Unlocking Doors Open 2011
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Unlocking Doors Open 2011

Photo by Miles Storey/Torontoist.

Some of Toronto’s most important architectural assets can be compared to Cameron’s house in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—very beautiful, very cold, and you’re not allowed to touch anything. But for one weekend every year, we heed Bueller’s advice and take the pretty, red Ferrari for a test drive. Or, in the case of Doors Open Toronto, we walk around some pretty neat buildings normally inaccessible to the public for free. Only this time there’s no risk of driving off a balcony or being tracked by a pesky principal nipping at our heels.
Most of the almost 150 sites participating in Doors Open we would recognize instantly, if only from Toronto tourist maps.
With this year’s theme of “Photography,” newer intrepid interlopers may want to cover the major icons, like Casa Loma, Old City Hall, and Union Station. But for those who already have albums of such landmarks, there are plenty of new photo ops to be had this weekend. Here are our top 10 picks.

Corus Quay’s three-storey slide. Photo by ponderossa from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Corus Quay
(25 Dockside Drive)
We’re glad Doors Open falls on a Saturday and Sunday, because it’s best to visit the new Corus Quay building, the anchor project of the revitalization of Toronto’s waterfront, on the weekend. Firstly, we’ll have the time to stroll and take in all the different features of the building—designed by both Quadrangle Architects Limited and Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt Architects (also responsible for the Four Seasons Centre and Museum Station, among other projects)—like the five-storey bio-wall, street-level radio stations and performance venue, and a twisty slide. After, we can lounge in a Muskoka chair on Sugar Beach and relax by the shore. And the final advantage of visiting on the weekend? We won’t be tempted to physically assault those lucky enough to work there Monday to Friday.
What’s nearby: Redpath Sugar Refinery, Market Gallery (in the South St. Lawrence Market), Distillery Historic District Denaturing Room (Building 47), Gooderham “Flatiron” Building.

36 Chambers (former Ushers Grocery Store)
(1266 Queen Street West)
Parkdale’s shops weren’t always ironically retro, kitschy, and overpriced—in the ’60s and ’70s, a discount business was legitimately discount. That’s when Usher’s Wholesale Grocers came into town on Queen West, just a block away from the Gladstone Hotel. The discount grocer thrived at the time, but as pants got tighter, wallets got looser, and it shut down in 2005. Now, continuing to reflect the Parkdale neighbourhood and its inhabitants, it now holds 36 shared studio spaces for local artists, who are creating displays of their own work among actual material and objects found in the building’s clean up, including a photo shoot at the original meat counter (which will go great with a plaid shirt).
What’s nearby: Parkdale Arts and Cultural Centre, the Gladstone Hotel, the Drake Hotel.

U of T, McLuhan Coach House Institute
(39a Queen’s Park Crescent)
Doors Open Toronto doesn’t only honour the stone and mortar that built our city, but the people too. In his legendary Monday-night seminars at the University of Toronto in 1970s, Marshall McLuhan shared some of the ideas about culture and technology that made him the commonly-quoted communications clairvoyant he is today, and one of the most prominent thinkers to come out of Toronto, ever.
While originally contained to a small office and content with “…achieving an intellectual identity rather than a physical one,” McLuhan’s work at U of T eventually earned a home in the little brick building known as “the Coach House” on the edge of the campus. And as part of the roster of events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of McLuhan’s birth, the building is offering tours of the space that housed his famed seminars—before the university begins its campaign to restore it.
What’s nearby: U of T’s Regis College, Ontario Legislative Building (Queen’s Park), Canadian Music Centre, Gardiner Museum, MaRS Discovery District, Canadian Blood Services, Japan Foundation Toronto.

A view down one of the filtration building’s two main corridors. Photo by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.

RC Harris Water Treatment Plant
(2701 Queen St East)
If you read about our recent voyage into the marble depths of the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, you may be very excited to know that it is participating in Doors Open Toronto for the first time this year. And if you haven’t read it, you really should: you’ll know more about its history, just how much of Lake Ontario you ingest every day, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Designed in 1929, with bronze accents inside, limestone carvings outside, and ornaments in stone, brick, and metal, the “Palace of Purification” is Toronto’s largest collection of Art Deco buildings—a palace that pumps out up to 950 million litres of water per day (instead of just a lot of hot air, ba-zing!).
Pick the brains of the staff within the treatment plant for technical information on how it operates, or visit the pump house for an interactive art installation and live panel (Sunday at 1–3 p.m.) by Diaspora Dialogues entitled “The Forgetful City.”
What’s nearby: Not a whole lot—the Beaches Walking tour and Fire Station 227 are kind of close, but it’s pretty isolated in its marble majesty.

