Doors Open Toronto: Illuminating The City's Great Spaces

Overview

With a Foreword by Anne Michaels

This spring, 80,000 people will take to the streets to explore exciting city spaces that are too often closed to them. They will be taking part in the Doors Open festival, a weekend-long celebration of Toronto’s civic culture and history through 100 of its finest and most important buildings.

Generously illustrated with some 200 photographs ...
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Overview

With a Foreword by Anne Michaels

This spring, 80,000 people will take to the streets to explore exciting city spaces that are too often closed to them. They will be taking part in the Doors Open festival, a weekend-long celebration of Toronto’s civic culture and history through 100 of its finest and most important buildings.

Generously illustrated with some 200 photographs and sidebars, and accompanied by seven hand-drawn maps, Doors Open Toronto is the essential book for anyone who cares about the city they live in, for lovers of secret places, for adventurers at heart.

2.5 million people live in Toronto, but how many know the stories of their city? In this accessible, lively literary companion to the Doors Open Toronto festival — now in its third year — irrepressible city advocate and former mayor John Sewell takes us on a tour of the places in Toronto every citizen or visitor should explore. Step inside the old Don Jail, with its rotunda ringed with serpents and gargoyles, once home to the infamous bank-robbing Boyd Gang, until they escaped — twice. Go to the original Don Mills to see where the lumber was sawn for the Simcoe’s 1795 country home, Castle Frank, and the paper produced for William Lyon Mackenzie’s newspaper, The Colonial Advocate. Or explore the Chapel of St. James-the-Less, with its cemetery established in response to the cholera epidemic of 1834 that killed 10% of the city’s population. Doors Open Toronto illuminates these wondrous places and nearly one hundred more, bringing life and meaning to the streets we walk down every day.

The Flatiron (Gooderham) Building,the old Don Jail, Osgoode Hall, Enoch Turner School House, One King West, Hart House, University College, St. James’ Cathedral, Gooderham & Worts Complex, George Brown House, R. C. Harris Water Filtration Plant, The Elgin and Winter Garden theatres, the Canadian Opera Company, Union Station, The Arts & Letters Club, Commerce Court North, the Design Exchange, St. Paul’s Basilica, Canada Life building, and many more…
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780676974980
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada
  • Publication date: 5/7/2002
  • Pages: 279
  • Product dimensions: 4.54 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

John Sewell is the author of five books on Toronto, and the city’s former mayor. A lawyer by training, he has spent the last three decades as a public policy entrepreneur and activist, with an interest in land-use planning, social policy, history and urban issues. Now a columnist for Eye Weekly, John Sewell lives in Toronto.
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Read an Excerpt

Preface

Toronto has more than its own fair share of intriguing stories that illuminate the past and explain the present, and many of those stories are in the city's structures. That's one of the key ideas behind Doors Open Toronto: those who look closely at the city's buildings will gain a better appreciation of the city itself.

But maintaining the presence of the past is not easy. Little legislative protection is available for buildings, and it is a constant struggle to convince governments and building owners that structures should be enhanced and retained rather than demolished. The many individuals who stick up for existing buildings in the face of some new vision of a "better" future deserve our thanks and support. A walk down virtually any street will confirm that older buildings are usually more interesting and felicitous than newer ones. Not always, of course: Sometimes architects of our own time are given the scope of designing structures that are equal to the best of the past.
But too often fine older buildings are demeaned by the inferior design and quality of what has arrived since they were built.

The Doors Open idea came to Toronto in the simplest of ways. Catherine Nasmith, an architect with a serious interest in heritage issues, had had many discussions with a distant relative living in Edinburgh, Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith, CBE. Sir James was chair of the Scottish Civic Trust, and his involvement in the preservation movement meant he was part of the Doors Open idea, which Glasgow had latched on to in 1990, with Edinburgh joining the following year. Doors Open had started in a small town in France in 1984 and had beengathering momentum ever since. By 1991 it was a weekend event in 11 European cities. By 1998 some 19 million visitors had visited 28,000 sites in 44 countries, operating under the name European Heritage Days. The model was simple: Open buildings for a day or a weekend (never longer) and tell the public they're welcome to visit.

