Doors Open Toronto is the city’s annual invitation to discover and explore over 100 buildings of historic, cultural and architectural significance. This weekend (May 26th and 27th), all those places you’ve gone by but never visited, and some you’ve never heard of, welcome the public for the weekend. And it’s all free!
Dork Shelf editor Andrew Parker and I have made Doors Open an annual tradition for the past four years, so he asked me to provide my thoughts on where to go and how to make the most of the weekend. There is way more to do than what I’ve listed here, so be sure to visit the City’s website for the full list.
Jenna’s Top Ten Buildings to Visit
1) Native Child and Family Services – After completing a huge renovation, NCFS headquarters joined Doors Open for the first time last year. The centrepiece is the longhouse on the main floor, a handcrafted space for ceremony and meeting. Make sure to visit the roof, where a sweat lodge is surrounded by gardens growing the four sacred herbs. It is a true oasis.
2) Osgoode Hall – Beyond the fences built to keep out the cows and the inevitable wedding photo shoot lies the Law Society of Upper Canada’s headquarters. The building sprawls through wings and expansions from many years, showing off both legal and architectural history. It’s a lot bigger than it looks and feels like going back in time. Therefore, Osgoode Hall is a Tardis.
3) CAMH Historic Walls – The sections of high brick walls around CAMH are a testament to the memory of the former Provincial Lunatic Asylum’s patients. Their slave labour built the walls and was essential to the operation of the asylum. As CAMH undergoes a huge revitalisation, it’s more important than ever to hear stories from those with mental illness, to remember how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.
4) Spadina Museum – Casa Loma’s neighbour (pictured above) has been redone to reflect how it would have looked in the 1920s. Once home to one of Toronto’s most prominent families, it is now a City museum with beautiful gardens and an orchard. Be sure to see the basement, where you can learn about archaeological work on the site, and see the layers of previous houses below the present structure.
5) Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library – Ever wonder what’s in the peacock’s head at Robart’s library? It’s this small haven for rare and delicate books. It’s dark, quiet and mysterious, with levels upon levels of shelves around a central podium. From there, you can check out a display of selected items, but you can’t take any home – the stacks are only open to researchers.
6) Artscape Wychwood Barns – I’ve gotta rep my ‘hood! These used to be TTC streetcar barns, but have been transformed into a beautiful space for the arts, events and community gardening. On Sunday, The Stop’s first Beer Garden of the year will welcome Muskoka Cottage Brewery, so visit and relax!
7) Canada‘s National Ballet School – Also recently renovated and expanded to combine both historic buildings and new features, CNBS has both world-class dance facilities and top-notch classroom resources. This is a dance school with science labs that make me salivate. The studios face Jarvis Street with their floor-to-ceiling windows, and there’s a really great upper level patio. It’s beautiful and inspires creativity.
8) Church of the Redeemer – This is one of the places that best shows why I love Doors Open – it’s a building I went by a million times, admired its exterior (and pondered its juxtaposition with the modern building wrapped around it), but never took a chance to go inside until Doors Open invited me in. It’s small, cosy and beautiful in its simplicity. Go see for yourself.
9) Winter Garden Theatre – After being abandoned in the 1920s, the theatre above the Elgin was practically forgotten about until its restoration in the 1980s. The pastel hues in the leaves and lanterns make for an enchanting atmosphere. Real beech branches were used in the redecoration, meant to evoke the rooftop theatres of the past. I later went to a TIFF screening here and kept getting distracted from the movie by my surroundings.
10) R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant – Last year I started my Doors Open by trekking out to the Beach early in the morning while fog surrounded the lake. This is probably one of the most beautiful municipal utility buildings ever, and it’s more famous than you might realise, having been used in a number of movies. Inside the Art Deco structure, you’ll see all sorts of original mechanical fixtures, and learn about how Toronto’s water is kept safe.
- Toronto’s First Post Office
- The Design Exchange, for elegant and gorgeous architecture and the Historic Trading Floor
- The Canada Life Building, for a great view and weather forecasting;
Tips for A Great Doors Open Weekend
- Make a plan! Whether you’re going to try to cram as much in as possible like Andy and I do, or just check out a few places, check the Doors Open website for locations, TTC directions, and opening hours. Not every building is open on both days, and if you go out to Scarborough or Etobicoke you’ll have to account for extra travel time. You don’t have to create elaborate spreadsheets or plot out routes on Google Maps like some people (ahem, me), but it might help! If you’re going all-out, accept that you won’t be able to see everything. There just isn’t enough time in the weekend, so prioritise your interests and have alternate plans. New additions to the program, buildings rarely open to the public, and anywhere with set tour times tend to have lineups, so account for that in your schedule.
- Be prepared. Dress for the weather, bring an umbrella, and pack snacks and plenty of water. Look into getting a TTC day pass (which you can share with a friend) or a weekend Bixi membership, and wear comfortable walking shoes. Don’t forget your camera!
- Be respectful and enthusiastic. Each building will be staffed by volunteers and folks who work, live, play and worship in them. Say hi! Ask questions, take the handouts, and participate in any activities that might be going on. Thank everyone for welcoming you to a place that’s really important to them.
- Have fun! Get your friends together, and revel in all the places and people that make Toronto awesome.