The annual FICP Education Forum took place in Vancouver last June with 230 attendees, who enjoyed the city’s downtown waterfront after day-long sessions.
Credit: Katie Karmowski/FICP
Our neighbor to the north is a fascinating bundle of contrasts: in languages, lifestyles, topography, cultures and cities. Within its borders, every language in the world is spoken, and every nation and ethnicity is represented.
Canadian cities are a diverse lot when it comes to meetings, as well.
Montréal is the cosmopolitan big city in Québec, a province in which more than half of its population speaks French. Also in the province, of course, is Québec City, with ancient alleys and spires and fleur-de-lis banners and buildings dating from the 1600s.
To the west is Ottawa, a capital city of beautiful continental-style government buildings and stately ceremonies, but also interesting ethnic influences in its cuisine and its culture.
Then, there’s Toronto, in the past considered by some a staid provincial town, but now the biggest city in Canada and an exciting, world-class metropolis.
On the West Coast, in a magnificent setting where mountains, rain forests and the Pacific Ocean all converge, are the towering white towers of Vancouver.
Here, from east to west, are five great Canadian meeting cities.
This city was founded by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1608. Old Québec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, close to the Québec City Convention Centre, hotels, attractions and unique venues. This is a wonderful walking city, where the echoes of a colorful history reverberate with every step you take.
Québec City has a distinctive joie de vivre. The French language only adds to its charm. (But people in the service and tourism industries speak English, and all signage is also in both French and English.)
“We had a reception and dinner for a hundred guests at the Hockey Hall of Fame, and they loved the locale. … Toronto has an excellent meetings infrastructure.”
Here, there are still city walls with battlements and old cannons. Horses still pull carriages along narrow cobblestone streets, and houses, restaurants, shops and even rooftops burst with color.
Residents flock to the Plains of Abraham, an urban park with magnificent views of the St. Lawrence River and the opposite shore. And, it’s on hallowed ground. It was here, on
September 13, 1759, that the fate of Canada was decided in a battle between British and French forces.
Place Royale and Petit-Champlain appear as if they just jumped out of a postcard, with quaint boutiques and restaurants. The Saint-Roch district, on the other hand, is a trendy, revitalized neighborhood with a lot of hotels and eateries.
A short drive from town, there’s an island in the St. Lawrence called Ile d’Orleans, with six little villages and beautiful pastoral scenes.
The Québec City Convention Centre
is downtown, only steps from Old Québec City, with an outdoor terrace offering great views of this historic neighborhood. The 300,000-square-foot building has large windows letting in the natural light and spectacular views of the Laurentian Mountains. It’s the first Canadian convention center to offer free Wi-Fi. In addition, it’s a leader in sustainable practices, with a LEED certification and a BOMA BEST from Canada.
Late 2017 saw the opening of the Four-Star Entourage sur-le-Lac Resort, on Lake Beauport, just outside town. Hotel PUR Québec, the first Canadian hotel to join Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio brand, completed a multimillion-dollar renovation of its 242 guest rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space in autumn 2017. Hilton Québec is slated for a top-to-bottom renovation next year.
Montréal remains the cosmopolitan center of French-speaking Canada. It’s a striking union of European charm and North American can-do, and of the historic and the new, from its architecture to its culinary scene.
It’s a city with centuries-old Georgian buildings near the St. Lawrence waterfront and atmospheric little cafés in Old Montreal, on streets not much different than they were 300 years ago.
Yet, it’s also an international city. Today, the population of 1.8 million encompasses some 120 distinct ethnic communities, making Montréal a colorful mosaic of cultures. The world’s second-largest francophone city after Paris, Montréal’s a world leader in aeronautics, information technology and biotechnology, as well as an innovator in medicine, multimedia, the arts and urban planning.
It’s a 24-hour-a-day city, a foodie city and a hotbed for creative types, from painters to musicians to a hundred genres of nontraditional artists.
