Friday, May 22, 2015

Stuff You Should See At Doors Open 2015

It's Doors Open weekend in Toronto! More than a hundred and fifty buildings across the city will be opening their doors to the public over the next two days — including some of the most interesting, beautiful and historic buildings that Toronto has to offer. And since there's no way one person can manage to catch all of the cool stuff, I thought I'd share some of my own picks for this year's event.

I'll also be out and about myself this weekend, armed with dreams, leaving them at the some of the Doors Open sites. You can follow me on Twitter and on Instagram (@TODreamsProject) to find out when and where I do.

If you'd like more information, you can visit the Doors Open website here. Chris Bateman shares his own picks for blogTO here. And NOW Magazine's Elena Gritzan has a list here.

This is the oldest building in Toronto. Scadding Cabin turns 221 this year. It was originally built all the hell the way back in 1794. Our city was still brand new; Toronto was just a tiny muddy little frontier town surrounded by ancient forests. It had only been founded the summer before. The guy who built the cabin was John Scadding — he had been John Graves Simcoe's right-hand man back on his country estate in England and became his right-hand man in Canada, too. But while Simcoe went home, Scadding eventually settled here with his family for good. His son, Henry, would grow up to become one of city's earliest historians.

The cabin originally stood on the banks of the Don River, but in the late 1800s it was moved to the Exhibition Grounds. That's where it stands today. You'll find its doors open on Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 5.

Also nearby: The Liberty Grand; BMO Field.


It's the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes — the second oldest in all of Canada. It has been standing on the island since before it was an island — since 1808 — which makes it the oldest building in Toronto still standing on the spot where it was originally built.

I recently wrote a whole post about the history of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, which includes the mysterious disappearance of the first lightkeeper, John Paul Radelmüller. They say his ghost still haunts the lighthouse today, searching for the limbs that were hacked off him during his grizzly murder in the final days the War of 1812.

Getting the chance to go inside is a rare privilege, so you'll want to show up early. There were long lines last year. The iconic red door will be open from 10 to 5 on both Saturday and Sunday — but they'll probably cut off the line a bit earlier than that.

Also nearby: Artscape Gibraltar Point.


Not only is the Cathedral Church of St. James one of the most spectacular buildings in Toronto, it's also one of the most important buildings in the entire history of Canada. The story of St. James stretches all the way back to a small wooden church built at what's now the corner of Church & King in the very early 1800s — and over the course of that century, it played a central role in the battle for democracy in Canada. This was the church most our city's leaders attended. The first preacher, John Strachan, was also our city's first Anglican bishop, arch-nemesis of William Lyon Mackenzie and a figurehead of the infamously anti-democratic Family Compact. He's still there today, buried under the chancel. I wrote the full story for Torontoist a while back; you can check it out here. To this day, it's still the heart of the Anglican faith in Canada. Even the Queen prays here when she's in town.

The doors to the church will be open from 10 to 5 on Saturday and 12:30 to 4 on Sunday afternoon.

Also nearby: The Market Gallery; Commerce Court North.


Just like the much more famous R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant out in the east end (which will also be open this weekend), the High Level Water Pumping Station takes Toronto's water infrastructure and transforms it into something beautiful. And the old building also played a central role in one of the most delightful episodes in the history of our city. Back in the 1960s, the residents of the surrounding neighbourhood — Rathnelly — declared independence from the rest of Canada. As the story goes, they wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, elected a Queen, issued their own passports, and sent an "air farce" of children holding a thousand helium balloons to surround the Pumping Station until their demands were met. To this day, the neighbourhood is known as the Republic of Rathnelly. They've even got their own custom street signs featuring a national crest.

The doors will be open from 10 to 5 on both Saturday and Sunday.

Also nearby: City of Toronto Archives; Spadina House.


It's one of the jewels of Toronto. A National Historic Site hidden between the highways and the skyscrapers. Fort York has been standing on this spot for more than 200 years. Its story stretches back through one war after another, back through the bloody battle that raged here during the War of 1812, back all the way to the very first day the city of Toronto was founded. It was here, at what was then the mouth of the Garrison Creek, that the first British soldiers showed up to start chopping down trees and building the military base that would guard the mouth of our harbour. Meanwhile, Governor Simcoe and his wife Elizabeth lived in an elaborate tent overlooking the construction from the other side of the creek, exploring the beaches and the forests with their young children, their pet cat and a dog they called  Jack Sharp.

The fort is always open to the public, but why not take advantage of the free admission during Doors Open? The site will be open from 10 to 5 on both Saturday and Sunday.

Also nearby: John St. Roadhouse - Toronto Railway Museum

Other great spots I'd recommend include Old City Hall, Mackenzie House, Fool's Paradise, Osgoode Hall, and the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.

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