Doors Open – Missing in action

A number of buildings are conspicuous by their absence from Toronto’s Doors Open 2007. Most of the sites listed below have taken part in previous Doors Open events while others have never participated but would probably be immensely popular.

The Don Jail

It breaks my heart that the old Don Jail is being turned into offices as part of Bridgepoint’s misguided expansion plans. If ever a building in Toronto deserved to be preserved virtually as-is and operated as a museum, the Don Jail is it. I’ve toured both the Don Jail and Alcatraz, and let me tell you, accommodations on The Rock are palatial compared to the Don’s tiny cells and stark interiors.

Yes, there’s lots of talk about how Bridgepoint will preserve the essential heritage elements of the building, but the city isn’t exactly known for standing its ground on heritage issues.

Especially in the case of the old Jail, heritage is in the building as a whole, not in individual railings or facades that will be preserved. Once that imposing doorway and beautiful rotunda become an entry to a long-term care facility, they will lose all meaning. The entire Bridgepoint expansion situation is truly a failure of imagination in Toronto.

The Canada Life Environmental Room

There’s an amazing meeting room in the Canada Life complex at Queen and University. It has a breathing wall on one side and an open tropical aquatic habitat on two others complete with fish, frogs, insects, and plants. On the hot Doors Open day I was there a few years ago, it felt like walking into a rain forest. Outside the room the weather was hot and sticky; inside, it was as comfortable as a summer evening with a cool breeze off the lake. Truth be told, I’m not even sure that the room still exists.

The TTC’s Wychwood streetcar barns

These are currently being restored into new housing and facilities for artists surrounded by a public park. I’m glad that the site and buildings are being creatively reused, but I’m sorry that this amazing space will never be the same.

Other TTC facilities

The TTC could populate an entire Doors Open weekend with intriguing sites all on its own. From the Greenwood Yard and Russell Carhouse to Lower Bay and Lower Queen, there’s no shortage of crowd-pleasing sites connected to the TTC. Although I’m thankful that the TTC is finally taking part in Doors Open with Lower Bay and the Harvey Shops, they really could do so much more.

The TTC is so intertwined with Toronto history that it seems peculiar for the organization not to have a higher profile in the event. Maybe next year.

Various bits of Toronto infrastructure

Why aren’t the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant, North Toronto Sewage Wastewater Treatment Plant, Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant, and dozens of other city sites taking part in Doors Open?

The city does run a large number of participating buildings, but the sites missing from the list are more curious than the ones on it. Given this year’s Doors Open theme of sustainability and the environment, the complete absence of city-owned infrastructure facilities — recycling, water, sewage, works yards — that make city life possible seems odd.

Fool’s Paradise

Doris McCarthy‘s wonderful home and studio perched atop the Bluffs answers an emphatic “Yes!” to the question, “Can Scarborough be beautiful?” I was present for the well-attended unveiling of the historic plaque at Doors Open two years ago and can say with some certainty that the view would inspire even the most mediocre of artists to greatness.

4 Replies to “Doors Open – Missing in action”

  1. When Great West Life took over Canada Life, they decided to close the Breathing Wall Room ostensibly because the space occupied by the mechanical room was too valuable to be left unrented. So they ripped the place out.

  2. Thanks for the update, Don. I thought the room may have been converted to some other use, but wasn’t sure. The mechanical room behind the breathing wall wasn’t all that large and I can’t believe it was the real reason behind the Environmental Room’s demise.

    During a behind-the-scenes tour at Doors Open a few years ago, the operator told us that as a small research installation, it didn’t really contribute much to the building’s overall health and probably cost more to run than simply using traditional HVAC in the room. But it sure was impressive.

    If nothing else, this underscores the importance of getting out to Doors Open sites while they’re still around. A couple of the really interesting locations disappear every year.

  3. I think it was two-three years ago that the City announced that “security” concerns were preventing RC Harris from being included. They used to have public tours.

  4. It’s been a bit longer than that — as I recall, shutting down the tours was an overreaction to September 11.

    I’d gone for one of the public tours about a year before that and the guide explained that they were planning renovations soon that would include stripping the paint off the windows facing Queen Street, once again letting people peer at the water inside. The window painting was itself an overreaction to the 1991 Gulf War.

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