It happens more often than not: you’re walking down King Street West past the Toronto Dominion Centre without realizing you’re seeing the work of one of the world’s great architects (in this case, Mies van der Rohe); you notice the Design Exchange on Bay Street, but don’t know that it housed Toronto’s original Stock Exchange from 1937 until 1983 and is still home to Canada’s first fluorescent light; or, lastly, didn’t know that Redpath was Canada’s first food trademark as you drive past the Redpath Sugar Factory every day on your way to work.
One weekend a year, Torontonians stop and look (and learn) when Toronto throws open its doors. Doors Open Toronto, the hugely successful program that allows the public in to view hundreds of buildings that are typically off-limits,was the first of its kind in North America. Modeling itself on the European version aptly named “Doors Open*”, Doors Open Toronto began ten years ago with a simple motto: open buildings for a day or two (no more) and tell the public they’re welcome to visit. The idea was that if you look more closely at the city in which you live, you’ll gain a better appreciation for the city itself. And has it worked? I’d say. More than 200,000 people participated in 2009 and organizers expected 250,000 attendees in 2010 (read: prepare yourself for very long lines!). For history and building geeks like yours truly, it means a weekend of traipsing through Toronto at breakneck speed, not eating, and maxing out both your DSLR’s SD card and water intake simultaneously.
Mercifully (and due to copious amounts of Vitamin Water), I made it to hit six venues at this year’s Doors Open Toronto and, because I know you are dying to know, I’m adding a quick recap of each building. You’re welcome. My feet were certainly tired and gnarly after running around for 48 straight hours, but for an event dedicated solely to heritage, architecture, and design, I don’t at all mind messing up my perfectly pedicured paws.
A quick recap of Day One:
Redpath Sugar Factory, 95 Queen’s Quay East, Toronto , ON M5E 1A3
I grew up in Sugar Land, Texas, whose moniker came from the Imperial Sugar Company (which has long since passed on to sugar heaven). Therefore, it stands to reason that I’d live less than a mile from Canada’s sugar factory on Toronto’s harbourfront, drive by it every day on my way to work, and that it would be open for Doors Open Toronto! We learned how sugar is crafted (it’s from sugar cane, in case your head has been under a rock), how brown sugar is made (shockingly, it’s made from spraying white sugar with molasses — once for light; twice for dark), took a guided tour through the museum and parts of the plant via a video virtual tour, and got to lick sugar off our feet after a trip into the Redpath sugar shed. Said shed holds a whopping 65,000 tons of sugar and, even with my ginormous sweet tooth, I doubt I could consume that amount of sugar in a lifetime. Lastly, we got to meet the Redpath Acts of Sweetness Ambassadors (should out to Janet whom I’d previously met at CupcakeCampTO!) and have our picture made taken with the Redpath Acts of Sweetness truck.
After a brief pitstop at home to pick up my camera that I’d forgotten (gasp!), slather on sunscreen, and change shoes, I was on to the:
City of Toronto Archives, 253 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON
Toronto has plenty of of stories of intrigue that highlight its past and present, and many of those stories are event dedicated solely to built heritage, architecture and design. The Archives have more than 1.2 million documents in their Indiana Jones-looking warehouse that visitors to Doors Open were able to view. Also open to the public for the first time was the Archives’ Conservation Lab. They demonstrated how they scan the documents, and for the sake of argument, we’ll just say that they’re way more sophisticated than my Canon point-and-shoot.
TTC Greenwood Maintenance Yard, 400 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto, ON M4J 4Y5
I’m a TTC geek. Yeah, they’re the expensive^; yeah, a lot of them are arrogant; and I’m definitely not a fan of waiting 25 minutes for the Queen streetcar, but, since the day I arrived in Toronto, I’ve had a serious love affair with those bright red streetcars and pretty much anything that has to do with the TTC. They get me where I need to go safely and, for the most part, with a smile. When I learned that the TTC had not one, but two, shops open during Doors Open, I was more than psyched.
The Greenwood Maintenance Yard is responsible for the maintenance of half of the TTC’s subway fleet: 1/3 of the T1 fleet, 126 H6 cars, and 44 H4 cars. I spent two hours there and every single TTC employee volunteering that day was heart-achingly kind. It could be because they don’t interact with the public every day like the operators do, or it could be that Brad the TTC guy had a little chat with them all in light of the TTC’s recent (and numerous) publicity gaffes. Just sayin’.
The public was treated to learning how the subway doors open, how the brakes work, how the lines are repaired and about one billion other cool TTC subway facts. I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this site, but I’ll let you judge for yourself next year. The only thing I didn’t like about the TTC sites was the fact that the Jane/Finch site was giving away little cardboard streetcars, for which I would kill, when Greenwood didn’t give anything away![ed note: I was planning to go to the TTC store in Union Station to see if they were selling them, but the store closed the weekend of Doors Open Toronto! Gypped yet again!]
For more TTC Greenwood Maintenance Yard goodness, check out my very exciting Flickr set for minutes upon minutes of excitement on the subject.
A quick recap of Day Two:
Stantec — Former MacGregor Socks Factory, 400 Wellington Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 1E7
The beautifl building occupied for decades by MacGregor Socks has been transformed into a heritage timber post and beam building. Stantec, a health care and educational architectural firm reclaimed a piece of the city’s industrial history by designing a flexible, high-quality workspace that clearly fosters collaboration, sustainable design elements, and, in the spirit of Doors Open Toronto, a commitment to city building. The small, open space facing Spadina Avenue is used as a space to support local artists; each quarter, a new artist is chosen and Stantec pays 100% of the cost of the installation. <3!
We were treated to tours that included information on the raised floors (you can even see the miles and miles of wires flowing underneath the flooring!), the natural lighting that washes that entire building in sunlight, original bricks and flooring and Stantec’s water conservation strategies. One of the things I found fascinating was Stantec’s encouragement and support for using public transit: they have showers in the building, they supplement 100% of TTC passes, and they provide access to two Zipcars in case employees who take transit need to duck out for meetings. A company that *truly* believes in reducing carbon footprints and not just talking about it in a brochure.
The Historic Walls at CAMH, 1001 Queen Street West, Toronto ON M3J 1P3
The CAMH Historical Walls are the perimeter brick structures which were built by unpaid psychiatric patient labourers during the 19th century at the former Asylum for the Insane ( now the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)). The southern section dates from 1860 and the eastern and western walls date from 1888-89. We were treated to a guided tour of the walls where the work and contributions of patients who lived and died behind the structure were highlighted. The bricks include the oldest physical examples of psychiatric patients’ labour from 19th century Ontario, now 150 years old, and obviously of immense historical and architectural value. Etchings carved into the walls 9and visible to the naked eye) by asylum inmates, and other unique physical markers representing patients’ history – including bricked in windows and an old railway track – were pointed out and, of course, I took photos. Seriously good stuff.
The Gladstone Hotel
After running around like a chicken with my head cut off for two straight days, I was exhausted. I’d never been inside the Gladstone Hotel, so I made my way over for a tour. Luckily, self-guided tours were possible, so I took the opportunity to photograph the inside of this historic hotel on my own, read parts of the (very) long guide, checked out the joint, and bolted. Built in 1889, the Gladstone is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto. Its architectural details are Greek, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance and these periods brought the hotel back to life in 2002 when it was gutted and completely restored.
Doors Open Toronto is one of the highlights of my time in Toronto. To borrow a quote from Toronto Star writer Christopher Hume, “suddenly this is Toronto the Bold; Toronto the Daring; Switzerland run by New Yorkers.” I couldn’t agree more.
*and now called European Heritage Days
^ the most expensive in the world, actually