Canada will never be a nation known for city-slickers. If this vast and beautiful country is famous for anything it’s rugged outdoor life and the easy-going nature of its people. If you’re in the country on a business trip it’s tempting to feel the true essence of the country is slipping you by whilst you’re city-bound. But whilst untamed wilderness and lumberjack shirted locals shouldn’t immediately lend themselves to great cities, Canada’s urban areas actually offer something which the undeniably stunning scenery can’t.
Canadian municipalities take the outdoors with them, whether inside the magnificently maintained parks, on the extensive cycle and skate paths or in the easy-going ambiance of the restaurants and nightlife. So although they may not offer the frenetic drive of New York or London, they offer a glimpse into the balance between work and play which the natives seem to manage so effortlessly.
You can step away from the high rise business district of Vancouver, Toronto or Quebec and be in isolated parkland within minutes. Or hop into your car to experience nature at its real and raw best only a few kilometres from the urban centre. Several cities even showcase grand lake and mountain vistas from within the Central Business District. So whether you’re hoping to experience the charm of Quebec, the cultural melting-pot of Toronto or the green vistas of Vancouver there is plenty to hold your attention without leaving the city limits.
Toronto’s middle name is tolerance, and it’s an attitude which tends to strike visitors the moment they arrive in the city. If you’re used to doing business in New York you’ll undoubtedly notice a few of the same ethic districts which make the city as a whole. But this is where the similarities end. Whilst the Stateside capital’s China Town is very much an enclave of the resident Chinese, in Toronto locals and immigrants alike are duly welcomed into the cultural milieu. The same is true throughout the city, from Little Italy to the bohemian eateries of Queen West. Whilst New York, Paris and London might embrace different nationalities, Toronto makes them a part of her soul.
As the economic powerhouse of the English-speaking part of Canada, Toronto also takes her role as cultural capital very seriously. Even if you’ve only a few days to experience the city you’ll doubtless come across evidence of a diverse arts scene, with ‘pay what you can’ screenings of cult movies and theatrical performances to showcase the bohemian fringe. Even the bars and coffee shops take a good deal of eclecticism to their make-up, with many showing works by local artists, or boasting interior design courtesy of some maverick paint-slinger.
These new developments are in stark contrast to the fact that Toronto was once derided for its middle-of the-road approach – even the point of being seen as a little boring by other Canadians. Whilst this reputation is now ill-deserved, remnants remain in the infrastructure of a very well-run city. Youth culture may see artistic graffiti anoint the roadsides, but it is displayed above a superbly designed underground walkway for when the temperature drops too low to walk the streets. Transport facilities are seamless and prompt, service staff courteous and helpful, and business travellers should find everything about their stay pleasantly efficient and well organised.
Deliberately distinct from the English-speaking Canada, Quebec has held on fiercely to its French heritage against all the odds. The result is a delightful blend of European and Canadian, which sees the best elements of modern city planning played out amongst the charming streets of Old Town Quebec. The heritage has unsurprisingly spawned not only a beautiful city centre, but a Parisian café culture, boutique shopping, and all within sight of beautiful snow-clad mountains.
It will help you considerably to speak at least a few words of French in Quebec – locals don’t take kindly to the presumption that everyone should speak English. But business travellers will be charmed at just how old-world European this modern city feels. And with its cobbled streets, pastel coloured buildings, and a châteaux-hotel which puts castles to shame equivalents en France the Old Town has deservedly been made a UNESCO world heritage site.
If ever a city encapsulated the spirit of a nation, so Vancouver is the very essence of the Canadian ethos. Camped inconveniently on the far west shores of the country it’s a long way from the urban enclaves of the east coast. But despite having The Rocky’s on its doorstep, it’s also only a few hundred kilometres from Seattle. And whilst justly famed for its bordering mountains, huge lakes and general wilderness, it also boasts a glittering glass business district, lively nightlife and burgeoning restaurant scene.