Getting around is easy. Its streets, parks, underground pedestrian network (“underground city,” as it’s often called), and Métro System are safe and easy to navigate. The city’s filled with vibrant neighborhoods with outdoor markets, boutiques, restaurants and local cafés. Many residents speak English.
Visitors can capture the true essence of Montréal at Notre Dame Basilica, a magnificent old church surrounded by buildings dating back to 1687. They’ll also find spectacular views of the city and the St. Lawrence Seaway beyond it atop Mount Royal. And, they can experience cool cafés, galleries and street artists on Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Town.
Numerous companies offer group tours of the city. A must-do is the nighttime Ghost Tours through back alleys and darkened docks.
Attendees can also find the essence of Montréal on a motorized boat trip into the St. Lawrence rapids (be prepared for a great ride!).
The city’s hotel scene is a lively one. Hotel Birks Montréal opened late last year in an iconic 1879 building with 132 rooms and meeting spaces for up to 140. Four Seasons Montréal will open shortly, in a beautiful glass building with 168 rooms and a fifth-floor event space with an outdoor terrace.
DoubleTree by Hilton Montréal Airport recently completed a renovation of its 169 guest rooms and 3,250 square feet of meeting space, and Hotel Le Germain Montréal is currently undergoing an upgrade (finishing this summer) that will add 35 new guest rooms. Montréal Marriott Chateau Champlain is now upgrading the 611 guest rooms and 35,565 square feet of meeting space, while remaining open.
A $50 million renovation to the Le Centre Sheraton Montréal Hotel, including the 825 guest rooms and 56,000 square feet of meeting space, is underway. The hotel will remain open throughout.
Ottawa is stately, regal … and cool and fun. It’s a city filled with continental-
style government buildings and colorful pageantry.
Once somewhat homogeneous, Ottawa’s now home to numerous
ethnic groups and nationalities.
As Canada’s capital city, Ottawa tells the country’s stories. Home to national museums and institutions, the city reflects the country in ways both obvious and subtle.
Located in the province of Ontario but bordering Québec, it’s a place where you’ll hear both English and French. It offers the cultural and culinary amenities you’d expect to find in a G7 capital.
Residents love the outdoors — cycling, paddling, golfing or hiking in warmer weather, and skiing, skating, snowshoeing or playing hockey in winter. It’s not hard to find a place in which to do these things — there are some 500 miles of recreational pathways in the region.
Ottawa offers attendees a truly Canadian experience through historic landmarks and engaging museums in a pedestrian-friendly downtown with world-class hotels.
One of the places that really says “Ottawa” is Parliament Hill, with neo-Gothic buildings and copper roofs. So do the many great national museums here, where attendees can get a good insight into the history and culture of Canada. Then, there’s the Rideau Canal, North America’s oldest continuously operating canal system (since 1832) and a UNESCO World Heritage site. In winter, thousands of residents actually skate to and from work on it!
Some locals, though, say the real face of Ottawa is found in the ByWard Market neighborhood, an eclectic enclave with a famous farmer’s market by that name. This is Ottawa’s entertainment district, filled with restaurants, clubs, bistros and boutiques — and outdoor stalls in summer.
In Ottawa, meeting planners can choose among state-of-the-art venues and offsites, where attendees can network and dine among colorful totem poles, old army tanks or even gigantic dinosaurs.
Ottawa also offers access to many expert speakers from the sciences, technology, defense and security, telecommunications and the diplomatic community.
Ottawa’s largest meeting place is the stunning Shaw Centre, overlooking the Rideau Canal. Only seven years old and offering 192,000 square feet of meeting space with advanced technology, it has huge windows letting the outside in and a LEED Gold Certification. The building is said by some to resemble a giant glass tulip lying on its side, and no two panes are the same shape.
The city’s newest hotel, Le Germain Hotel Ottawa, just opened last May, with a restaurant and fitness center. Two new, adjoining hotels, Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites By Hilton, are scheduled to open shortly, with a total of 346 guest rooms and 9,400 square feet of meeting space.
