The Constellation Hotel, later the Regal Constellation Hotel, was once located at 900 Dixon Rd (at Carlingview Dr on the northeast corner) in the West Humber-Clairville area of Toronto.
The Constellation Hotel
In the early 1960s, along a stretch of road in farmland that led to the Malton Airport, construction began on the Constellation Hotel. Heading the company that owned the $3 million hotel was Benjamin Dunkelman, the president of Tip Top Tailors.
The company hired the architect firm Brigman and Hamann to design the Modern-style upscale motor hotel that would provide guests with a quiet, comfortable and peaceful place to stay since the airport was only seconds away. To accomplish this, they incorporated several soundproofing features into the concrete hotel, like acoustically treating the walls and ceilings and extending the floors and walls 3 feet past the exterior to baffle sound and sun glare.
In 1962, the Constellation Hotel opened its doors. Fronting the five-storey block of guestrooms was an A-frame pavilion with fieldstone walls. The hotel had 150 luxurious and spacious air-conditioned rooms, dining areas with cuisine by master chefs, lounges, a sparkling swimming pool, a landscaped promenade and babysitting services, plus there were banquet and convention facilities for up to 600 people. It was a big-city-style hotel next to the new International Airport or what we know today as Toronto Pearson.
The motor hotel marketed itself as a place with a relaxed resort-style atmosphere, which caught the attention of Torontonians who opted to take in the city’s new weekend summertime playground instead of wasting precious time on the busy highway heading up north. A double room with a TV and radio, a full-course breakfast, Saturday night poolside dancing and old-world hospitality was $8.95 per person, with each additional child in the same room at $5.45. The hotel was also frequented by airline crew who didn’t want to make the long journey to downtown Toronto.
Almost immediately after opening, there were expansion plans, and construction on a 15-story tower soon got underway. Precast, 2.5-ton panels with unusually shaped windows were used to form the exterior walls of the new Brutalist-style building designed by architects Webb, Zerafa & Menkes. During this time, real estate businessman George Kalmar purchased the Constellation. In 1966, the hotel’s 150-room International Tower officially opened.
Over the remainder of Mr Kalmar’s 25-year ownership, the Constellation had four more additions to build the hotel into a 900-guestroom convention facility. The hotel featured a 7-storey vaulted glass atrium over the lobby, a 23,000 sq ft ballroom (the largest in Canada), several dining rooms, shops, tennis courts, a salon, a barber, a car rental outlet and more. The Constellation had become the swankiest hotel in Toronto, hosting everyone from prime ministers to conventioners to the hip martini-sipping crowd.
The Regal Constellation & the Site Today
In the late 1980s, the hotel was renamed the Regal Constellation when the Hong Kong-based Regal Group acquired it. The hotel continued hosting several trade shows and conventions over the next decade; however, the aging property started declining, more hotels popped up on the airport strip, and occupancy rates dropped.
When the SARS outbreak struck the city in 2003, it dealt a heavy blow to Toronto’s hotel industry, and the Regal Constellation was one of the first to fall. The hotel went into receivership. It was bought and sold a couple of times with investors hoping to restore the asbestos-filled Constellation to its former glory, but the cost to do so was far too much.
In 2011, after sitting empty for eight years, the once-swinging hotel was torn down. Today, the northeast corner of Dixon Rd and Carlingview Dr is home to Park’N Fly Airport Parking.
Did You Know?
- In the late 1950s and early 1960s, an upscale motor hotel building boom was sweeping across the country, and the Constellation was part of it. The roadside hotels combined luxury rooms and amenities with excellent service and fine dining, all in a contemporary package that rivalled that of the fancy downtown hotels.
- If the name Dunkelman sounds familiar, Benjamin’s father was David Dunkelman, who founded Tip Top Tailors in 1909.
- In 1966, at the opening ceremony of the International Tower, the aluminum sculpture “Galaxy” by artist Gerald Gladstone was unveiled. The artwork complemented the massive wing and stood outside it for years. The sculpture has since been relocated to the Etobicoke Civic Centre.
- In 1996, a Lockheed Super Constellation aircraft was moved to the Regal Constellation. The refurbished propeller-driven luxury aircraft that had once flown Trans-Canada Airlines until taken out of service in the mid-1960s served as the Super Connie cocktail and dining lounge.
Constellation Hotel Photos
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Nov 21, 1961, pg 22
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jun 6, 1962, pg 17
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Dec 10, 1962, pg 27
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Sep 10, 1963, pg B2
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jul 15, 1964, pg B8
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Dec 15, 1965, pg B2
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jul 14, 1966, pg 23
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: May 1, 1982, pg D9
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Aug 6, 1996, pg A7
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Jul 12, 2003, pg A14
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jan 29, 2011, pg M6
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Aug 27, 2012, pg GT5
- Lockheed Martin: How the Constellation Became the Star of the Skies
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library
- Toronto City Directory by Might Directories Ltd 1965 courtesy of Toronto Public Library
- Toronto Yellow Pages 2003/04 courtesy of Toronto Public Library