Royal York Toronto

(Fairmont Hotel Toronto)

The Fairmont Royal York Toronto is more than just a hotel. It's an historic Toronto landmark with a colourful social history.

The Royal York Toronto is one of those rare institutions that actually suit the term “swish”. You only have to look at it from across the street to see that this Grand Old Dame has class.

Above: Royal York Hotel, Photo courtesy of Tourism Toronto

Its style belongs to a storied Canadian architectural tradition called “The Castles of the North”.

Like the Chateau Laurier Ottawa, the Royal York is one of a chain of luxurious “castle-hotels” that the Canadian Pacific Railway built in the early years of the 20th century, when rail travel was the way to get around the country. This explains its convenient location right across the street from Union Station Toronto.

In those days the railway company thought the "castle" look was the way to impress their status-hungry clients. This luxury property certainly resembles a “faux chateau”, at least at the roofline level, which is best viewed from a distance…down the street a block or two, or better yet, from the prow of the Toronto Island ferry. From there the Royal York Toronto with her copper tower, though dwarfed by dull skyscrapers, is still the Queen of them all.

But don’t be satisfied with just a quick glance at the imposing exterior of this Art Deco darling. Go inside. See the lobby. Even if you’re not staying here, if you’re interested in beauty at all, it’s worth your while to explore this historic Toronto attraction.

Inside the Royal York Toronto

One thing you’ll notice even from the outside is that the building is quite massive by hotel standards. It features more than 1000 rooms spread over 28 floors in two wings (the east wing was added in 1959). One of these floors even has a Royal Suite for the Queen or her family members when they visit Toronto.

Does this huge two-storied lobby look familiar? Think hard. You may have seen it in a movie. The hotel often stands in for posh New York hotels when a film crew is shooting in Toronto and pretending it’s the Big Apple.

The centerpiece of the lobby is dominated by a famous four-faced clock, a thing of brassy beauty.

And what about those exquisite Art Deco elevators? These aren’t elevators; these are works of art and mini history lessons. Here's just some of the detail on their brass doors:

Photo of doors by colros on flickr Photo of doors by colros on flickr
Fort York

The walls of some of the conference rooms are decorated with Canadian themes and if their doors happen to be open, have a peek. They're amazing.

And check out The Imperial Room (is a name like that even allowed these days?). It's normally used for business conferences and private functions. This is where the power brokers of the nation like to make their earth-shattering “pronouncements”.

Social history

The Royal York Hotel opened on June 11, 1929, just four months before the stock market crash. Yes, it was the Depression for most people, but life went on for the rich. In its glory years, the hotel boasted its own twelve-bed hospital, library, playroom, concert hall, ballroom, golf course, and even a radio station. Visitors may examine blown-up photographs of these features on the mezzanine.

On the first floor is that opulent Imperial Room. Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, Duke Ellington, Barbara Streisand, Tina Turner, and Canadian songbird Anne Murray are just a few of the international stars who have performed here.

The hotel's public relations department likes to brag that they have hosted three generations of British royalty, but literary fans may be more interested to know that Arthur Hailey stayed here while he was researching his book Hotel.

Amenities

The Royal York Toronto has five restaurants and four bars open to the general public and popular with locals. You'll find such reassuring ceremonies as the “Afternoon Tea and Roof Garden Tour” ... perhaps the perfect tool to wheedle your way back into someone's good graces?

You'll find some serious fine shopping here as well. Art-lovers shouldn't miss Balzac Fine Arts where you can buy Inuit sculpture and other contemporary Canadian pieces.

Animal-lovers will be pleased to learn that the hotel sets aside some dog-friendly rooms for you and your pal. (Although not completely friendly…the rules state that Fido must be "crated" at all times unless you're in the room with him.)

The Royal York has a long history of serving the wealthy, so prices aren’t cheap. Regular rates start around $250 per night, but in tough economic times you can sometimes find discounted rooms for as little as $119/night.

Location

The Royal York is located at 100 Front Street West, right across the street from Union Station Toronto. It's connected to Union Station Toronto by the Toronto PATH system.

The hotel is in easy walking distance to the Entertainment District, the Financial District, Harbourfront, the AirCanada Centre, and the Rogers Centre Stadium.

Ontario Travel Secrets  >  Toronto Ontario Hotels  >Royal York Toronto