Toronto’s Union Station is a National Historic Site of Canada. // (c) 2013 City of Toronto
When it opened in 1929, Toronto’s legendary Royal York Hotel set new standards in hospitality, rapidly becoming a playground for royalty, dignitaries and the rich and famous. The 28-story building — which was then the largest hotel in Canada and the tallest building in the entire British Empire — featured opulence never before seen in Toronto, and each of the 1,048 guestrooms included the luxuries of the day (in-room radios, as well as private showers or bathtubs).
Strategically built across the street from Toronto’s Union Station, which opened in 1927, the Royal York was constructed by Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) as a glamorous getaway during a time when rail-passenger travel was at its zenith.
“Trains have played a pivotal role in uniting Canadians throughout our history, and they continue to keep us connected,” said VIA Rail’s president and CEO Marc Laliberte.
Union Station, a National Historic Site of Canada, continues to be a hub for Canada’s rail travelers. VIA Rail, the nation’s passenger rail service, makes an average of 44 stops in Toronto every day. The service sends nearly 2.4 million passengers, or about half of its entire customer base, to Toronto every year.
Clients with enough time between connecting trains can easily cross the street — or take Toronto’s underground PATH tunnel system — to soak up history at Toronto’s legendary hotel, which was renamed Fairmont Royal York after CPR acquired Fairmont Hotels in 1999. The hotel’s mezzanine level displays images and stories of the history of Union Station and The Fairmont Royal York.
Passengers booked in VIA Rail’s business class or sleeper touring class service can skip the trip down memory lane and, instead, enjoy free access to the Panorama Lounge, which was fully remodeled in 2012.
“This new lounge allows for a more comfortable travel experience for the close to 170,000 business class and sleeper touring class passengers that leave Union Station on VIA trains every year,” said Laliberte.
The 6,300-square-foot lounge features views of Toronto’s Front Street and the Fairmont Royal York. While it retains much of Union Station’s original architectural and design elements, it also provides access to plenty of modern amenities such as free Wi-Fi access, a business center and high-definition televisions. Guests can enjoy comfortable seating, as well as free non-alcoholic beverages and a selection of magazines and newspapers.
Later this year, VIA Rail will provide another link to the past for Toronto-bound passengers when it begins offering free online access to Canadian broadcasts such as “Heritage Minutes” vignettes and Memory Project veteran interviews produced by The Historica-Dominion Institute. The vignettes will be part of a service, offered along VIA Rail’s Quebec City-Toronto-Windsor corridor. Clients can use onboard Wi-Fi to view select Canadian programming free of charge.
VIA Rail offers business-class service between Montreal and Toronto, and sleeper-class service from Toronto to points west, such as Alberta and Vancouver. Travelers interested in exploring Canada’s landscape at a leisurely pace can purchase a VIA Canrailpass, which includes seven credits for one-way trips in between two cities.