Toronto’s iconic skyline is made unique by, indeed even defined by, the Canadian National (CN) Tower. Completed in 1976 and towering an incredible 600 meters (1,815 feet) over the metropolis of Toronto, Ontario, the CN Tower is the world’s tallest freestanding structure and the second tallest building in the world (it was the tallest until the Canton Tower was built in 2010).
The CN Tower was originally designed by Canadian National Railroad as a TV and communications tower to serve the fast-growing Toronto area. As the plans evolved and Canadian industry boomed, the idea to make the tallest tower in the world emerged as a show of confidence in the strength of Canada’s robust economy. In 1972 the final plans for the construction of the CN Tower were finalized and construction began.
Originally the tower was designed to consist of a tripod of three cylindrical tubes rising up to a main deck, but as construction proceeded plans were changed and the now-familiar concrete-and-steel hexagon shape was used instead. From 1972 until completion in 1976, more than 2000 people were employed in the construction of the tower. The upper parts of the tower were built using powerful US military Sikorski helicopters to lift pre-built panels in sections. When the upper deck was finished in 1975, the CN Tower had officially stolen the title of “tallest tower” from the Ostankino Tower in Moscow. In 1976 the tower was opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the mayor of Toronto and the president of CN Rail, and Toronto history was made.
For 20 years the CN tower stood alone on the western edge of Toronto, near some dilapidated and unused rail yards. A glass-floor exhibition, a shopping mall and an upper-deck revolving restaurant were added and tourists were soon flocking to the tower year-round. As well military and sattelite communications systems were added, and within 15 years of construction the tower’s total cost ($63 million in 1974 value: about $300 million today) was completely paid off!
In 1982 plans to revitalize the abandoned railway area surrounding the CN Tower were initiated, and 3 years later, in 1985, the Ontario government announced the winner of a bid competition. The design of an impressive new sporting arena to be built at the base of the Tower was awarded the contract, and ten years after the CN Tower was complete, construction on the SkyDome (now the Rogers Center) was underway. At a cost of $150 million, the SkyDome was officially opened in 1989 and became the home of the Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball team. The SkyDome’s original high-vaulted mechanical roof could open on sunny days and close on rainy and winter days, and its unique shape added a much-needed architectual base to the lonesome CN Tower. Over the following decade the Air Canada Center (ACC), another sports arena, and several other modernized buildings were added around the CN Tower, creating a post-modern humanist parkland out of once-abandoned railroad marshalling yards!
Today, the CN Tower is an iconic part of the Toronto skyline. On a clear day the tower can be seen from more than 80 km away, and is often the first building to greet visitors to Toronto. By the late 1990’s the tower was being used as a major cellular transmitting station alongside its space, TV and tourism duties, and the tower continues to rake in a profit year after year. Charity events, including “edge walking” and racing up the 1,776 stairs to the top (thankfully there are a variety of public elevators for the normal people), are popular features of the tower, as is the restaurant, the glass floor, the upper observation decks, and the underground mall at the tower’s base. Admission to the tower currently runs about $20 for an adult, making the CN Tower a landmark well worth the visit!