Doors Open Toronto returns after 2-year pause due to COVID: Here’s where you can explore

Doors Open Toronto is returning at the end of May as the city resumes holding in-person special events. Nick Westoll has more on what you can expect at this year's event.

Like so many special events in Ontario, Doors Open Toronto was forced to close for two years due to COVID-19.

But on May 28 and 29, more than 100 sites — several of which are generally off-limits to the general public during the year — will be available for you to explore.

“We’re surrounded by architecture, and we inhabit it, and it kind of informs our experience of an urban environment in particular in ways that we may not really even think about consciously,” Robert Kerr, a programming supervisor with the City of Toronto, told CityNews while reflecting on the importance of the annual event.

“These are remarkable spaces that you have no idea what goes on behind the curtain, so it’s a really cool opportunity to get into those spaces and see what goes on.”

In Toronto’s east end, the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant (the city’s largest) on Queen Street East beside the 501 Queen streetcar’s Neville Park loop is one of those familiar historical sites many may pass but cannot see inside.

“It’s definitely is a little bit unique. It’s an architectural landmark, and it’s a heritage facility,” Gordon Mitchell, the plant’s manager, told CityNews during a brief tour recently.

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Initially built in the 1930s and expanded in the 1950s, the plant is full of classic art deco finishes — a highlight staff show off at the facility. The plant pulls in water from 2.5 kilometres out in Lake Ontario and treats it through a two-stage process. Running on a vast array of pumps and treatment processes, it can provide up to 950 million litres of drinking water.

“We don’t do too many tours otherwise. Doors Open is the best chance to come in and see our plant, talk to our staff — everyone here is very proud of what they do,” he said.

The R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant is one of the 103 sites you’ll be able to see. There are various buildings and institutions across the city included in this year’s event, such as the TTC’s Lower Bay station, Fools’ Paradise in Scarborough, the Portlands Energy Centre, the Women’s Art Association in Yorkville, the Daniels building at Spadina and a few fire stations too.

Multiple churches are included, as are museums (at no charge) such as Black Creek Pioneer Village and the Toronto Railway Museum.

At Toronto city hall and Nathan Phillips Square, an activity hub awaits. The mayor’s office and council chambers will be open for touring inside city hall. Outside there will be music and other activities.

Michèle Pearson Clarke, the City of Toronto’s photo laureate, is finishing up her three-year term. One of her final projects is overseeing the installation of Shine On, an outdoor photo gallery at Nathan Phillips Square dedicated to emerging BIPOC photographers.

The project brought together the 15 photographers with experienced mentors to help guide their work, and all of the photos will be on display for Doors Open Toronto.

“Mentorship is one of the fundamental ways that we have as a society to renew in an area, to renew a profession, and so we have all of these amazing photographers who have built a career and are renewing the field of photography by supporting, mentoring and teaching this emerging generation,” she told CityNews, referring to the 2022 Doors Open Toronto theme of renewal.

“What artists like this can do is slow us down and allow us to see things differently, and photography, even though we look at so many images a day, a well taken, a well thought out intentional photograph still has so much to show us and it is endlessly compelling to me.”

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Pearson Clarke said it is vital to create space for racialized photographers and allow their work to be seen by a wider audience.

“We’ve all learned a lot in the last few years. Lots of institutions and systems have been looking at how we improve equity and diversity in the city and our education systems, and also in our art systems. So barriers that are faced in terms of opportunities and access,” she said.

“As somebody who is Black and queer, I’ve faced barriers in my career, and it takes a village. Lots of people have helped me, and in my role, I have been able to help others.”

Craig Bagol is one of the photographers whose work is hanging outside city hall.

“I feel like I’m an artist who struggles with their mental health, and I also have synesthesia, and so I feel like I create these worlds in my head, and I like shooting people, and I like working with people, and so I tried to mix those two things. What you see is a result of that,” he said while also reflecting on his journey into photography six years ago after studying engineering.

“Doing something like that is a stereotypical path a lot of Asian people need to follow where your family kind of pushes you into a direction of a career that’s very safe, and very traditionally safe and makes a lot of money. And so I did that while doing photography on the side, and eventually, I recognized this is my life, I have to do something I truly enjoy and brings me life and makes me happy.”

Meanwhile, there are also guided and self-guided walking tours and public talks that people can participate in.

For those unable to attend Doors Open Toronto in person, there will be two dozen virtual experiences. The event follows current COVID-19 public health guidelines, but Kerr said some sites still have masking requirements.

“Just get out there, enjoy Doors Open, enjoy your city, spring is here, let’s enjoy each other, and make the most of this great place called Toronto,” he said.

For a complete list of locations along with touring hours and any potential extra COVID-related measures, click here.

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