A City of Towers

Charles Ajunwa writes about his recent experience in Toronto, Canada

Penultimate Tuesday, this reporter flew into Toronto Pearson International Airport, Canada’s busiest airport via an Ethiopian Airlines. The over 14-hours flight which took off from Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, had two stopovers in Addis Ababa and Dublin before terminating in Toronto. The mission was to cover the Online Learning 2018 organised by MediaEdge Communications held at The Westin Harbour Castle, Toronto. Two elegant looking stewards were at the entrance of the hotel, directing guests around the massive building which behind it has a breathtaking waterfront, where tourists hang out to catch fun.

The three-day Online Learning summit attracted 1,100 delegates from 10 countries, 400 presenters in over 139 sessions, 31 leading suppliers of products and services in the EdTech Expo, and 12 major sponsors. There were exchanges and discussions throughout the event on practices and research in pedagogy, design, student support, access, retention and success, teacher training technology applications, and institutional developments. For the first time in Canada, the event brought higher education faculty, academic administrators, learning designers and policy-makers together with corporate learning and performance professionals in partnership with the Institute for Performance and Learning.

Despite my tight schedules during the Summit, as a first-time visitor my curiosity afforded me the opportunity to learn more about the Canadian society- presently accommodating over 5,000 resident Nigerians and over 10,000 Nigerian students, the highest in the sub-Saharan Africa.

Canada is a country located in the northern part of North America. Its 10 provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres (3.85 million square miles), making it the world’s second-largest country by total area. Canada’s southern border with the United States is the world’s longest bi-national land border. Its capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. As a whole, Canada is sparsely populated, the majority of its land area being dominated by forest and tundra. Consequently, its population is highly urbanised , with over 80 per cent of its inhabitants concentrated in large and medium-sized cities, many near the southern border. Canada’s climate varies widely across its vast area, ranging from arctic weather in the north, to hot summers in the southern regions, with four distinct seasons. The official languages are English and French.

“Toronto” is Huron Indian for “meeting place,” a word which aptly describes one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with over 100 different cultures represented in its population of over 2.3 million. This diversity can be seen at the city’s many festivals, friendly neighbourhoods , and of course, its 9,000 restaurants.

I marvelled at the massive development taking in Toronto, essentially powered by technology. The signature post of Canadians is, no doubt, their managerial and orgnisational ability. More than anything else, Canadians invested heavily in their security systems. Within Toronto, there are closed-circuit television monitors (CCTV) mounted in every part of the city running for 24-hours. These CCTVs are part of the sophisticated security network that helps keep crime at bay, no matter its degree of sophistication.

Their transport system is any tourist delight. They have a well managed underground train services, taxis, bus services and popular streetcar system operated by the Toronto Transit Commission which is the busiest in North America.  The movement was further made easy in Toronto by the use of Google map which helps tourists to locate their desired destinations. Apart from the functioning traffic lights, the roads are well demarcated with white lines clearly drawn on the roads. Signages, though mainly in the English language direct you to direct parts of the city. Their clear-cut approach towards metro system, from good maintenance of the road to descriptive signages, could be one of the reasons why accidents are reduced on a daily basis.

The high rise structures dotting landscape is breathtaking. From The Westin Harbour Castle through Bay Street, these landmark structures within Toronto are easily visible from all directions. Difficult to miss, is the CN Tower which stands at 1,815 feet, making it the Western Hemisphere’s tallest freestanding structure. Built at a cost of $63 million in 1976, the CN Tower weighs 130,000 tons! Ascending at a rate similar to that of a jet plane takeoff, the elevators will zoom you up to one of four observation decks including the world’s highest, The Sky Pod, that sits at 1,465’. Feeling brave? Step outside the observation area for the exhilarating EdgeWalk!

Toronto is a bold new city of glass towers. The CIBC Towers is a brand new generation of iconic AAA Bay Street office. The connected towers rise 49 floors each at 81 and 141 Bay Street, facing Union Station and the Air Canada Centre and straddling the train tracks that traverse the downtown core. One building is scheduled to be finished in 2020, the other in 2023. The 2.9 million-square-foot complex, to be developed and jointly managed by Ivanhoé Cambridge and privately owned U.S. developer Hines Interests LP, is among the more ambitious new projects to break ground in Toronto in recent years. Designed by architects WilkinsonEyre and Adamson Associates, it will draw together roughly 15,000 CIBC employees from many of the bank’s 20-plus offices across Toronto, pushing a piece of the city’s financial heart closer to the lakeshore.

Another iconic building is the TD Canada Trust Tower, which is the foremost office tower in Canada and the country’s pre-eminent business address. Comprising over 1.14 million square feet of ‘AAA’ office space in the Brookfield Place Complex, 161 Bay Street is located in the heart of Toronto’s Financial Core at the corner of Bay and Front Street. It is directly connected to Union Station and the underground PATH network and is within close proximity to the city’s main highways; the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. 161 Bay Street is also minutes away from Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop International Airport and Toronto’s premier sports and entertainment facility, the Air Canada Centre. The building’s formidable architectural aspects and location attract top-tier tenants that occupy the country’s highest quality, core office space. The Complex comprised two office towers totalling over 2.4 million square feet, two smaller heritage office buildings, ground floor and concourse-level retail, a large concourse-level food court, a four-level parking garage and an outdoor public space, all connected via the spectacular Allan Lambert Galleria. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and B+H Architects, 161 Bay Street and was constructed in 1990 and is a sophisticated combination of modern architecture and Toronto heritage with features such as restored 19th century facades and the Santiago Calatrava designed Allan Lambert Galleria. This iconic six-storey pedestrian walkway was the result of an international competition.161 Bay was certified LEED Gold EB : O&M in August 2012.

The L Tower at the heart of downtown Toronto is the evolution of 21st century living. An iconic landmark designed by celebrated architect Daniel Libeskind, the residential tower rises 57 storeys and is home to 600 suites, graced with high-end luxurious features and finishes. The exquisite interiors feature signature Munge Leung designed kitchen cabinetry, engineered hardwood flooring, stainless steel kitchen appliance package, granite kitchen countertop, marble bathroom countertop, 9-ft ceiling heights and more. Spectacular condo amenities include catering kitchen for residents and their guests, library, private cinema, lounge, spa facilities and a 24-hour concierge. The project, which broke ground in mid-October 2009, was expected to be complete in mid-2015, but saw many delays. One cause for delay was a stop-work order caused by safety concerns about the crane at the top of the building. The crane was also an eyesore for many residents. Despite the crane (which was removed by September 2018), the building still won the eighth place Emporis Skyscraper Award in 2017.

Apart from the aesthetic structures dotting the landscape of downtown Toronto, the planners of the modern city to make it more environmentally friendly, the drainage system and electric power cables are channelled underground. Cleanliness definitely rates high with Canadians, as you notice motorised trucks moving round on a daily basis to pick up waste from offices and homes. Disposing waste items on non-approved areas are frowned at and attract heavy fines.

The urge to go back to Toronto to enjoy its beautiful sophisticated architectural works increases with each passing day.

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