For the most part, however, Vancouver is known as a green city, and with good reason. The constant panoramic of stunning views must serve as a daily reminder to residents of the import of environmental welfare, and the result is a healthy interest in all things green. Not only was this the place where Greenpeace was formed, but countless environmental groups followed and the evidence can be seen in poster form throughout the city. Vancouver is also only too happy to honour her resident’s worthy beliefs with the most extensive hybrid-car taxi service in North America, numerous car share schemes, electric trolley buses and a light rail service.
For business travellers it’s also a very successful port, and investment has seen this potential grow considerably in recent years. With rich natural resources on its doorstep Vancouver is the trading post for many commodities, and real estate here is now more expensive than in Toronto.
Where to stay
8 Colborne Street
416 350 2000
As the last word in contemporary chic, Cosmopolitan is rightly favoured
by business people in the know, and even the odd celebrity. Book well
Doubletree by Hilton
Toronto Airport, Benefiting
from a recent £650,000 the airport area’s largest hotel and conference
centre is well worth checking into. Pamper yourself at the new Zen Spa
or indulge your taste buds at the new wine bar, located in the Orchid
Where to eat
Forget the bacon and maple syrup. If you’re in Toronto you’ll do best
to get in on the international cuisine and eat widely from the range on
offer. Superb Chinese dumplings, spicy Thai food, and a plethora of
high-quality health-food, vegetarian and vegan eateries abound.
John’s Italian Café
27 Baldwin Street
416 537 0598
For the best thin-crust this side of The Big Apple, John turns out a
lovely pizza pie in environs perfect for a casual business meeting. In
the summertime the patio is a great place to kick back with a good
bottle of Italian red.
309 Spadina Ave
416 977 0601
Join the queues to experience Swatow’s take on Chinese cuisine – a
strictly authentic selection from regional China. It’s
bargain-basement, and you’ll need cash to hand, but for experiencing
the heart of Toronto’s multicultural charm it’s the best there is.
Vancouver information box
Where to stay
1300 Robson Street
604 684 8461
Fabulously colourful contemporary hotel with a deliberate emphasis on the quality of its restaurant in addition the superb rooms.
Opus Hotel Vancouver
322 Davie Street
604 642 6787
Ultra stylish boutique hotel which still finds time to cater extensively to business travellers. With sister establishments in Montreal it’s an expanding chain, and one which uniquely captures the concept of informal elegance.
Where to eat
Health-conscious eating comprises some of Vancouver’s best, so don’t be shy of trying out the high-quality vegetarian and fusion cuisine as well as local favourites.
422 Richards street
604 722 2504
If you want to get a real taste for local life in Vancouver, give the trend for ‘raw food’ a whirl in this surprisingly tasty restaurant. Try the ‘pizza’ – dehydrated vegetable base with an innovative take on ‘cheese’ but delicious all the same.
1600 Howe Street
604 681 1164
Known amongst locals as the best seafood restaurant in the city, chef Rob Clark teams complex culinary greats with simple takes of the region’s finest.
Where to stay
Le Chateux Frontenac
1 rue des Carrières, 418 692 3861
Towering over the Quebec skyline the Frontenac is easily mistaken for a
grand old castle, and is a fitting tribute to the facilities within.
Generally held to be unrivalled for hospitality and service.
3125 Hochelaga blvd, (418) 653-4901
With conference facilities, and extensive accommodation for business
travellers, Hotel Clarion is also well located next to the Old Town.
Where to eat
Get ready to adjust your waistband – Quebec celebrates hearty French cuisine in bistros throughout the capital.
93 ave du Mont Royal Oust, 514 849 8883 Brunch institution well worth
the long queues on weekends. Beautys serves up a signature ‘MishMash’
omelette along with classic Montreal bagels and a long list of choices
250 ave des Pins Est, 514 287 9127
Classic French haute-cuisine in lovely bistro surrounds. Complete with tasting menu for gourmands.