The CN Tower is the symbol of Toronto in the same way that the Eiffel Tower symbolizes Paris and the Statue of Liberty means New York to most people. Its original name was the Canadian National Tower, after the railway company that built it; it has also been referred to as Canada’s National Tower, but this name is less frequently used. The tower was built by the Canadian National Railway as a radio and TV facility, but when the railway was privatized in 1995 it divested itself of non-rail assets and the tower was transferred to the Canada Lands Company, a federal government real estate development entity.
The tower was the tallest free-standing structure in the world for 34 years, and is now the third tallest but still the tallest in the Western Hemisphere. More than 2 million people a year visit the tower, which is ranked second among the members of the Great Towers of the World, and as one of the engineering Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The tower was built on the Railway Lands, a large switching yard near the city center that had been replaced by a newer yard to the south. As more and taller buildings were built in downtown Toronto, broadcast signals and microwave communications were interrupted by these towers and a high tower with a series of antennae was planned for the space occupied by the railroad tracks. The original plan was for three independent cylindrical pillars linked by structural bridges at different levels, with a large antenna in the middle. The design gradually evolved into a single hexagonal core with three support legs and it was found not to cost much more to make the single tower much taller than originally planned, and to put an observation deck on top for which admission could be charged. Thereafter it seemed more practicable to make this the tallest structure in the world and a symbol of the city and of Canada.
Construction began in 1973 and the foundation was completed in approximately four months. Over the next year concrete was continuously poured into a slip form that was hydraulically raised from the base at a rate of about 6 meters a day as the concrete set. A total of 40,500 cubic meters of concrete was mixed on the site to ensure uniform consistency and was poured over the course of a year to create the tallest structure in Canada. The vertical accuracy of the rising column was assured with huge plumb bobs that were hung from the structure and observed through telescopes, and during this phase of the construction the deviation from vertical accuracy was only 29 mm.
A series of 12 concrete and steel brackets were very slowly raised on 45 hydraulic jacks to become the supports for the main level of the tower. A wooden frame was attached and additional concrete poured into it to create the Space Deck, later called SkyPod, and a steel compression band was placed around the outside to reinforce the deck. The antenna on top of the deck was raised and attached in 36 pieces by a Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter purchased from the U.S. Army, and as a result was in place within four weeks rather than the 6 months that had originally been planned to laboriously raise the antenna on a crane. Construction was finished after only 26 months in April, 1975.
The tower had been planned to be the centerpiece of MetroCentre, a large development on the Railway Lands that was to include several other buildings. Plans for these buildings were scrapped while the tower was under construction, leaving an isolated tower along the lakefront for several years. The surrounding area on Front Street West has since been redeveloped, with the construction of the MetroToronto Convention Centre, SkyDome stadium (now officially the Rogers Centre) built to house the baseball Blue Jays and football Argonauts, SkyWalk to connect these to Union Station and the rail and underground pedestrian network, Ripley’s Aquarium and a number of residential developments. The tower was opened to the public on June 26, 1976 and officially dedicated on October 1, and cost in total CDN$63 million ($249 million today), which was paid for within 15 years.
The tower is equal in height to a 147-story building, and can be seen from up to 60 km away in Ontario as well as in places in New York state on the opposite side of Lake Ontario. The main deck is seven floors in height, and has a donut-shaped complex of microwave receivers below the public areas. There are three observation areas: an outdoor deck and glass-floored terrace at 342 meters up, an indoor lookout area at a height of 346 meters and the SkyPod just below the antenna at 446.5 meters.
This was the highest public observation deck in the world until 2008, when it was surpassed by the Shanghai World Financial Center, and visibility from this deck extends up to 120 km. The metal staircase to this deck is the highest staircase in the world, but is only open to the public twice a year for charity climbing events. It is possible, however, to walk around the edge of the metal pod at a height of 356 meters, tethered to an overhead rail; this attraction, the EdgeWalk, opened in 2011 but is closed in winter and during storms or high winds.
The hexagonal shape of the tower creates three angles, in each of which two elevators are located. The elevator shafts are glass-lined to permit observation on the way up in the elevators. One of the elevators also has a glass floor, and the Horizons Café at the lookout level and the 360 Restaurant, which revolves every 72 minutes, at 351 meters up, are also glassed-in for panoramic view. The Sparkles disco at this level, which is no longer in operation, had the highest dance floor in the world when it opened in 1976.
The tower was originally illuminated at night by incandescent lights, but these were expensive and difficult to repair and replace. In 2007 these were replaced by 1,300 LED lights in the elevator shafts, which shoot up the tower, over the pod and into the antenna until 2 a.m. daily and are changed in color and pattern at different times of the year. The lights are dimmed during the spring and autumn bird migrations to minimize the risk of birds colliding with the tower. Colors are changed for the Christmas season, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, World AIDS and Cancer and Alzheimer’s Days, Human Rights Day and New Year’s Eve, and have been used to honor Canadian and world political figures and sporting events.
The tower is located at 301 Front Street West, at the corner of John Street, and is almost impossible not to find, as it is for most people the universal direction-finding landmark in Toronto. It can be reached by bus, subway or rail through the nearby Union Station. The tower is adjacent to the Gardiner Expressway, and there is extensive parking in the area, which has become Toronto’s Entertainment District.
The only day it is closed is Christmas, and hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for attractions and 10:30 p.m. for the observation areas. The revolving 360 Restaurant is one of Toronto’s destination restaurants, has the world’s highest wine cellar and offers complimentary admission to the lookout and glass floor levels to its guests. The Horizons Restaurant has a full menu and bar on the lookout level, and a café is open during the day for more rapid service.
General admission to the tower is CDN$35 for adults and CDN$25 for seniors and youths, with an additional CDN$12 for the SkyPod. The Premier Experience, including the SkyPod and front-of-the-line access, is CDN$89. The Toronto City Pass includes the tower, Toronto Zoo, Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario Science Center and Casa Loma, and costs CDN$64 for adults and CDN$41 for youths. These tickets also include discounts at the retail store. The EdgeWalk experience includes tower admission and costs CDN$195.