Catherine Nasmith invited Sir James, who was in Toronto in August 1998 on a social visit, to speak about his experience with Doors Open. More than a hundred people attended what was to have been an informal event. Karen Black -- now of the City of Toronto Culture Division, then of Heritage Toronto -- was knocked out by the idea, and started the program here. Toronto became the first city in North America to launch Doors Open. In 1999 Catherine Nasmith was appointed to the board of Heritage Toronto, and the decision was made to send an exploratory group to Glasgow and Edinburgh. The group consisted of Karen Black and her colleague Jane French, Margie Zeidler, Catherine Nasmith, and Michael and Anne Tippin. On their return, the steering committee and City staff decided to hold the first Doors Open in Toronto in May 2000, with the theatre entrepreneur David Mirvish as the honorary patron. With nearly one hundred buildings participating and over seventy thousand visitors, it was an enormous success. To date it continues to attract many thousands of people.

Doors Open Toronto has quickly grown into a popular event because people are curious about buildings and their history. This book makes a start in helping that process, trying to place buildings in a social, physical, and political context. The more people learn, the better they will understand why Toronto is not quite the same as other places but embodies its own set of values and styles. The more they discover about the city, the greater the chance they will participate in creating its future. What Toronto needs is a host of informed citizens ready to stand up for a vision of the city that brings into daily life more social equity, more beauty, and more sense of the past. That will come as people are given the opportunity to brush up against the past in their daily lives and as they connect with others to realize that acting together, they can have a serious and positive influence on the life of the city and its residents. At the end of the day, an understanding and appreciation of the past is the best hope we have for a better present and future. Doors Open Toronto plays an important role in that process.

* * * * *

THE GUILD (formerly The Guild of All Arts)
191 Guildwood Parkway

In 1914 a retired American general named Harold Bickford built his country home, Ranelagh Park, on this land. Seven years later, he sold the property to the Foreign Missionary of the Roman Catholic Church, which subsequently moved close to St. Augustine's Seminary, farther east along Kingston Rd. In 1932, in the depths of the Depression, the property was purchased by Rosa Breithaupt Hewetson, a young widow with four children, just prior to her marriage to Spencer Clark. Rosa was a talented pianist, Spencer an electrical engineer with an interest in cultural and architectural heritage. Together they created the Guild of All Arts, with the objective of supporting crafts and decorative arts (known as the Arts and Crafts movement) as advocated by the late-19th-century English designer and thinker William Morris.

Under the Clarks' tutelage, the Bickford House was added to and expanded, so the original building is not readily apparent. Workshops and studios were established for an array of craft activity in outbuildings. The Earl Grey Players -- an early group that produced Shakespeare plays in Toronto -- rehearsed here, and Sir Ernest Macmillan and the Hambourg brothers (Clem ran the famous jazz club on Grenville Street in the 1950s, House of Hambourg) rehearsed and composed here. Bickford's stable became the Studio, a workshop for artisans. Another building became a sculpture studio. A log cabin dating from the 1850s was maintained.

During the Second World War, the Canadian government used the property as a training facility for the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRENS) and as a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers.
When the Clarks returned to their home after the war, the guild idea had passed, and they turned their interest -- it continued to 1981 -- to operating a hotel and rescuing fragments of buildings being demolished in the city and environs, creating a boneyard of important historical buildings.
Here can be found remnants of what the city has lost by refusing to protect its historic structures. We have the Clarks to thank for reminding us of the vital role that we play in safeguarding the heritage left to us. At the entrance to the property is a four-sided bas-relief showing representations of four Canadian provinces. On other parts of the property are the remaining panels, representing, in all, the ten provinces and two territories. These carvings were created for the Bank of Montreal, on the northwest corner of King and Bay Streets, which was begun in 1939, delayed by the war, completed in 1948, and demolished in 1972. They are works by the finest artists in Toronto at the time -- Emanuel Hahn, Frances Lording, Florence Ye, Elizabeth WY Wood, Donald Stewart and Jacobite Jones.

On the grounds at the rear of the house are the columns and archways from the elegant Bank of Toronto, demolished to make way for the Toronto-Dominion Centre. There are the Art Deco panels that graced the former Toronto Star building at 80 King St. W.; the moose head and other pieces from the main entrance to the Temple Building, once on Bay St. at Queen; a gateway formed from the turrets of the Produce Exchange Building, once at Scott and Colborne Sts; and many other items of great interest.

The whole of the property was sold to the metropolitan and provincial governments in 1978 and is now managed by the City. Arrangements have been made for a new hotel operator to take over the structures and create an economically viable hotel facility, with the building graveyard continuing to be managed by the City's parks department.

Copyright 2002 by John Sewell
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