One of our favourite weekends of the year – Doors Open Toronto – is just around the corner, and we’re looking forward to the rare and free access it provides to significant buildings and sites around the city.
When we first attended in 2015, we found that one weekend just wasn’t enough time to see anything, and come the 2016 event, our list of places to visit had been ready to go for 12 months. Likewise, our 2017 list has been ready for just as long!
Here’s a look back at the cool places we visited in 2016.
Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre
Although not technically part of Doors Open, the building’s owners, the Ontario Heritage Trust, throw open the Yonge Street theatre’s doors on the same weekend. It is the world’s last remaining Edwardian double-decker theatre, with the Winter Garden Theatre, sitting directly above the Elgin Theatre.
The whole interior of the theatres are a sight to behold, from the entrance hall and manually operated elevator, to the opulent looking Elgin Theatre, with its gold leaf, ornate decorations and deep red furnishings. Whilst the Elgin is special, the Winter Garden is even better. A botanical appearance is created, with the columns rising up from the Elgin Theatre below disguised as tree trunks, and its ceilings decorated with preserved beech leaves that are interspersed with twinkling lanterns to give a magical effect.
Commerce Court North
Staying downtown, Commerce Court North was not only Toronto’s, but also the British Empire’s tallest building from its completion in 1931 until 1962. It is now surrounded by far taller buildings, but as you would expect from a building of that era, it’s all Art Deco, and features a beautiful vaulted gold-coffered ceiling. You can actually view this at anytime of the year, but Doors Open is the only time that you are able to photograph it.
Once you’ve finished gawping at the ceiling, temporary displays explain the building’s history. Sadly though, the building’s viewing platform on the 32nd floor is closed to the public, even during Doors Open.
R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant
Continuing the Art Deco theme is the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, east of the city’s core on the shores of Lake Ontario. Don’t be put off by the fact that a water treatment plant doesn’t sound very exciting, as the architects really didn’t hold back with the design, and the buildings that make up this site have a certain palatial feeling to them.
Built in the 1930s, the plant provides an average of 400 million litres of safe drinking water to the residents of Toronto and York Region every day, so not only is it nice to look at, it’s also kind of essential to city life.
We followed the self guided tour, that takes you from the Pump House, and then to the Filter Building. The Pump House included a display on the plant as well as similar infrastructure that was built across the growing city decades ago.
Billy Bishop Airport
Back along the waterfront to downtown, and we were now at Billy Bishop airport. A lot of Torontonians have probably flown from here at some point, and with its awesome views of downtown Toronto on takeoff and landing, and the free cookies in the departure lounge, it’s not hard to see why it’s a popular airport!
Doors Open gives a chance for a different perspective. We emerged from the pedestrian tunnel under the harbour to a small fair in the airport, consisting of displays, games and, most importantly, the free cookies you find in the departure lounge!
Once we’d filled our pockets with as many cookies as seemed fair, we headed outside where we took a close look at the Ornge air ambulance service in its hangar, and the impressive collection of vehicles that help keep the airport running throughout the year, from snowploughs and sweepers, to emergency vehicles.
Also on display were the birds of prey, who keep the airport free of pesky pigeons and other wildlife that might interfere with the aircraft!
Queen Richmond Centre
To the north of Billy Bishop Airport is one of the newest additions to Toronto’s architecture, the Queen Richmond Centre. Completed in 2015, a new 17-storey tower sits open on the façade of a 1900s building and three gigantic 70 feet delta frames. Underneath, a light and airy atrium is created, which is a great space to take a break in, and admire the architecture around and above. The delta frames are impressive and attractive to look at, especially in December, when they make the perfect complement for festive decorations!
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
The University of Toronto’s Robarts Library and adjoining Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library might not be everyone’s cup of tea with their brutalist concrete architecture, but I happen to quite like it for some reason.
The library is home to Canada’s largest collection of rare books. Whilst the exterior isn’t to everyone’s liking, the interior is likely to have a few more fans with its ambient lighting, plentiful symmetry, and shelves upon shelves of books that tower above you.
Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence
OK, so we didn’t visit the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence Building during Doors Open, but we did happen to be passing by the following day for work. Opened in 2016, the building is located at York University in the the north of the city, and has been built to serve new learning and creative approaches for the university’s students. We think it looks great, and is a very welcome addition to the university’s campus!
Doors Open Toronto 2017
Doors Open 2017 is on May 27th and 28th, and with it being Canada’s 150th birthday this year, “150 architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings across the city” will be opening up their doors. This rare access, as always, is free. You can check out the full list of Doors Open 2017 buildings here.