For me a city becomes vibrant and exciting when its institutions and facilities become accessible to a diverse audience that cuts across ethnic groups and social classes. Things get even more interesting when foreign travelers become part of this mindset and set out to discover the city through the eyes of a local. When this kind of fruitful cross-pollination occurs, you have achieved a perfect setting for “immersion tourism”, for those travelers who really want to get to know a city from the inside out.
The Gladstone Hotel is a perfect example of this spirit. It is a historic hotel located in Toronto’s Parkdale community and dates back to 1889 when female entrepreneur Susanna Robinson built and managed the property together with her 13 children. The Gladstone Hotel, constructed in the solid Richardsonian Romanesque style, has since been a landmark on Toronto’s West side, originally serving travelers that would come into town on one of the three different railway lines located just steps from the Gladstone. The old train stations are long since gone, and after 40 years of disrepair the Gladstone Hotel has been restored to its deserved role as one of Toronto’s foremost tourism and cultural attractions.
The key person behind this undertaking is Christina Zeidler, daughter of celebrated Canadian architect Eberhard Zeidler, creator of Toronto’s Eaton Centre, Toronto’s Ontario Place and Vancouver’s famous Canada Place. Christina’s older sister Margie turned an old factory building at 401 Richmond Street into a beautifully revitalized space for artists, multi-media companies and non-profit organizations. A concern for urban planning and innovative social entrepreneurship runs in the Zeidler family. The Zeidler partnership restored the hotel along historically accurate lines and turned it into a masterpiece of urban revitalization. Christina refers to her hotel not as an “arts hotel” or a “boutique hotel”, but rather as a “unique hotel”. And unique it is.
The Gladstone Hotel has 37 artist-designed rooms, all uniquely themed and different. I had a chance to see a few of them and not one of the design elements repeats in any of the rooms. The designs range from Victorian revival to stark minimalism that focuses on the basics. I also had a peek at the luxurious third floor Corner Suite, also called “The Best Room”. This suite features a kitchenette, an upscale bath and a gorgeous view. One floor up is the two-level Tower Suite, also referred to as the Rock Star Suite, also with a kitchenette and a sitting area on the lower level and a stunning bedroom located inside a turret on the top level of the hotel, offering a phenomenal 360 degree view of Toronto.