Discover Hidden Histories and Untold Stories at Doors Open Toronto

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Discover Hidden Histories and Untold Stories at Doors Open Toronto

Attention Torontonians, neighbours and tourists, Doors Open Toronto is entering the 24th season this month. Toronto is the Doors Open trailblazer as the first city in North America to offer this opportunity modelled after European programs. On Saturday May 25, and Sunday May 26, 2024, the tradition continues. The City of Toronto plans to host more than 250,000 guests at over 150 participating locations. To navigate the biggest Doors Open weekend of the year, Teachers on Call’s online and in-person tutoring service had the opportunity to interview Kristine Williamson, Doors Open Toronto, Programming Lead. Read on for her advice to explore hidden histories, uncover untold stories and visit attractions that even locals don’t know about!

Teachers on Call’s online and in-person Toronto tutors are looking forward to the upcoming Doors Open event, part of the provincewide Doors Open Ontario program run by the Ontario Heritage Trust. Located in the most populous city in Canada, it is not surprising that attendance reached 240, 000 guests in 2023. This year the Doors Open Toronto organizers are expecting 270,000 in attendance. Last spring, our in-person and online tutoring service featured, Teachers on Call Celebrates Doors Open Toronto, for the very first time on our blog. To mark this year’s event, we are interviewing one of the host organizers, Kristine Williamson, Doors Open Toronto, Programming Lead, to learn what’s in store for 2024.

How to Plan for Doors Open Toronto

It can be a challenge to navigate any Doors Open weekend. However, the city of Toronto’s event is likely the most attended and complex with over 150 fascinating sites to explore (many which are not normally open to the public). To avoid long lines and disappointment, we recommend studying the participating attractions in advance and mapping out a route with priority sites. Try to cluster locations near each other and take advantage of both days if possible (some Doors Open events are one day only!). In our interview with Kristine Williamson, there are more helpful tips to take advantage of, so read on!

An Interview with Kristine Williamson, Doors Open Toronto, Programming Lead

Toronto is a Doors Open trailblazer as the first city in North America to launch this program. Please tell us about how this came about?

Doors Open Toronto was developed as a millennium project in 2000 and was inspired by some of the European cities who had developed them in the 1980’s. There was a desire to offer access to spaces not usually open to the public and we were thrilled to see how many sites wanted to participate.

For longstanding visitors, which sites are participating for the first time this year?

We have about 40 new sites this year, so it would be tough to list them all here! But visitors can see the full list on our website here. A few highlights include the following:

Nia Centre for the Arts – 524 Oakwood Ave, Toronto, ON M6E 2X1, located west of Forest Hill neighbourhood

Timothy Eaton Memorial Church - 230 St Clair Ave W, Toronto, ON M4V 1R5, located in midtown Toronto, close to St. Clair and Avenue Road and Casa Loma

Redpath Sugar Refinery - 95 Queens Quay E, Toronto, ON M5E 1A3, located east of Downtown Toronto, the intersection of Queens Quay and Jarvis Street

Massey College (Graduate Residential College of University of Toronto) - 4 Devonshire Pl, Toronto, ON M5S 2E1, located close to the Royal Ontario Museum and Hart House

VEMU Estonian Museum of Canada - 310 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1W4, located near intersection of Bloor Street West and Spadina Road, close to new Doors Open site Massey College

Cecil Community Centre - 58 Cecil St, Toronto, ON M5T 1N6, located close to Kensington Market

Toronto Camera Club - 587 Mt Pleasant Rd, Toronto, ON M4S 2M5, located in midtown Toronto in Davisville Village

Lakeshore Ground Interpretive Centre - 2 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Dr, Etobicoke, ON M8V 4B6, located in the west end of Toronto, close to Lakeshore Collegiate Institute in the TDSB

The Ontario Heritage Centre (Headquarters for the Ontario Heritage Trust) - 10 Adelaide St E, Toronto, ON M5C 1J3, located in downtown Toronto *Back this year after a slight hiatus.

Do any Doors Open Toronto sites require reservations?

There are no reservations required for any Doors Open site. But some sites are very popular so there could be a line. We recommend prioritizing the ones you want to see most at the start of your day and getting out early! Most sites are open at 10am unless otherwise indicated on our website.

We also offer a Neighbourhood Guided Tours and a Talks program, which do require registrations. More info on those programs can also be found on our website.

Does Doors Open Toronto have a theme this year?

Yes, our 2024 theme is Hidden Histories. There are so many wonderful stories and sites in the city that we wanted a chance to really highlight them. Many or our participating sites will be highlighting the lesser-known histories of their sites, and our Guided Tours and Talks program will be focusing in on those pieces of Toronto history that have been swept under the rug.

Do you have any sites to recommend for students and families in particular?

Absolutely! Doors Open is such a family and student-friendly event. Here are some of my top picks:

KITE Research Institute - 550 University Ave #12-165, Toronto, ON M5G 2A2, located in downtown Toronto, close to Queen’s Park and St Patrick subway stops

Toronto School of Art - 24 Ryerson Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 2P3, located in downtown Toronto, near Queen and Bathurst Streets

Gibraltar Point Centre for the Arts – part of the Toronto Islands, you will need to take the Toronto Islands Ferry or book a Toronto Harbour Water Taxi, more details here.

Billy Bishop Airport - 2 Eireann Quay, Toronto, ON M5V 1A1, located on the Toronto Islands, access by taking the ferry or the pedestrian tunnel (connects the mainland and island terminal in six minutes or less)

University of Toronto Department of Physics - McLennan Physical Laboratories, 60 St George St, Toronto, ON M5S 1A7 (perfect for students who enjoy studying science and math subjects)

Allan I. Carswell Astronomical Observatory, York University – Petrie Science & Engineering, York University, 446, 4700 Keele St, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3, located on the York University campus

For any students interested in architecture or design, I’d also recommend Toronto Society of architects ‘Open Studio’ program, which runs as part of Doors Open on Saturday, May 25th. It offers access and special programming at 15 design studios across the city, specializing in architects, landscape architects, planners and interior designers helping to shape our city.

Beyond Toronto, where do your Doors Open visitors come from?

We get a lot of visitors from the Greater Toronto area, including Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, Pickering, Vaughan, and beyond. But we regularly receive emails from folks who are traveling to Toronto in May, so we have guests from all across the world.

Are there volunteer opportunities still available? If yes, what are next steps to get involved?

Absolutely. We recruit year-round but there is still a chance to get involved in this year’s event. Anyone interested can fill in an online registration form here at or email us at spevvol@toronto.ca

With over 150 sites to choose from, what is your advice for guests?

I recommend using the Doors Open website to plan ahead. Many sites are clustered together so making a plan will help you see the most! Also be mindful that some sites are popular and may have lineups (a couple of good examples are the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant and City Hall). If there is a site that is a priority for you, got there first and go early. Line-ups are low in the mornings and peak around 2-4pm!

……

We hope you enjoy visiting Doors Open Toronto. Remember to keep checking our blog for upcoming events in Ottawa and Whitchurch-Stouffville with interviews spotlighting Doors Open Ottawa and Doors Open Whitchurch-Stouffville.

*Pictures provided by City of Toronto.

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