The green rooftop of the Native Child and Family Services of Toronto. Photo by Ben Rahn/A-Frame.

Native Child and Family Services of Toronto
(30 College Street
While most buildings participating in Doors Open celebrate Toronto’s urbanity—modernity, stone, technology, glass, heritage, progress! Cities!—the Native Child and Family Services of Toronto building was newly renovated (in June 2010) to do the opposite. It aims to transport those inside to a completely different kind of place filled with nature, tradition, and aboriginal culture. The main floor hosts a unique water treatment, the floor design is heavily influenced by Nishnawbe beadwork from the 1800s, and the green roof even grows cedar, sweet grass, and sage (traditional Anishinaabe medicines), as well as beans, corn, and squash (the three sisters of the Haudenosaunee). The crown (literally) of the building is a Healing Lodge based on Anishinaabe customs. Non-architectural artwork will also be on display, courtesy of the organization’s youth photography program EXPRESSU II.
What’s nearby: Toronto Hydro Corporation, Canadian Blood Services, Evergreen—Yonge Street Mission, Arts and Letters Club of Toronto.

High Park Club
(100 Indian Road)
Also celebrating a centenary this year is the High Park Club, the hotspot for the area’s avid curling and lawn tennis community. Surprisingly, it’s one of the few lawn tennis venues in all of Canada.
What’s nearby: Colborne Lodge Museum, TTC Roncesvalles Carhouse/Division.

National Film Board Mediatheque
(150 John Street)
Celebrating 70 years of animation, the NFB Mediatheque is offering an “Ask a Cinematographer” workshop (from 12–2 p.m.), animation set exhibits, motion-triggered projections, a photography archive spanning the last 40 years, and family sessions teaching how to put digital family photos to sound and music—scrapbooking for the 21st century.
What’s nearby: Toronto’s First Post Office, Cannon Design, Campbell House Museum, Canada Life, St. George the Martyr Anglican Church, 401 Richmond, Diamond and Schmitt Architects.

Photo by Wanda G.

Toronto Public Library. Runnymede Branch
(2178 Bloor Sreet West)
Architect John M. Lyle built some of Toronto’s most esteemed and important buildings: the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Union Station, and the Thornton-Smith Building (otherwise known as the new Salad King). Similarly integral to the development of our imagination is the Runnymede Branch of the Toronto Public Library, another fine example of Lyle’s work.
What’s nearby: Closest is the Colborne Lodge Museum or High Park Club, if you don’t mind a hike through the park.

Ralph Thornton Community Centre
(765 Queen St East)
Postal Station G was one of the last designs by E.J. Lennox (the man behind Old City Hall, the King Edward Hotel, and Casa Loma), but came very close to destruction when the post office moved in 1975. Repurposed as a community centre and library, it reflects the work of another, more recent, notable male Torontonian, activist Ralph Thornton. Thornton himself will frequent the building during the weekend to greet explorers, who can then follow a guided tour of the space, walk up the marble staircase, examine the inner workings of the clock, discuss the Riverside neighbourhood in a photo exhibit, and be delighted by an on-site magician.
What’s nearby: Canadian Turkish Islamic Heritage Association, Inglenook Community High School.

TTC McCowan Carhouse
(1720 Ellesmere Road)
As contentious as the Scarborough RT line and its future may be, the tensions aren’t the fault of the vehicles themselves. Put a face on the controversy and watch workers explain how the line is maintained, cleaned, and operated.
What’s nearby: If you’re already in Scarborough, check out the Scarborough Museum, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cedar Ridge Creative Centre, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, and the University of Toronto Scarborough Instructional Centre.

For complete location listings, browse the Doors Open official map or the alphabetized list of buildings.

CORRECTION: May 25, 2011, 3:50 PM This post originally indicated that the Corus Quay Building was designed only by Jack Diamond of Diamond Schmitt. In fact, while Diamond Schmitt did design the base building, including the bio-wall, Quadrangle Architects Limited designed the interior tenant fit-out, including the street-level radio stations, performance area, and the twisty slide, among other elements. We regret the error.