Twenty-nine hours. That’s how long Jeffrey Caulfield and Willy Klaudusz waited in line to be among the first people to enter the CN Tower when it opened its doors to the general public on June 26, 1976. As many as 12,000 people followed them that day, the first of the daily hordes that still flow into the landmark 35 years later.
Before the tourists arrived, the tower assumed its official duty as a broadcast tower on May 31, 1976. On the first day of transmissions (May 31, 1976), the television lineup included CBLT, CFTO, CBLFT, CITY, and TVOntario, while sitting on the FM radio bench were CBL, CHFI, CKFM (now Virgin Radio), CHIN, and CHUM. Thanks to the tower, viewers in Welland could watch Radio-Canada broadcasts, while cottagers relaxing in Muskoka could receive the smooth sounds of CHFI on their dockside radios. The improved reception caused Bracebridge Mayor Jim Lang to ask, “You can’t get us some American channels, can you?” Television viewers in Toronto who hadn’t adjusted their antennas might have asked the same question, as the strengthened signals of CBLT and CFTO drowned out their ability to watch Commander Tom and Irv Weinstein.
A 24-page supplement published in the Star on the eve of the opening offered illustrated visions of what visitors could expect, which included a parade of 1970s on-the-town fashions in the rotating Top of Toronto restaurant.
As with any new attraction, glowing press releases were mixed with criticism from the media. One who didn’t rave about the CN Tower experience was architect and Toronto alderman Colin Vaughan, who provided his thoughts to the Globe and Mail:
The first disappointment comes at the main entrance. There’s no sensation of arriving at the base of a tall structure to be overwhelmed by the vision of the tower ahead. Instead you enter through a foyer boxed in with aluminum and glass shopping centre entrance doors. The foyer is roofed with an open truss, smeared with silver paint. Where is the tower? Who knows?…Undoubtedly the tower will draw millions of visitors who will come and gawk at the mechanical and electronic bric-a-brac and buy the CN tower–shaped rye bottles as souvenirs. But none will experience the unique sensation, the vertigo and the straight excitement which should accompany a visit to a structure of this scale.
Many articles about the tower reassured Torontonians that it wouldn’t collapse and transform downtown into the set of an Irwin Allen disaster movie. They also made it clear that anyone contemplating a plunge off the top to end it all would, according to consulting architect Ned Baldwin, need to haul a 40-pound sledgehammer up the elevator just to get through the glass in the observation deck. “We thought about the fact that someone would inevitably try to jump off the tower, and by careful design we’ve made it as inconvenient as is humanly possible,” he told Toronto Life.
Visitors who wanted to pair the spectacular view with a fine meal had to wait two weeks until the Top of Toronto restaurant opened on July 10, 1976. Toronto Calendar magazine noted a key problem that the hospitality crew from CN Hotels faced in the 420-seat venue: “How on earth (or, more appropriately, in heaven) can you produce a soufflé to compete with the panoramic view of the sun dancing on almost all of Lake Ontario? What can you do to duckling that will capture the attention of a client bewitched by the rainbow-shot cloud of spray over Niagara 75 miles away?”
The culinary results were mixed. Browsing several reviews, the seafood casserole was universally praised for its well-chosen mix of sea treats and side of creamy pink garlic sauce. Toronto Calendar liked a perfectly cooked-to-order slab of prime rib but found the coq au vin “dry and stringy.” Toronto Life was disappointed by soggy roast duck accompanied by tinned pineapple rings, and by pickerel that was “reminiscent of frozen fish sticks from the supermarket.” Their final verdict was that despite a reasonably priced menu for such a tourist attraction, “Top of Toronto has a mile or so to go before its quality matches its altitude.”
After experiencing the tower, Ontario visitors could run to the liquor store to buy a boozy reminder of their CN Tower experience. If you still have a bottle, crack it open and enjoy a toast to the past 35 years.
Additional material from the July 1976 and November 1976 editions of Toronto Calendar, the February 1976 and September 1976 editions of Toronto Life, and the following newspapers: the June 26, 1976, edition of the Globe and Mail, and the June 1, 1976, and June 25, 1976, editions of the Toronto Star.