To the dismay of many Torontonians, the CN Tower has become the city’s symbol. It’s touted on much of the city’s promotional literature, features on thousands of postcards and holiday snaps and has become the obligatory start to most tourist itineraries. From almost anywhere in the city, it’s impossible to miss its slender form poking high above the skyline, reminding some of French novelist Guy de Maupassant’s quip about another famous tower: “I like to lunch at the Eiffel Tower because that’s the only place in Paris I can’t see it.”

Unlikely as it may seem, the celebrity status of the CN Tower was entirely unforeseen, its origins plain and utilitarian. In the 1960s, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) teamed up with the railway conglomerate Canadian National (CN) to propose the construction of a bigger and better transmission antenna. The CBC eventually withdrew from the project, but CN, who owned the land, forged ahead. To the company’s surprise, they found the undertaking stirred intense public interest – so much so that long before the tower was completed, in 1975, it was clear its potential as a tourist sight would be huge: today, broadcasting only accounts for about twenty percent of the tower’s income, with the rest provided by the two million tourists who throng here annually. Come early (especially on school holidays) to avoid the crowds.

The tower

Though recently pipped to the post by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the CN Tower was for several decades the tallest freestanding structure in the world, its sleek and elegant structure tapering to a minaret-thin point 553m (1815ft) above the city centre. Details of its construction are provided in a series of photographs on the mezzanine level, just beyond security check-in. The background information is extremely interesting, revealing all sorts of odd facts and figures, though it’s hardly reassuring to know the tower is hit by lightning between sixty and eighty times a year.

The Look Out Level and the Sky Pod

From the foot of the tower, glass-fronted elevators whisk you up the outside of the building to the indoor and outdoor Look Out Level at 346m. The circular galleries here provide wide views over the city and out across Lake Ontario. Certain features stand out, notably the splash of greenery banding the Toronto Islands, the welter of new condominium blocks marauding across the lakeshore, and Will Alsop’s giant table at the Sharp Centre for Design. At this level also is the reinforced glass floor – a vertigo shock that goes some way to justifying the tower’s pricey admittance fee – and 360 The Restaurant, which slowly revolves around the tower, taking 72 minutes to make one revolution. You are, however, still 100m from the top of the tower, with a separate set of lifts to carry visitors up to the Sky Pod, a confined little gallery that doesn’t really justify the extra expense.

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