The Brookstreet Hotel, 13 miles west of downtown and surrounded by high-tech companies, completed a major renovation in January 2018, tripling the size of its meeting space to 30,000 square feet.
“We meet in Canada frequently,” says Michelle Koszulinski, meeting planner for Itasca, Illinois-based Captive Resources, one of the largest administrators of member-owned group captive insurance companies in America. “And, we find Ottawa to be a great place for productive meetings.”
Koszulinski brought 128 attendees to the Catalyst Insurance meeting at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier last October.
“We had originally planned the meeting for the Caribbean,” she says, “but because of the hurricanes last fall, we decided at the last minute to switch it to Canada. We did have a pre-convention meeting with hotel security. But, really, hotel staff was so professional … it was as if we had planned the meeting years ago. Our attendees loved Ottawa. Most had never been there and had no idea about the culture, interesting neighborhoods and this historic hotel … located practically next to the Parliament building, which is breathtaking. Many of our surveys mentioned that attendees were energized by the site and the city.”
Not too long ago, Toronto was considered somewhat of a quiet provincial town. But no longer. Now it’s a thriving multinational metropolis and Canada’s biggest city — and top convention destination — with a stunning skyline. Or, as some of the more than 5 million inhabitants call it,
Toronto blends the best of Canadian inclusiveness with iconic attractions, restaurants, culture and festivals. It’s home to North America’s second-largest financial services center and third-largest technology sector, as well as Canada’s largest life-sciences sector, providing planners with access to industry thought leaders. Connecting with these thought leaders, planners can conduct content-related site inspections, grow industry membership and exchange best practices.
How important are meetings to Toronto? Well, Tourism Toronto even has a dedicated department called Business Events Toronto.
Toronto’s “local culture” is no longer just “local” — more than 50 percent of its residents were actually born outside Canada. The city shows off its multi-
ethnic culture through its museums (Aga Khan Museum, Royal Ontario Museum), its innovation (Ontario Science Centre, Design Exchange) and its originality (Casa Loma estate, Bata Shoe Museum), as well as some good old Canadian roots (Hockey Hall of Fame).
Places to experience the real Toronto are legion. Try a peameal bacon sandwich (with honey mustard) and a butter tart at the 200-year-old St. Lawrence Market. Ride the 501 “Red Rocket” streetcar along Queen Street, passing through eclectic neighborhoods like Leslieville, Riverside, Queen West and Roncesvalles along the way.
Take the ferry to the Toronto Islands for a day in the parks and on the beaches. Wander the bohemian Kensington Market for vintage finds, organic coffee, Jamaican patties, gourmet cheese, green grocers and Indian spices.
Head to the CN Tower’s “SkyPod” observation platform, 112 stories up with incredible views, or down to the underground PATH system, with more than 1,200 shops and restaurants.
The Metro Toronto Convention Centre is Canada’s busiest convention/trade show facility, with 700,000 square feet of meeting space, a 1,232-seat theater and more than 11,000 hotel rooms within walking distance.
The city’s newest meeting hotel is St. Regis Toronto, which opened in December with 258 guest rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space — some of which is on the 30th floor.
Also last year, the 404-room Hotel X Toronto opened, with 60,000 square feet of event space, a rooftop pool and movie theaters. And after a renovation and re-branding of the previous hotel on its site, Canada’s first Kimpton Hotel, the Kimpton St. George, opened last July.
There are plenty of new or enhanced attractions, too. The Museum of Illusions opened its first Canadian location in Toronto in November, filled with holograms, optical illusions and unusual rooms.
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), which has meeting/event space for 300 people, will unveil its newest “dinosaur” shortly, a 76 million-year-old creature that’s amazingly preserved.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), also with rentable space, reopened earlier this year in a former industrial space.
