Doors Open Toronto

Doors Open Toronto is a popular annual event. One weekend a year, 150 unique buildings that are generally closed to the public, or only open on a very selective basis, open their doors (for free) to heritage lovers. This is my account of my tour.

There's nothing like sneaking a peek into buildings that are usually off limits, and that's what I (and thousands of others) got to do this past weekend. Since I only had one day, I limited my visit to the area within walking distance of Union Station Toronto. I picked half a dozen great buildings to explore with a friend. Here they are:

Gooderham Flatiron Building at 49 Wellington Street.
This is one of the most remarkable historic buildings in downtown Toronto, and one of the most photographed as well, so it's no wonder that there was quite a long lineup for the Doors Open Toronto tour. It's called flatiron because of its triangular shape and was the first flatiron building in North America (it's older than the famous one in NYC, in fact). It's also famous for the modern trompe d'oeil painting on the western wall of the building. It was built in 1892 as the headquarters of the Gooderham and Worts distillery (which is now the location of the Distillery District, another popular tourist/entertainment destination not far from here).

The building has some other marvelous details like this quirky hall lamp shaped like a hand:

Canada Permanent Building at 320 Bay Street.
This art deco beauty opened in 1930 as a bank. Its glorious soaring banking hall and lobby with stunning brass features must have give customers much joy when they visited in the old days. Unfortunately the building is no longer used as a bank; instead it houses offices for the fortunate few. Here are a couple of shots of the art deco details. Look at the lamps (those are reproductions, but still!) ....

and the original brass doors:

Market Gallery at South St. Lawrence Market 95 Front Street East.
This was my chance to see the city's art collection which is stored in their 3rd floor archive when it's not out on display. A guide took us in. This is a small room and we only saw a handful of paintings but the Kurelek one of Crombie (a former Toronto mayor) was alone worth the trip … it's hilarious. Truly one of the most bizarre portraits of a political figure ever. I should say something about the St. Lawrence Market itself. It was built in 1845 and was originally used as the Toronto City Hall. Much of it was torn down over the years but part of the original structure still remains. It now operates as a permanent food market selling fruit, vegetables, fish, poultry, meat, cheese, bread and prepared foods like sandwiches etc. Here's a shot of the market as seen through the window from the 2nd floor art gallery.

Ontario Heritage Building at 10 Adelaide Street East.
Another place we visited on our Doors Open Toronto tour was this handsome Beaux-Arts style building on Adelaide, just around the corner from the Elgin Theatre. This place opened as offices for the Canadian Birkbeck Investment and Savings Company in 1909. Some of its unique features include a lovely oval boardroom, stunning original wood-panelling, and a hand-operated elevator. It's now occupied by the Ontario Heritage Trust and rented out for meetings, weddings and other special events. We were allowed to roam freely through the building and ask questions.

Elgin Theatre Toronto and Winter Garden Theatre at 189 Yonge Street.
For many this is one of the highlights of Doors Open Toronto. We took a guided tour of this building (wait wasn't too long, about 20 minutes). This building opened in 1913 and was originally built as the pantomime and movie theatre Loew's. It has two separate theatres, one on top of the other, one of the few double-decker theatres surviving in this day. The Elgin Theatre Toronto, on the lower floors, is red and gold and has a rather gaudy feel to it; it ran live entertainment and movies for the masses all day long. Tickets were cheap.

The upper theatre, the Winter Garden, on the other hand, catered to the wealthier crowd who saw the same shows featured downstairs but in a more beautiful setting (and a much higher price). It has real preserved leaves and branches hanging from the ceiling, and is intended to resemble a garden at night. Coloured glass lanterns hang from above, casting a romantic glow and the hand-painted screen boasts a luscious landscape designed to induce dreams. The Winter Theatre was mothballed in 1928 and didn't open again to the public 1985 after a painstaking restoration that took two and a half years.

King Edward Hotel, Photo courtesy of Tourism Toronto

King Edward Hotel Toronto at 37 King Street East.
The King Eddie opened in 1903 and has long been known as the hangout of the city's powerful class. It was commissioned by that same fellow who built the Flatiron building, Gooderham (the Distillery guy).

We tried to get into the tour, as it's one of the few chances that riffraff like me get to see the beautiful 1920-era Crystal Ballroom, but alas, we didn't get there early enough.

There was a lineup around the block as early as 8 a.m., we were told, when we stopped for a second time to see it around 3:30. They were so busy they weren't letting anyone else in by that time. Note to future visitors: go early if you want to get into this place!

For more information about Doors Open Toronto and Doors Open in other parts of Ontario, see

Related pages

Doors Open Hamilton

Toronto Ontario Hotels - Historic hotels.

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