Doors Open is the most rare of Toronto events: widely anticipated, universally loved, well attended, and free. Every year, tens of thousands of locals and tourists (and more than a few Torontoist Flickr Poolers) lace up their walking shoes and descend on the participating sites, learning about architecture and history while exploring rarely seen parts of the city. And with 175 buildings on the slate this year, there’s lots for everyone to enjoy. But it’s impossible to look at the full list of venues and not wonder about the buildings that don’t appear. Maybe they’ve never taken part or maybe they’re simply taking this weekend off. Either way, here are a few of the sites we’ll miss this year.
Some of Toronto’s most iconic structures are conspicuous by their absence. Why does the CN Tower not participate in Doors Open? Or the neighbouring SkyDome? Where’s our view into the Royal York or King Edward Hotels? The Sharp Centre at OCAD? ROM Crystal? AGO? Granted, not every building can participate every year, but it seems peculiar to celebrate Toronto’s architecture without including some of Toronto’s most celebrated architecture (or at least its most identifiable architecture).
Some of the best exhibits from previous years are no longer taking part. Perennial favourite Redpath Sugar Museum is missing its second year in a row. Although the Canada Life building is participating this year, its remarkable Environmental Room, a tropical ecosystem complete with breathing wall and aquatic habitat surrounding a meeting room, was torn out of the complex a few years ago. And then there are the Wychwood Streetcar Barns. Never to be viewed again as a decrepit repair facility, it was recently reborn as a living artistic community. We hope for similar fates for some other crumbling landmarks.
Torontonians have proven themselves to be infrastructure geeks, but the gorgeous R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant remains shuttered to public tours in continuing overreaction to perceived terrorist threats. Inside views of the city’s sign shop, the decommissioned Hearn Generating Station, the Ashbridges Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant (especially stinky at this time of year), and even the locally reviled Portlands Energy Centre would likely be popular, but the city’s machinery, both current and former, remains largely ignored during Doors Open.
Have you ever wondered why there’s an old tugboat docked in a large sunken box at Exhibition Place? The Ned Hanlan is docked beside the Stanley Barracks, home for years to the Toronto Marine Museum. What’s that? Toronto has a marine museum? Not any more. Shortly after a high-profile and ultimately disastrous move to Harbourfront, the museum was closed and its exhibits put into storage as a cost-cutting measure. All three venues—the Stanley Barracks, the Marine Musuem, and the Ned Hanlan—are forgotten or all but invisible to the public. Let’s bring at least one of them back.
Photo of HMCS Haida being towed out of its berth at Ontario Place by Val Dodge.
And then there are the buildings that never had a chance to be part of Doors Open. They’ve been demolished by neglect like Walnut Hall, demolished out of spite like Chorley Park, or demolished through lack of imagination, like Riverdale’s half-round building is slated to be. Another potential venue, HMCS Haida, was towed out of Ontario Place and across Lake Ontario by a pair of tugboats in 2002 to a refitting in Port Weller and its new permanent home in Hamilton (where it also doesn’t participate in Doors Open Hamilton).
But there’s hope for the future: the New Broadview House Hotel (currently dominated by strip club Jilly’s on the ground floor) on Queen Street East has been touted as a possible site for an east-end analogue of the Gladstone and will make a welcome addition to the Doors Open lineup in five years. For even further down the road, maybe we can we look forward to the unearthed and reconstructed Teiaiagon or Ganatsekwyagon, or public tours of architectural digs around the Knapp Roller Boat, the still-buried eastern section of Queen’s Wharf, or the first Parliament buildings.
Of course, none of this wishful thinking is going to stop us from enjoying Doors Open this weekend. We’ll be strolling down the streets with everyone else, discussing not only the buildings we’ve just seen, but the ones we hope to see next year.