What You Should Explore at Doors Open 2016
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What You Should Explore at Doors Open 2016

Your guide to some of the best of the 130 buildings taking part in Doors Open this year.

If you’ve ever passed by a Toronto building and felt the urge to learn more, then this weekend is the chance to explore that curiosity.

Many of Toronto’s most well-known buildings–and hidden architectural treasures–will open their doors to the public this weekend for the 17th annual Doors Open Toronto. Doors Open, which takes place all over Ontario throughout the summer and into the fall, gives people a chance to step inside the histories and unique architecture of buildings they may see everyday.

This year, more than 130 buildings will open their doors to allow the public to take a look inside. Tours and special events will also happen at many of the buildings, while others offer a chance to create your own self-guided tour.

For the first time this year Doors Open will have walking tours so people can take in more of what Toronto offers in a structured fashion, rather than being totally left to their own devices. Another first for this is a keynote speech from Karim Rashid, an award-winning architect, on the historic Trading Floor on Friday at 7 p.m.

But what are the right venues for you to check out? Luckily Torontoist is here to break it all down for you.

Here are some buildings you’ll want to check out if…

  • …you want to go on walking tours
  • …you want to explore Toronto’s past
  • …you like Toronto’s political history and future
  • …you want to learn about Toronto’s spiritual landscape
  • …you like art in the city
  • …you’re fascinated by interesting architecture

  • …You want to go on walking tours

    With so many options for Doors Open this year, it can be tricky to even consider where to start. For the first time, there will be walking tours around Toronto to help you figure out what you’d like to see, and show you some stuff you might not have been able to find.

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    TITLE: Art & Performance Architecture Tour

    STARTS: May 28, 11 a.m., 1 p.m. 2:30 p.m. May 29, 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

    MEETING SPOT: South West corner of King Street West and Simcoe Street, under the Roy Thomson Hall sign

    So much of Toronto’s most interesting and expressive architecture originated as a place for art and culture in the city. This walk will show you some of Toronto’s most interesting buildings, as well as tune you in to the stories and artists that made them happen.

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    TITLE: Tower Tour

    STARTS: May 28, 12:30 p.m., May 29, 12:30 p.m, 2:00 p.m.

    MEETING SPOT: In front of Old City Hall

    Since the 60s Toronto has sprouted skyscrapers as the city has rapidly developed. Tour guides who have been trained by the Toronto Society of Architects will lead you through some of North America’s most iconic towers, and tell you the stories behind them.

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    TITLE: Truth and Reconciliation on the Streets of Toronto

    STARTS: May 28, 11 a.m., 2 p.m. May 29, 11 a.m., 2:00 p.m.

    MEETING SPOT: Front steps of the Ryerson Student Learning Centre

    No residential schools were built in Toronto, but that doesn’t mean Torontonians can completely wash their hands of this ugly time in Canadian history. The remnants can still be seen in church, government, and educational sites which you will get to see on this walk.


    …You want to explore Toronto’s past

    The interesting and complicated history of Toronto oozes from some of the city’s most beautiful and lasting buildings. These Doors Open locations give you the opportunity to walk right into that history, and see for yourself the work that has gone into preservation, as well as keeping the city’s history part of modern life.

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    THE BUILDING: Montgomery’s Inn

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Montgomery’s Inn, built in 1830, was owned by Irish immigrants until 1855. Today the building acts as a historical reminder to how important inns were for community building in the 19th century, and settling the province. For tours of the inn, volunteers dressed in period costumes will give you information, and point you the direction of the food samples that will be prepared in the Inn’s fully restored kitchen.

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    THE BUILDING: Bridgepoint Administration Building – Historic Don Jail

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Designed by William Thomas, a renowned 19th century architect, the building was originally operated as a reform jail, and did so for more than a century. Eventually the jail closed in 1977, and remained dormant for a few years afterwards. After years of taking up space, the building was bought and Bridgepoint Active Healthcare started using it as an administrative building. During the renovations, strict guidelines were implemented to maintain the building’s historical significance. Areas of the former jail that are usually closed off will be open to the public for a tour, and it should offer a rare look into what jail was like more than a century ago.

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    THE BUILDING: Canadian Music Centre – Chalmers House

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    For fans of Canadian music, the Chalmers House has to be high on your list this year. Chalmers House plays a dual role of a contemporary music centre for the city, and a historical archive of musicians from all across the country going back more than a century. Musicians will perform and mingle with people taking tours, and Chalmers house will display archival audio recordings and pictures. Plus, visitors will get to explore the unique architecture of the romanesque building.

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    THE BUILDING: Fort York National Historic Site

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Fort York goes back to Toronto’s founding in 1793, when John Simcoe built a garrison as a preemptive measure to war with the Americans. Much of the Fort was destroyed during the war of 1812, and rebuilt from 1813-1816. People who visit Fort York will get a tour of the military architecture, as well as expertly told stories about Canada’s military past. Plus, you’ll be treated to people bringing the historic 1812 kitchen back to life through cooking demonstrations.


    …You like Toronto’s political history and future

    Cities, provinces, and countries are all built on, divided by, and ultimately improved by politics. Toronto, as Ontario’s capital, houses the provincial legislator, as well as City Hall, and Old City Hall, the municipal epicentre of the City at different periods through history. Taking a look inside these buildings can give you perspective on how Toronto’s political past has shaped the City and the Province, and how it will continue to shape both in the future.

