August 20th, 2018

Toronto’s central hotels essential for walkers

By Medicine Hat News on February 3, 2018.

SUBMITTED PHOTO MANSOOR LADHA
Many of the restaurants in Toronto provide live music to entertain diners.

Mansoor Ladha

Special to the News

Whenever I visit a strange city, I prefer not to drive. I choose to stay somewhere downtown so that most restaurants and tourist attractions are close by and within walking distance.

On a recent visit to Toronto, Canada’s largest city, I decided to stay downtown to explore the city’s tourist attractions and amenities. My first choice was the historic Omni King Edward Hotel, a luxury hotel in downtown Toronto. Located at 37 King Street East, it occupies the entire block bounded by King Street on the north, Victoria Street on the east, Colborne Street on the south and Leader Lane on the west.

The hotel officials are proud to portray its historical beginnings. The hotel was granted its name by King Edward VII and the structure opened in 1903 with 400 rooms and 300 baths. In 1922, an 18-storey tower with 530 additional rooms was added to the east of the original building.

On the two top floors of the tower is the Crystal Ballroom, the talk of the town among the trendy, which until the late 1950s became the most fashionable in the city to go.

As soon as you enter the hotel lobby, one is impressed with its grandeur architecture, tastefully decorated furniture and sitting room in the foyer, conveniently placed for informal chats with guests and their visitors. The front of the beautiful lobby is adorned with two giant chess pieces for decoration.

The Omni Hotel chain invested heavily in the hotel in 2013, restoring the ballroom which re-opened in April 2017 after a closure of 38 years, depicting a 21-century image. The $40 million renovation exemplified the old-world charm and vibrancy of Toronto while transforming spacious guest rooms, meeting space, lobby, restaurant and bar.

But the major point in favour of Omni hotel is its convenient location in the financial, entertainment and shopping districts, close to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Sony Centre, The Distillery District, Eaton Centre, CN Tower, Canadian Broadcasting Centre and the St. Lawrence Farmers Market.

Another favourite hotel of mine in Toronto, also within walking distance to most amenities, is Le Germain on Mercer Street. As my cab meandered through various side streets, I was skeptical about what to expect. As the taxi came to a halt, Anthony, the bell boy smilingly opened the door, with a pleasant greeting of “Welcome to Le Germain.” After checking in, he carried the luggage to the room, pleasantly explaining the different conveniences in the room.

Officially dubbed home away from home by hotel officials, the staff not only seem to believe in the motto but they also practice it. Guest Services Manager Jonathan Estrella explained the Le Germain philosophy. “We believe in the value of staying small and intimate.” He said the hotel gives priority on their patron’s comfort and satisfaction.

“Our guest-first approach ensures that you’re welcomed warmly and continue to enjoy attentive, personalized service throughout your stay.”

As soon as one enters the hotel, one is struck by the luxurious, stylish and elegant detail and decor of the reception area, adjoining a fire-lit rest area for patrons. On the opposite side is a coffee shop, a restaurant and a bar. The Mercer Street property is a 122-room boutique hotel with a 65-seat Victor restaurant on street level, its coffee shop frequently patronized by neighbourhood residents. It also has meeting room facilities which have been renovated to give “a fresh new look.”

Toronto has another Le Germain hotel at Maple Leaf Square. The chain has hotels in Calgary, Quebec City, Montreal, Baie-Saint-Paul, Winnipeg and Ottawa — all operated as family-run business established by Victor and Huguette Germain under the Groupe Germain Hotels flagship.

oronto is constantly adding new hotels, restaurants, tours and attractions. One of the new tours includes Drink Toronto, a premium walking tours of the city’s top drinking and eating establishments. Another is of the newly-opened Aga Khan Museum, North America’s first museum dedicated to the arts of Muslim civilizations.

I was able to visit the museum at leisure. After the end of the tour, I sat in the coffee shop and had an opportunity to interview two ladies who had also visited the museum.

A visitor from Alberta was also excited to visit the museum, adding that she was impressed with the stunning grandeur of the architecture.

“The reflecting pools at the entrance of the museum were lovely. The courtyard is resplendent. My favorite spot is the infinity pool/fountains with a view of the Ismaili Centre in the background. AKM is a nice gem in Eastern Canada,” she said.

Mansoor Ladha is a journalist, travel writer and author of Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.

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