Shit You Should See At Doors Open Toronto 2014

This weekend is Doors Open weekend in Toronto. More than 150 sites across the city will be welcoming visitors into the some of the most interesting, beautiful and historic buildings that Toronto has to offer. And since there's no way one person can manage to catch all of the cool stuff, I thought I'd share five of my own picks for the some of the most amazing places you might want to check out.

If you'd like more information, you can visit the Doors Open website here. Jamie Bradburn also has a great list of some locations that are new to the event up on Torontoist here. And Derek Flack has his own picks for blogTO here.

I also expect to be out and about at some point this weekend, armed with some of my Toronto Dreams Project dreams, leaving them in historic spots around the city — including some that are part of Doors Open. You can follow me on Twitter and on Instagram (@TODreamsProject) to find out when and where I do.


It's the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes, originally built all the way back in 1808, when Toronto was just a few years old. So it has been standing out there on the island for more than 200 years. And the history of the building is particularly interesting, including the mysterious disappearance of the first lightkeeper, John Paul Radelmüller, who served as a porter to Prince Edward (the father of Queen Victoria and the guy PEI is named after) before he settled in York. They say he still haunts the lighthouse today, which fits with this year's Doors Open theme: Secrets and Spirits. Getting the chance to go inside is a rare privilege, so, while you'll have to make the trek out to the island and may have to line up when you get there, it should be well worth the trip. 

Oh, and I'm hoping to pop by with a copy or two of my dream for the lightkeeper's daughter, so that's a reason to visit, too.


Seriously, how fucking cool is it that there are super-old 3D photos of Toronto? Thanks to the stereoscopic technique, all you need to do is cross your eyes and these archival pics of our city spring to life. And as part of the Contact Photography Festival, there's already an exhibition of them on display at Campbell House — that historic old building at Queen & University — which will also be welcoming visitors as part of Doors Open. It's bound to be one of the highlights of the weekend. And to give you a taste of just how neat it is, you can click on the photos to the left to make them bigger and give them a try. Just cross your eyes like you're looking at a Magic Eye. (Though it might be a bit easier if you then zoom out a little.)


As far as I'm concerned, St. James Cathedral should be a WAY bigger deal than it is. Not only is it one of the most spectacular buildings in Toronto, it's also one of the most important buildings in the entire history of Canada. The story of St. James stretches all the way back to a small wooden church built at what's now the corner of Church & King in the very early 1800s — and over the course of that century, it played a central role in the battle for democracy in Canada. This was the main church for most our city's leaders, including the preacher John Strachan, who was our city's first Anglican bishop, nemesis of William Lyon Mackenzie and a figurehead of the infamously anti-democratic Family Compact. Strachan is still there today, buried under the chancel. (I wrote the full story for Torontoist a while back; you can check it out here.) And while this probably won't be your last chance to visit the building — the cathedral has long been a Doors Open staple — it's always a good idea to seize the opportunity to venture inside one of the most underrated historic sites in Toronto.


The Necropolis Cemetery in Cabbagetown is open (and free of charge, of course) all year round. But it's not easy finding all the coolest graves among the endless rows of headstones. So you might want to visit during this year's Doors Open, when they'll be offering free tours of the cemetery. This is where our rebel mayor William Lyon Mackenzie is buried. It's also home to the bones of Peter Matthews and Samuel Lount, martyrs of Mackenzie's rebellion. Then there's Thornton Blackburn, the escaped slave from Kentucky who established Toronto's first horse-drawn cab company and helped to bring more former slaves to Toronto on the Underground Railroad. He's resting near George Brown, founder of the Globe newspaper and Father of Confederation. And there's also Willam Petyon Hubbard, our city's first Black alderman, who once saved Brown from drowning in the Don River. The Necropolis is easily one of the most fascinating (and beautiful) cemeteries in our city. And since I've got dreams to leave at pretty much all of those graves, I'll probably be stopping by at some point this weekend to leave some postcards there. (Again, you can follow me on Twitter and on Instagram at @TODreamsProject to find out when and where I do.)


Here's a new addition to the Doors Open roster. You'll find the High Level Pumping Station just a bit north-east of Davenport and Spadina. It's not far from some of the other Doors Open sites like the Toronto Archives and Spadina House. And like the much more famous R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant out in the east end, it takes Toronto's water infrastructure and transforms it into something beautiful. The old building also played a role in one of the most delightful episodes in the history of our city. Back in the 1960s, the residents of the surrounding neighbourhood declared independence from the rest of Canada. As the story goes, they wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, elected a Queen, issued their own passports and sent an "air farce" of children holding a thousand helium balloons to surround the Pumping Station until their demands were met. To this day, the neighbourhood is known as the Republic of Rathnelly. They've even got their own custom street signs featuring their national crest.


Posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project and Toronto Historical Jukebox. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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