This past weekend, a slew of buildings across the city granted free access to their premises as part of Doors Open Toronto. While popular locations like Casa Loma and Steam Whistle Brewery tend to draw big crowds during this annual event, there are plenty of lesser-known sites that are also worth visiting. Here’s an inside look at some of Toronto’s hidden gems.
As I entered through the gates of the black, cast iron fence enveloping all six acres of Osgoode Hall, I was immediately taken aback by the elegance of the building’s façade, and its well-groomed and airy grounds, a quiet haven in the heart of the stuffy downtown core. An attendant, dressed in a tacky (though festive) t-shirt with a decal of Osgoode Hall, handed me a pamphlet to follow as I began my self-guided tour through the dizzying maze of stairwells, corridors, and rooms of this Canadian legal landmark.
Particularly alluring was the Rotunda, with its arched pillars surrounded by oil paintings portraits of the former Chief Justices of Upper Canada, including the building’s namesake William Osgoode,. In the courtrooms, I had my picture taken in a judge’s robe. It’s a decision that I immediately came to regret because the robe smelled awful, presumably having been donned by many others before myself. But any sense of displeasure quickly evaporated once I entered the Great Library, the largest private law library in Canada, adorned with its own spiral staircase. It’s a space so charming that I was seized with the rather unexpected desire to browse through the volumes on the shelves, and I left Osgoode Hall lamenting how criminal it is (pun intended) that the only people inhabitants of the building are the judges and lawyers who deliberate inside its walls. —AC
National Film Board of Canada Mediathèque
Although the National Film Board of Canada Mediathèque, Canada’s public film producer and distributor, stands rather unassumingly in the nucleus of Toronto’s entertainment district, it is widely recognized around the world as a hub for the development of innovative Canadian film. With a short pamphlet as our guide, those of us who visited the NFB during Doors Open were given free reign to explore the building.
In the first interactive exhibit, visitors were invited to discover what it would feel like to cross a steel beam positioned high above the Toronto landscape. This virtual installation was inspired by Don Owen’s short documentary film High Steel, which depicts the work of members of the First Nations Mohawk of Kahnawake, who erected many of the steel frames of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. I wasn’t entirely impressed; at no point did I feel as though I was “35 stories in the air,” as my pamphlet had promised.
I moved on to a pixilation studio, where visitors create short videos using stop-animation techniques, and from there to the NFB’s cinema. I watched a documentary called Invisible Cities, which chronicles the lives of two troubled teens living in Regent Park. While not particularly cheerful, the documentary was a fitting choice for Doors Open; it depicted aspects of Toronto’s history and told the stories of some of the people who have called this city home. —AC
Artscape Wychwood Barns
While the Artscape Wychwood Barns have a rich history, I found the site to be particularly interesting because of its current role as an artistic haven and community centre. The guided tours available every hour give a brief overview of the site’s former status as a TTC repair house, but focus mainly on the recent developments of the barns, which now serve as housing centres for artists, non-profit organizations and other members of the community. The guide also explained the environmentally friendly features of the building, including a rainwater system used to fill toilet bowls and water the indoor gardens.
Some of the artists who reside in the barns opened their studios to the public during Doors Open, providing visitors with the chance to enjoy their work. As I walked through the barns, I encountered a photography exhibit and participated in a beer tasting that takes place at the barns each week. —MC
De La Salle College “Oaklands”
A new addition to the Doors Open, this private, Catholic high school was surprisingly crowded on Saturday morning. Visitors were able to peruse the locker-lined hallways of what is now the main school building, but most flocked to the Edwardian mansion located nearby, where classes were held during the school’s early years. A segment from the TV show Structures played on screens in the both the main building and in the mansion, providing an overview of the history of the estate and its transformation into a school. Students of De La Salle College also gave tours of the old mansion, which was built in 1860. As a former student of the school, however, I felt comfortable exploring the mansion’s many hallways and bedrooms on my own. The highlight of the building was definitely the lookout tower. I had to climb quite a few stairs to get there, but the view from the tower made it all worthwhile. —MC