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    THE BUILDING: Legislative Assembly of Ontario

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    The Legislative Assembly of Ontario has acted as the meeting place for Ontario’s government since 1893. The formidable Romanesque structure has had upgrades and modifications from some of Toronto’s most renowned architects. On the inside, the oak floors and marble walls give an essence of the prestige of the legislator. Visitors will be able to take in exhibits from many community museums, and explore the whole space at their own leisure during a self-guided tour.

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    THE BUILDING: Old City Hall

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Once the largest civic building in North America, Old City Hall acts as a courthouse today, but still holds massive historical significance for the city. For Doors Open, Diaspora Dialogues, a non-profit group helping bring diversity to Toronto’s literature scene, has invited emerging and established writers to explore times or people in history through a broader lens than the white-settler motif we’re used to in history. These writers and poets will be spaced out inside Old City Hall, and you can check it all out for yourself on a self-guided tour.

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    THE BUILDING: City Hall

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    City Hall will be the epicentre of Doors Open Toronto. Activities and presentations will go on over the entire weekend, and they will uncover some of the newer history of Toronto. Plus, you will be able to walk around parts of City Hall that are normally off-limits to the general public, like the mayor’s office, the observation deck from the 27th floor, and council chambers.


    …You want to learn about Toronto’s spiritual landscape

    Toronto is a diverse city. People have flocked here for centuries from all over the world, and the idea of multiculturalism is celebrated; people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures can all come together in Toronto. Even though we celebrate our diversity, we often ignore the diversity of spirit it can bring. These holy places will open their doors to give everyone a chance to experience a different belief system.

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    THE BUILDING: Jing Yin Temple

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    The Jing Yin Temple is a new building finished in 2012, but its architecture is a throwback to traditional Buddhist temples that exist all across the world. Once inside, visitors will be treated to a variety of traditional music, dances, art forms, and sports. Plus, a group of volunteers will be performing a flag dance each day at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m.

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    THE BUILDING: St. James Cathedral

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    St. James Cathedral’s history stretches back to the very founding of Toronto. Visitors to this building can take guided tours throughout the day, or walk around themselves. Make sure you check out the church ringing its massive bell on Saturday morning, and if you’re there on Sunday, don’t miss the choir rehearsal at 3 p.m., or the free organ concert at 4 p.m.

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    THE BUILDING: Hare Krishna Temple (ISKCON Toronto)

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    This building’s history is as storied as the many different congregations who have called it home over the years. Inside, visitors will find an ornately decorated prayer hall with a large, domed, altar. Guided tours will go on every 15 minutes all weekend, and will last about 20 minutes–just enough time to show visitors the most visually stunning aspects of the building, as well as a quick dive into the history. Plus, you can score some free samples from the restaurant connected to the Temple.

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    THE BUILDING: Congregation Knesseth Israel (Junction Shul)

    OPEN: May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    The most distinctive feature on this building has to be the delicately painted murals, and hand-carved plaques that adorn the outside. If you visit this building, community leaders will take you through the history and meaning of those murals, and show you the only Mikvah (ceremonial bath) in Toronto’s west end.


    …You like art in the city

    Art is the soul of a city, but it so often goes overlooked when people think about impressive buildings, or even historically significant places in Toronto. Some of these places have been converted into artistic spaces overtime, others were built solely to showcase art. Either way, they house some of Toronto’s greatest treasures.

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    THE BUILDING: Bata Shoe Museum

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

    You’ve almost certainly seen the shoebox-shaped building that is the Bata Shoe Museum. It’s essentially impossible to ignore from the sidewalk. During Doors Open, you’ll have the chance to check out all the exhibits inside, learn about the preservation process, and watch a live painting by the museum’s resident artist.

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    THE BUILDING: 401 Richmond Street West

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Originally an industrial building known known for lithographic work, that artistic tradition has stayed with 401 Richmond, though it has taken a different form today. Visitors will be able to explore the galleries and shops within the building at their leisure, and take an hour-long guided tour each day at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

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    THE BUILDING: Heliconian Hall

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Heliconian Hall was built when Yorkville was just a small, sleepy suburb of Toronto, and has been used as a church, the headquarters of a painters union, and now it’s the home of the Toronto Heliconian Club. Inside, photos from eight women photographers will be on display, and every hour, poets, dancers and musicians will put on a show, and some will interact directly with the photos. The last of these performances will be at 4 p.m. each day.


    …You’re fascinated by interesting architecture

    Explore how architecture has innovated over centuries to create bigger, better structures, and often more beautiful buildings to help keep the urban ecosystem alive.

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    THE BUILDING: Ontario Association of Architects Headquarters

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    It makes sense that the Ontario Association of Architects would have an architecturally interesting headquarters. In this building, you can walk through on a self-guided tour and explore how the intricate design utilizes space. Volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions you may have during your visit.

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    THE BUILDING: Ismaili Centre Toronto

    OPEN: May 28, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Visitors to the Ismaili Centre will get the chance to walk through the building prayer hall, and experience its crystalline glass dome roof while they that shines like a jewel. You’ll also be able to check out the exhibit hall, where you can take pictures and videos. While you’re there, take the chance to walk around the grounds and experience a kind of quiet serenity you wouldn’t think you could find in Toronto.

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