Doors Open – Must-see TO

Most people reading this won’t need reminding that Doors Open Toronto returns this weekend. Here’s a short list of some of my favourite sites from the past that will be participating this year. I’ve previously posted about some buildings that are not participating, and about some of the sites I hope to visit during this too-short weekend.

Toronto Archives

If you’ve never been to see the “miles of files,” use the research hall, or view one of the exhibits, you really should stop by the Archives. But you don’t have to go during Doors Open. Just drop by any day, Monday through Saturday. The staff is incredibly helpful and patient, and there’s enough to see and do to pass the rainiest of afternoons. For fun, I especially recommend looking at old aerial photos of your neighbourhood and looking up friends and family in the old city directories.

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatres

The Elgin is a nice theatre and all, but it has a pretty standard red-and-gold colour scheme that could be almost any elegant theatre almost anywhere. The Winter Garden, however, is a real beauty. If you’ve never been to a performance in this theatre in the woods, Doors Open is your best chance to get a peek. I wish I had a room in my house that looked like the Winter Garden.

Arts & Letters Club

A friend of mine is a member of this club so I got to poke around inside once. Check out the impressive dining hall and all the different arts and letters hanging on the wall. On our visit there, Risa discovered that she really likes John Joy paintings, and I discovered that a lot of books in my personal library were written by club members.

Fort Rouillé

This is Toronto’s first fort, built by the French and abandoned in 1759. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the structures. So what’s to see? A monument to Toronto’s early French history and a couple of cannons. A walkway traces the outline of the original walls. The imaginative among us can gaze upon this little fort and marvel at how they squeezed five buildings into such a tiny space. The practical among us can wonder how a fort this small could ever hope to defend anything. It’s not the most immediately engaging of sites participating in Doors Open, but it is definitely the oldest. It’s also right beside the Scadding Cabin at Exhibition Place.

John Street Roundhouse

All aboard! It’s one of the most fun locations during Doors Open, with mini-train rides for kids (and overgrown geeks like me) and model train displays. They also throw open the doors of the roundhouse where you can see the various pieces of railway history that have been squirreled away for the promised future of a rail museum. Until I have one in downtown Toronto, I’ll have to make do with Travel Town in Los Angeles and the Halton County Radial Railway near Guelph.

Royal Canadian Military Institute

This is one of those places where the tour guides wistfully explain how the club used to be smoke-filled, sexist, and exclusionary. Ah, the good old days. It’s definitely still a man’s place, even if women are fully accommodated today. Still, it’s a fascinating club with museum displays throughout.

St. Jamestown Sailing Club

The St. Jamestown Sailing Club, next door to my own sailing club near
Cherry Beach, will be a revelation for people who don’t know about
Toronto’s active sailing scene. Go for a sail if it’s a nice day — you
may get hooked.

Todmorden Mills

The history of Todmorden Mills is closely tied to that of the Don River and the Valley. Although the buildings survived the construction of the DVP, the river was moved away from the site and the mill building seems strangely landlocked. If you follow the road back to the parking lot, you’ll cross a bridge that goes over what used to be the Don River. The site is also home to the lone remaining station from the Belt Line Railway, transplanted from Queen Street a few kilometres south. The station’s window coverings are sometimes opened for Doors Open so that you can peer inside, but I don’t think the public is allowed in. The Todmorden Wildflower Preserve provides a beautiful, brief, walk in the woods.

Don Valley Brick Works

Go see this wonderful industrial ruin while you still can. By this time next year, its transformation into something completely different will likely have begun.

Toronto Botanical Garden

The formerly grandly-named Civic Garden Centre got a substantial addition and makeover last year and is quite a bit larger and more colourful than before, both inside and out. It’s amazing how many people know all about Edwards Gardens but have no idea what’s in the buildings beside the parking lot.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

This Hindu temple in Etobicoke has seemingly endless and incredibly detailed carvings throughout, the likes of which you won’t see on most modern buildings. My sister tells me that an even more impressive building is going up right next door as part of the same complex, but won’t be ready for Doors Open this year.

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