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The CN Tower: Canada’s Tallest Freestanding Tower

Sticking out of the city of Toronto’s skyline is the 10th tallest freestanding structure in the world, the CN Tower. The iconic Canadian landmark has stood for nearly 50 years, with the tower being completed in 1975 and opened to the public in 1976. Though the tower is an impressive architectural feature, what is the point of the tall skinny build which strongly resembles a needle? It looms over the city of Toronto making it a well-known feature, but what was its original purpose? Well as it would turn out there are multiple reasons.

The CN Tower was originally created to demonstrate Canadian innovation and the strength of the railway company Canadian National or CN. However, the tower also became the solution to the lack of transmission towers in the city of Toronto. In the 1960s, the city saw a boom in construction and growth which resulted in existing transmission towers not being high enough to send signals to the new tall buildings. In response to this, engineers designed the CN tower to be practical as a transmission tower, while still getting the original message CN had wanted for it.

The tower was constructed on what had been CN rail yards which were deconstructed to make room for the tower. To begin, workers had to remove 56 tonnes of earth and shale from the ground to be able to build a solid foundation for the tower. After, they began the process of creating the concrete shaft in which a mold was used to slowly build the tower. The tower was finally completed after a helicopter placed the 39-piece antenna onto the tower, making it the largest freestanding tower in the world until 2009 sitting at 553 meters (1,815 feet).

The tower once completed served as a telecommunications tower, broadcasting signals across the region, but primarily to the city of Toronto. Unintentionally, the tower ended up having another important use to the function of the city as even today it acts as protection from lightning. Given the tower is the tallest structure in the city it is often struck by lightning which thankfully the engineers designed the CN Tower to be able to withstand.

The CN Tower officially became Canada’s National tower after it was sold in 1995 to the Canada Lands Company, a federal crown corporation. Since 1976, when the tower was opened to the public it became a major tourist attraction for the city of Toronto. The tower receives 1.5 to 2 million visitors per year, and its purpose has shifted from being a telecommunications tower to tourism. The CN Tower is famously known for its glass floor, a panel of glass flooring in which you can see down to the street below the tower. The edge walk, a walk on the outside edge of the CN Tower, with a harness of course. And even a restaurant at the top of the tower called 360 which completes a full rotation of the city approximately every 72 minutes, so one can get a full view of Toronto’s landscape. The tower is often used as an educational field trip for Canadian students:

“I first went to the CN Tower in my grade 3 class. It was something I’ll never forget, primarily because of the clear glass. Being eight it was very intimidating to go on to it despite being told that it could withstand the weight of like 3 orcas. I’m still glad I got to go to my city’s greatest landmark” – Grade 10 Ontario Student

Though the CN Tower has shifted to being more of a tourist attraction, it still acts as a communications tower for radio and television broadcasting, especially in the downtown core of Toronto. To this date, the CN Tower remains a standing beacon of Canadian innovation and symbolism, especially when it lights up red and white every July 1st for Canada Day.

Works Cited:

DirtStories. “Building the CN Tower”. DOZR. 9 July 2021.

La Tour CN Tower. “Building a Canadian Icon”. La Tour CN Tower. 2022.

Sienkiewicz , Alexandra. “Here's what the CN Tower was intended for, before the glass floor and EdgeWalk”. CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 16 August 2017.

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