, but have it within reach for people with varying abilities. You get to see what it’s like to be on top of the world.”
What’s not to like about a conference that starts out with a gathering at Niagara’s Fury, a 360-degree attraction that literally takes you right to the brink of the incredible rushing Niagara Falls?
“This ride takes you through the whole development of the Falls, and it’s quite spectacular, because you feel like you’re right in the middle of it,” says Joyce Morocco, Niagara Falls Tourism Canada’s director of sales for meetings, conventions and incentive travel.
Morocco says the $38-million renovation to the region’s parks area Table Rock, with its upgraded dining room, Edgewaters Tap & Grill, is just one example of Niagara’s exciting possibilities for meeting planners. “You can have different types of entertainment outdoors overlooking the falls, and also watch your company’s colors or logos being shown on the falls,” she adds.
Morocco notes that “there’s something for everyone to do in every season, and people find it appealing and beautiful to come to Niagara.” She adds that Niagara’s wine region is becoming especially popular for corporate groups. “We offer a lot of different theme dinners, and fun team-building activities, where three or four teams create their own blends of wine at the Hillebrand Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
The winery handles groups of between 10 and 500, and can also arrange tented events on their property.
Visited by two million people each year, the CN Tower is Toronto’s iconic landmark as well as one of the world’s tallest buildings. But it also offers up fabulous options for corporate planners who want to take their events to a whole new level. Or three.
“We have stunning views from three observation decks,” says Irene Knight, CN Tower’s manager of public relations. “Our 360 Restaurant, located at the very top of the tower, is probably one of the busiest in Canada, with award-winning food and wine lists. It revolves 360-degrees and features incredible views of the city 1,000 feet below.”
The CN Tower hosts hundreds of events each year, for groups of 20 to 2,000. “Groups can take over venues throughout the building that can be combined to create a really unique, fun, memorable event,” adds Knight.
Some options for planners include starting off with a meeting in the Tower’s theatre, which seats 144, then break off into workshops in three nearby meeting rooms. Lunch or cocktails can be served at Horizons Café, with a semi-circular floor plan that can seat 135 or up to 600 if you expand onto the Look Out Level.
“It’s a beautiful setting with a lovely view, linked to the 360 restaurant by a stairwell, so everyone can then make their way up for dinner, while Horizons gets switched over for a dance party afterwards,” notes Knight, adding that several floors of the tower are available to be redecorated as needed “for the ultimate parties.”
“Newfoundland is becoming known within the industry as a bit of an exotic destination for corporate and incentive groups, because it conjures up an intrigue,” says Brenda Walsh, Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism’s marketing specialist for meetings, conventions and incentive travel.
“When you can take groups out on a boat in June to whale-watch, while circumnavigating icebergs that are one-tenth above water and nine-tenths under, it certainly makes for an interesting time, and creates that ‘wow’ factor.”
Walsh recommends the Fairmount Newfoundland in St. John’s, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, as a prime spot for group lodging.
“People really have the feeling of being in a culturally rich and old established colony when they visit, because our cultural tapestry is woven through English and Irish roots that are still prevalent today,” notes Walsh. “So you can put together some really exciting and interesting programming.”
Located on the island’s west coast, the Humber Valley Resort features 250 chalet-style homes of up to six bedrooms. “A lot of incentive groups are bringing their small meetings there, because they can take over an entire cul-de-sac and rename the street after their company,” says Walsh. “From there, groups can do helicopter tours, internationally recognized fly-fishing right on the Humber River, or spelunking in the caves. It’s a gorgeous location that’s remote, yet easily accessible.”
As one of the top family-themed destinations in the province, Ontario Place is the ultimate site if you’re planning a huge event for up to 4,000 people, says group sales manager Chuck Thibeault. “We let the planners make it theirs,” he says. “We’ve had people bring in inflatables, stages, live music, jugglers and clowns. We’ve created a Tiki theme with torches in the sand. You name it, we can do it.”
Thibeault adds that Ontario Place is a popular meal destination for big conventions, because the site is just minutes from the downtown core, so transportation is never an issue. A beach picnic is a popular choice, but Thibeault also recommends the Sails Restaurant, located near the marina, for mid-sized groups. Guests can spill out onto a covered patio deck over the water, bringing capacity up to about 250.
The South Beach venue, located on the water with volleyball and basketball courts, as well as a tented area for dining, will be completely revamped this fall. “We’re adding more seating areas and building out into the water, so people will be able to see the downtown Toronto vistas,” says Thibeault. A huge fountain that will shoot water over 200 feet in the air and be lit up at night will also be installed, creating an exciting ambience for outdoor evening events.
Thibeault suggests corporate team-building volleyball and basketball tournaments or tug-of-wars before some downtime at the site’s massive water park. For winter events, check out Cinesphere, the world’s first permanent IMAX theatre. “It looks like a big golf ball, and seats over 700 people,” says Thibeault. “We have over 30 IMAX films in stock here, so the event planner can pick and choose to a theme. For example, for team-building, a group can watch Everest, which is a fantastic film about the expedition.”