A Behind-the-scenes Look at the Royal York Hotel
Following the history displays on the Mezzanine Level I got to see the Concert Hall which housed the first production of the Canadian Opera Company. This grand space featured a projection booth as it was also used as a cinema. The original projector is still located in an enclosed area and as a unique historic artifact it is currently being studied by a media historian.
As the hotel was completely booked during my visit, to my chagrin we were unable to see any of the hotel rooms or the lavish guest suites that the Fairmont Royal York Hotel is known for. Instead Alka took me to the Upper Canada Room on the 18th Floor, the former Tea Terrace. At one point the 18th and 19th floor were a two-level tea room, however, today they are separate again, making up two separate floors. The 19th Floor is dedicated to executive meeting spaces that afford privacy in professionally equipped facilities. Wonderful views over Toronto’s harbour open up and it really makes you appreciate the Royal York’s location in the heart of Toronto.
Amazing view from the 19th floor
But more interesting stops were yet to come: I was going to get a glimpse of the Royal York’s roof, from inside and from outside. We took the elevator up a few more floors and then ascended a number of concrete steps on foot. Along the way I had a chance to admire the original mechanisms of the elevators dating back to 1929 which surely have been thoroughly overhauled several times since then. The mechanical equipment of the Royal York Hotel from the start has been state-of-the-art.
The elevator mechanics, still working after almost 80 years…
The space right underneath the steeply pitched copper roof is actually empty and very dark. Alka explained that this area used to be occupied by a gentlemen who worked for the Royal York, refurbishing the hotel’s silverware. He apparently was a bit of a loner who enjoyed his time alone under the roof of this Toronto landmark. The entire space has a Gotham-like feel to it and I was actually expecting Batman to swoop in from around the corner any minute.
Gargoyles are protecting the hotel from the surrounding skyscrapers
A small door opened up into the open roof area just below the green copper roof and Alka and I, accompanied by a security guard, stepped outside and were blinded by the bright light. We were surrounded by Toronto’s downtown skyscrapers, from the white marble-clad Bank of Montreal tower, to the black TD Centre designed by Mies van der Rohe, to the Scotia Plaza and the golden Royal Bank Tower. All of Toronto’s blue chip centres of commerce and business are encircling this historic hotel, making its location even more strategic for the business traveller and more central for holiday-makers wishing to explore Toronto.
The view of the waterfront from the roof is astounding
We walked on a fairly narrow gravel-covered walkway between the hotel’s roof and the sandstone gargoyles that seem to protect this historic structure. We proceeded to the south side and I realized we were right underneath the huge neon letters saying “Fairmont – Royal York” which announce this venerable property to anyone arriving by train and at Toronto’s port, or driving by on the elevated expressway that crosses the city’s south side. The view of the surrounding skyscrapers, of historic Union Station with its many train tracks, the nearby Rogers Centre – the former SkyDome, the CN Tower, the harbour area and the adjacent Toronto Islands was mind-boggling. Alka pointed out that it is extremely rare for anyone to be taken up to this area and I felt very honoured to have seen this unique area that is normally concealed from the public.
These signs spell out “Fairmont Royal York”
Next on the menu was the roof garden, so we descended some stairs, took the elevator down a few flights to the eastern section of the building and climbed more stairs. The roof garden actually holds an extensive collection of organically grown herbs whose cultivation, maintenance and harvest is the responsibility of the apprentice chefs at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Alka mentioned that the hotel has about 100 chefs and one of their hotel packages offers guests a chance to go shopping at the St. Lawrence Market with the hotel’s executive chef. All the food waste in the hotel, about 2,200 pounds, is picked up daily by Turtle Island Recyling for composting while unconsumed banquet food is donated to Second Harvest which distributes it to over 27 agencies throughout Toronto. The hotel follows a comprehensive green action plan for all of its operations.
The roof garden, amid the skyscrapers
The hotel has also made a strong commitment to recycling and sustainability: it has cut its gas consumption by 40% since 1990 by eliminating the incinerator and switching off kitchen equipment that is not in use. Over 400,000 glass bottles and more than 300,000 pounds of cardboard and paper are recycled annually, equivalent to saving 4,000 trees. More than 20,000 pounds of soaps and 4,000 pounds of shampoos as well as reusable bed linens go to social agencies and missions every year.
A pastry chef creates a virtual golf course
Now that we had explored the lofty portions of this beautiful building it was time to investigate the below-ground innards of this fascinating structure. We took the elevator all the down to the main level where Alka showed me the biggest hotel kitchen in Canada. As it was mid-afternoon, the kitchen was a bit quiet. But we caught one of the pastry chefs at work who was in the process of decorating a cake which was increasingly starting to look like a signature hole on one of the world’s most popular golf courses.
This washing machine was enormous!
One floor down in the sub-basement I was fascinated by more parts of the hotel’s infrastructure: Toronto’s largest laundry is located at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. We saw the operation of the huge washers and dryers – one dryer load is equivalent to roughly 11 miles (almost 18 km) of clothesline. Housekeeping as well as a valet dry-cleaning service are also located on the lowest level of the Royal York Hotel. When you visit this area you realize how much work goes into operating one of Canada’s largest and most historic hotels, which has been referred to as “a city within a city block”. Everything, from food, to room service, to event management, housekeeping, cleaning, bed sheets, linens etc. requires a staff of dedicated well-trained employees. At the Royal York these employees come from all over the world, and more than 50 languages are spoken by its employees.
Ada and Dimitra have been with the Royal York for more than 30 years….
My official guided tour had come to an end. I thanked Alka for her time and took a few more pictures of the lobby area and the Library Bar. In this bar I connected with two long-term employees of the hotel: Ada Kulis is just celebrating her 30th anniversary with the hotel, and Dimitra Maritsa has actually been a waitress in the Library Bar since 1971, since opening day. Both ladies were very gracious and their bright smiles lit up my camera. For international travelers, local revelers in search of entertainment and gourmet food, and for employees alike: the Fairmont Royal York Hotel is a special place….
Architectural splendour in downtown Toronto