Leave it to the French to be the first to grant free admission to all kinds of interesting buildings one day a year, starting way back in 1984. This eternally popular event evolved to include the rest of the EU, becoming European Heritage Days in 1991. Toronto hopped on that bandwagon with Doors Open Toronto (DOTO) in 2000, and, not to be outdone, the province launched Doors Open Ontario shortly thereafter in 2002. Many other cities across North America have since followed suit.
Despite having been based in Toronto for nearly two decades, and being somewhat of a fan of architecture, I have somehow managed to miss this event every spring. The couple of times that I did happen to be in town, either the weather wasn’t conducive to lining up outside, or else it was downright spectacular, in which case there was patio-liciousing to be done, and let’s face it, no matter how pretty the building, there’s really no contest when it comes to tasty morsels and bevies.
This year, I decided to forego the pints and chips, well, at least for a few hours, and made a short list of the 135 architecturally, historically, culturally, and/or socially significant buildings that I would be curious to see from the inside. It was a surprisingly substantial roster. So I did what any reasonably lazy gal would do, and picked a few of the ones that were on my main streetcar routes, and convinced seasoned DOTO goer LeLa to join me for the enlightening experience.
First up was Old City Hall. Nestled between Nathan Philips Square that fronts the ‘new’ Toronto City Hall on one side, and with the Eaton Centre on the other side, I have passed by this building like a gazillion times, without ever really paying it any attention. I figured it just housed some oppressive offices for city bureaucrats. Wrong! A very kind officer assisting with the event informed us that this 1899 structure is now where Justices of the Peace interview all the troubled souls who were up to no good the evening prior (aka the drunk tank brigade).
The courtroom that was in session on that particular day was smartly cordoned off from the part that was open to the public, so that your average citizen could plunk themselves down high on the bench and get their picture snapped throwing the book at their buddy. Good times! All the high jinx aside, it is undeniably a gorgeous building. I am fascinated with the stair risers that contain intricate patterns of leaves made out of wrought iron. The fancy ceilings and stained-glass windows are only outdone by the elaborate mosaic floors. Not too shabby!
Next on the itinerary was a mere stroll down Queen Street to Osgoode Hall, circa 1832. It is the namesake of York University’s law school, and was opened by the Law Society of Upper Canada, who christened it after the first Chief Justice of the province. The common Torontonian knows it better as the swank building with the breathtakingly beautiful grounds that are often used for taking wedding photos. In fact, there is a wedding party doing just that when we arrive.
By far, the most stunning part of the interior is the two story atrium, which is currently housing a sculpture of what appears to be a woman hoisting a child up in her arms, although it could be a modern day interpretation of The Lion King holding up Simba… Hard to say.
I also squeezed in a visit to the Canadian Turkish Islamic Heritage Association, aka the Pape Mosque, who got my vote for the nicest tour of the weekend, as their numerous, friendly volunteers offered us complimentary tea and delicious, melt in your mouth baklava while we watched a short, yet informative, 4-minute video presentation on Islam, and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
My last stop for this year’s DOTO event was the still under construction Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre, which is poised to open in the revitalized neighbourhood this September. I mean, what would a Saturday be without some element of danger?
It was fun to put on the large rubber boots and hard hat to meet up with the various Artscape folks and future tenants who were volunteering to excitedly tell us how it was progressing. After all, safety first. Then we can discuss ballet, drumming, theatre and lattes.
This first foray into Doors Open Toronto really whet my appetite for learning more about what this fantastic city has on offer. So while I would have loved to take a ride down the giant slide inside the Corus Entertainment building on Corus Quay, and visited the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, not to mention the renowned R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, I suppose I have to save something for next year. Only 364 more sleeps to go…