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.

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.

Doors Open Ontario

Although Toronto’s Doors Open gets the most attention around here (being the centre of the universe and all), it’s worth noting that communities of all sizes around Ontario have their own Doors Open weekends throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

In April and May alone, we have Doors Open Guelph, Brockville, Chatham-Kent, Hamilton, The Hills of Headwaters, North Bay, Orillia, and Toronto. It would be quite impossible for anyone to take in all of the Doors Open events around the province, it’s worth considering timing a road trip, camping weekend, or cottage escape with a local Doors Open near your destination. See the Doors Open Ontario web site for event details and calendars for each participating municipality.

Preliminary Doors Open 2007 sites online

The city has released the preliminary list of buildings taking part in Doors Open Toronto this year. Here are the locations I’m going to try to visit this year:

  • The Distillery District has a number of normally off-limits sites open, including the Malt Kilns and the Scale Tank Loft.
  • The Lambton House is on one of my regular cycling routes, but I’ve never been inside.
  • The Queen’s Wharf Lighthouse on Fleet Street first joined Doors Open last year, but I was unable to make the trek that weekend. I won’t miss it this year.
  • Canada Post’s South Central processing plant must be one of the more fascinating operating industrial sites to take part in Doors Open.
  • Although Todmorden Mills is just down the street from my house and I’ve been there more times than I can count, they sometimes open up the old Don train station for Doors Open.
  • The Toronto Police Marine Unit has a wonderful old wooden patrol boat in the boathouse that I’d love to admire from aclose.
  • The TTC has two intriguing sites open: Lower Bay and the Harvey Shops on Bathurst.

Two more posts will follow in a few days: one recommending sites I’ve visited on previous Doors Open weekends, and another lamenting buildings that are not taking part this year.