And, the Bentway is a unique public space that transforms a mile-long area underneath the Gardiner Expressway into a new gathering place, with gardens, a skating rink, recreational amenities, markets, art, special exhibitions, festivals and theater and musical performances.
Christine Santos is senior communications specialist, corporate programs and exhibit management for Rhode Island-based FM Global. She brought 30 attendees to the Fairmont Royal York Hotel for the September 2017 RIMS Canada Conference, attended by some 1,600 risk-management personnel. The meeting took place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, right across the street from the Royal York.
“We had a reception and dinner for a hundred guests at the Hockey Hall of Fame, and they loved the locale,” Santos says. “We also enjoyed working with Convention Centre staff; they’re extremely professional. It’s a very ‘green’ city, and so are we as a company. We don’t use paper anymore to communicate with attendees; we use mobile apps and social media to let them know where to be, what time to be there, what to bring, etc. Toronto has an excellent meetings infrastructure.”
Vancouver seems almost Oz-like as you approach … a city of light-colored, sky-piercing buildings set against mountains and forest on one side and Vancouver Island and the vast Pacific on the other.
Vancouver is sassy, sophisticated and outdoorsy. Consistently recognized as one of the world’s most livable cities, it’s home to 2 million people who enjoy a mild climate, outdoor adventure and a vibrant cultural life … all perched on nature’s edge. In Vancouver, you can play in the ocean and the mountains on the same day.
It’s the second-largest film production center in North America, home to Greenpeace, and its convention center is the first double-LEED Platinum center
in the world.
The true essence of Vancouver is found in places like Grouse Mountain Resort — The Peak of Vancouver. This is a snowy wonderland in winter, with skating, snowshoeing, skiing and snowboarding. Summer is for hiking, the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife (with two grizzly bears) and helicopter tours. There’s also year-round zip lining, exciting rides and dining at
Another place to find the city’s true essence is the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a 450-foot-long swaying, wood-plank bridge in the mountains above the Capilano River.
Along with thrilling views, the park also features ecotours, First Nations cedar carving demonstrations, a treetops adventure and CliffWalk, a cantilevered walkway jutting out over the canyon below.
Attendees can “go local” at Granville Island, with food, local culture and interesting shops. At Railspur Alley, purchase art and locally made sake and gin, and there’s also a market with provisions for an on-the-dock picnic.
The Mount Pleasant neighborhood is one of the coolest new spots for eating, drinking, shopping and people-watching. Lower Lonsdale is North Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, steeped in history and filled with shops and pubs capturing the unique spirit of the North Shore.
Then, of course, there’s Chinatown, where the food is great, and the lunar New Year is celebrated with traditional lion dances, festive treats, paper lanterns and cultural performances.
One of the largest meeting spaces is Vancouver Convention Centre, with a downtown waterfront location and a dramatic mountain backdrop, as well as 466,500 square feet of event space.
JW Marriott and The DOUGLAS hotel opened in trendy Parq Vancouver in 2017, with a combined 517 guest rooms and 63,000 square feet of meeting space, eight restaurants and access to downtown’s only casino. The Exchange Hotel opened last year, also with meeting space.
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver completed a renovation of its 507 guest rooms last year, and Delta Hotels Vancouver Downtown Suites completed room renovations mid-2017 and will unveil new meeting spaces this year.
Katie Karmowski is events senior manager at Chicago-based Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP). She brought 230 attendees to the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver last June for the annual FICP Education Forum.
“We started planning this in autumn 2017,” she says. “We promoted the meeting on email and social media, and we sold out the 230 spaces very quickly. Vancouver’s an exciting city with great meeting facilities, and it’s a great walking city. Our surveys … well, the attendees were very positive about the meeting, the hotel and the city. They felt it was a very
“And, the prices are very reasonable for American groups,“ she continues, “because you can get substantial rebates. Tourism Vancouver will work with you to get rebates on the sales taxes for F&B, hotels, etc.” I&FMM