Communities throughout Ontario will once again open the doors to hundreds of fascinating heritage sites – including commercial buildings, courthouses, theatres, museums, places of worship, gardens and natural heritage sites. What makes this eagerly awaited province-wide program so attractive is the fact that many of the participating sites are normally closed to the public and admission is free. In Toronto, Doors Open is held May 23-24 this year.
The first Doors Open Day (La Journée Portes Ouvertes) took place in France in 1984. The idea soon spread to neighbouring countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden, the Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Scotland. In 1991, these events were united as European Heritage Days at the initiative of the Council of Europe. In 2003, all 48 signatory states of the European Cultural Convention participated in European Heritage Days.
In 2000, the City of Toronto launched the first Doors Open event in North America. In 2002, the Ontario Heritage Trust launched Doors Open Ontario, the first provincewide event of its kind in Canada. The Doors Open concept continues to spread across North America with events now being held in Newfoundland, Alberta, Massachusetts, Western New York State, New York City and Denver. (Visit these web links to Doors Open events in other countries.)
Every year, Doors Open Ontario attracts large crowds across Ontario. From April to October, residents and visitors are invited to discover first-hand Ontario’s hidden heritage treasures, some of which have never been open to the public.
Since the program was launched in 2002, nearly six million visits have been made to heritage sites participating in this exciting initiative. Doors Open Ontario, now considered a cultural phenomenon, will continue in 2015 with hundreds of communities participating across the province.
1. The Aga Khan Museum offers visitors a window into worlds unknown or unfamiliar: the artistic, intellectual and scientific heritage of Muslim civilizations across the centuries, from the Iberian Peninsula to China. The most notable feature of the building, designed by Fumihiko Maki, is the constant presence of light outlining exterior and interior spaces, including galleries, classrooms and a 350-seat theatre.
2. Ismaili Centre Toronto The new Ismaili Centre is a place of worship and education, featuring a unique prayer hall with a crystalline glass-domed roof that lights up the skyline. The roof is composed of structural steel trusses of various depths and dimensions, covered by a double layer of glass. A lounge, library and classrooms are on the main floor.
3. The Gibson House Museum was built in 1851 in the Georgian-style of architecture with a gracious front entrance including a fan light transom and side lights, granite walls and painted floorcloths. The house was home to David and Eliza Gibson and their family. David, a local politician, land surveyor and farmer, was famous for his involvement in the 1837 Rebellion of Upper Canada. The house is furnished to reflect a family living in rural Willowdale, yet relatively close to Toronto.
4. John McKenzie House was built in 1913 in a style which has been described as Queen Anne Revival, Arts and Crafts and Edwardian, this grand red brick house is profiled by a large L-shaped, wrap-around verandah with stylized Doric columns. Significant interior features include the centre hall plan, a vestibule door and sidelights with bevelled leaded glass, a large leaded art glass window that lights the landing of the main staircase, two sunrooms, panelled doors and wainscoting, strip hardwood flooring and radiators. In 1993, the Ontario Historical Society (OHS) entered into a partnership with a former City of North York to preserve and restore the John McKenzie House, which today serves as the provincial headquarters of the OHS.
Parkview Neighbourhood Garden is in uptown Toronto (former North York) adjacent to the John McKenzie House. In fact, the garden occupies space gardened by the John McKenzie family even prior to the house being build in 1913. It has come a long way in just five years’ time. It’s become the pride of the community and a meeting place for neighbors who enjoy gardening. A volunteer-run organic market garden, the Parkview team gardens and makes decisions as a group. They then sell their organic produce to the community, donate a portion to food charities, and use the remainder to put back into the garden by purchasing new seeds and supplies.
5. York Railway Modellers
The building houses one of the largest model railways in southern Ontario. Although, the building itself is of no historical significance, since 1992 the organization has managed more than 1,600 sq. ft. of model railway and 15-scale-miles of mainline. As well a soundscape of Authentic steam and diesel sounds completes the ambiance of the site. The sites houses model steam and rolling locomotives, rolling and barrel stock, structures and scenes.
Top Ten Tips to Maximize Doors Open
1. Plan your Doors Open Ontario visit ahead of time. Pick up maps and site listings from the community organization listed on this website.
2. You don’t have to be a heritage expert to enjoy a Doors Open adventure. Select sites that interest you most. Doors Open allows you to tour stunning sites that may not normally be open to the public – free of charge!
3. Confirm the dates and times your chosen sites will be open. Most sites are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – plenty of time for visits, tours, meeting friends, lunch, taking photos, refreshment breaks and travel time. Note about photography: Some restrictions may apply. Check with the host community before visiting.
4. Allow enough time to travel between sites. Look for sites clustered together to save time. Rural and remote sites take extra travel time. If you have special needs or are touring with children, allow more time.
5. Plan to visit a maximum of five to eight sites a day – more than that and you are rushing. Most site visits take 30 minutes. You may have to wait to get into the more popular sites.
6. Some sites may offer guided tours, special lectures or exhibits. Confirm the length and time of tours so you can schedule them into your day and not be disappointed.
7. Ask questions. Not everyone knows the difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Volunteers are only too happy to explain or find the answer for you.
8. Thank community volunteers for giving their time to open these fascinating sites.
9. Enjoy other places of interest in the picturesque neighbourhoods and towns you are visiting. Take a cruise on a heritage boat. Enjoy lunch in a nearby restored heritage site. Buy a souvenir or gift. Stay at an historic inn.
10. Plan a Doors Open Ontario day-trip or overnight getaway in another community. Most of all … have fun!
– Chip Barkel, Toronto Real Estate. Extraordinary Service. Top Results.