Toronto Boosts Convention Capabilities

A building frenzy over the past two years has enabled Toronto to offer planners four full-fledged convention centers--two are downtown and two are convenient to Pearson International Airport.

The newest space opened July 1 at the Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre.

The three-level, underground expansion, which opened south of the existing facility, has increased exhibit space to nearly 460,000 square feet (divisible into seven halls), 250,000 of which is column-free. There are now 70 meeting rooms, ranging from 500 square feet to 10,000 square feet (all equipped for simultaneous translation), plus two carpeted ballrooms (28,000 and 50,000 square feet) and a 1,330-seat multipurpose auditorium.

Don't be put off by the idea of burrowing underground. There is a cheery street-level ceremonial entrance to the new halls, featuring a whimsical floor inlaid with designs of gigantic frogs and turtles. A 30-foot-by-60-foot skylight brightens the registration and prefunction areas. The facility is close to the CN Tower and the Skydome, is connected to public transit by a glass-enclosed skywalk, and is directly linked to the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

This opening followed hot on the heels of the April opening of the new National Trade Centre at Exhibition Place. Built in the 1930s as a European-style fairground, Exhibition Place has a massive, triple-arched stone entry, complete with statuary and billowing flags.

The four new exhibit halls that compose the National Trade Centre are in sharp contrast to the older exhibit areas. Ceiling heights are 47 feet to 60 feet, and the soaring, curving, glass-walled lobby runs the length of the new halls. A courtyard links old and new structures, and the new halls plus the courtyard add 409,080 square feet of exhibit space. With the 24 meeting rooms, a 6,200-seat arena, and a 100-seat theater, the facility now totals 1,072,000 square feet.

International Centre, which is barely five minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from downtown, hosts more of the country's top ten shows than any other competing venue. The opening last August of a 65,000-square-foot, column-free hall brought the total exhibit space to 468,000 square feet in ten interconnecting halls, the largest of them 95,000 square feet. Because all space is on ground level, there is unlimited floor-load capacity. Twelve meeting rooms accommodate board meetings of

10 to 24 persons or banquets for up to 140 persons.

Also near the airport is the two-year-old Toronto Congress Centre, offering two distinct facilities under one roof. Six continuous exhibit halls can accommodate 2,000 ten-foot-by-ten-foot booths. Adjacent to the exhibit halls is a conference complex. Its 13 meeting rooms and ballroom, which can accommodate groups of 10 to 1,200, feature good soundproofing, adjustable lighting, and videoconferencing capabilities. -Rayna Skolnik

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings will be held in Vancouver from November 18 to 26. And Meeting Professionals International (MPI) returns to Vancouver for its Professional Education Conference in January 1999. New developments in the province for the group market include:

Whistler The 121-suite Pan Pacific Lodge, Whistler, opens in December at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.

Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, once separately owned, are now both owned by Intrawest, which will invest $35 million in development, including the creation of Creekside Village. Blackcomb has the longest ski season in North America.

Vancouver By the year 2000, 3,919 hotel suites and rooms will be added. They include the 229-suite Delta Vancouver Suite Hotel, opening in December; a 201-suite Westin Hotels property, opening in early 1999; and a four-star hotel at the airport terminal, scheduled for spring 1999.

A 250,000-square-foot expansion of the Vancouver Trade & Convention Centre has been proposed and is under serious consideration.

Victoria Additional ferry service and a new helicopter service--which is North America's first scheduled international helicopter service--between the cities of Victoria and Seattle help make British Columbia's capital even more accessible.

The Royal B.C. Museum is a popular venue for theme events for international groups. It will open a 450-seat theater in the spring of 1998.

The Victoria Centre for Sports and Entertainment, a multipurpose facility that will have meeting and banquet space, is scheduled to open in mid-1999.

In addition to its two-day rail tour through Canada's scenic western provinces, Rocky Mountaineer Railtours this year is offering 41 customizable package tours; all are suitable for both individual and group incentives. The two-day tour travels between Vancouver, BC, and Jasper, Banff, or Calgary, Alberta. Travel is during daylight hours only so that passengers don't miss any of the sights: plenty of wildlife, plus the Canadian Rockies and Jasper and Glacier national parks.

Other itineraries, which range from three nights to two weeks, offer a tour of the wine country; horseback riding in Wells Gray Park, with its extinct volcanoes, lava beds, and mineral baths; and city sightseeing in Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria. Tours originate in either Vancouver or Calgary and operate from early May to mid-October.