Doors Open Toronto kicks off this weekend, allowing the city’s residents and visitors to go inside some of its most famous – and enigmatic – landmarks. As this year’s celebration also marks the Canada’s 150th anniversary, 150 buildings across the city will be throwing their doors open on 27 and 28 May.
We’ve picked out 10 locations not be be missed – including some new additions to the programme for this year’s bumper birthday bash.
Looking at the coffered ceiling inside Commerce Court’s gilded lobby, you’d have little idea it was built just two years after the 1929 Wall Street crash crippled the global economy. And that was kind of the point. Designed by Canadian practice Darling and Pearson, the Art Deco building is testament to the belief that the Canadian Bank of Commerce would rise again, and the new HQ was the tallest building in the British Empire until 1962. For Doors Open, the historic chandeliers in the North Tower will be lowered for the first time ever for close up viewing.
The Daniels Building, One Spadina Crescent
When it opens in September, the Daniels Building will be the permanent home of the University of Toronto’s Architecture Faculty. International firm NADAAA has worked with Adamson & Associates, landscape architects Public Work, and heritage architects ERA to rehabilitate the existing 1875 Neo-gothic structure – originally Knox Presbyterian College, and later an eye bank – while adding a striking glass, stone and steel extension to its side.
A highlight of the new angular addition is its scissor-trussed ceiling. The colossal concrete gallery space in the basement is also not to be missed. Get a sneak preview this weekend ahead of its autumn inauguration.
Canada Life Building
Once one of the tallest structures in Toronto at 285 ft, the Canada Life Building at University and Queen Street is a colossal Beaux Arts building constructed by Sproatt & Rolph. It’s also testament to how the city could have looked if the Great Depression hadn’t scuppered plans to redevelop the downtown core… The landmark took just 18 months to build from 1929-31 and the tower room on its 17th floor – originally designed as an observation room for the public – is open exclusively for Doors Open.
An opportunity to get up close and personal with a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece should never be passed up. The 1967 TD Centre was designated an ‘outstanding example of the International Style of architecture’ under the Ontario Heritage Age in 2003, and its three steel and bronzed-glass towers form the lynchpin of the city’s financial district. For Doors Open Toronto, visitors can enjoy penthouse views from its 54th floor, wander through the boardroom and dining room, and learn about the centre’s art collection.
New to this year’s roster are the little-seen interiors of the Waterworks Building on Richmond Street West. Built in 1932 by City Architect JJ Woolnought, the Art Deco structure was once a vast warehouse, capped by gabled skylights. Guests can explore its vaulted Great Hall for the last time before the building undergoes a massive renovation to turn it into a European style food market.
TARIC Islamic Centre
Another new addition to Doors Open Toronto, the TARIC Islamic Centre is a contemporary 20,000 sq ft multi-purpose building designed by Line Architects and built in 1991 on Beverly Hills Drive. Mostly a restrained white concrete block structure, it has a western facade resembling an iwan – the archetypal entryway to a mosque. Victors will be led through the building’s full-sized gymnasium, and get to glimpse inside its carpeted prayer hall, which is decorated with Islamic calligraphy and geometric patterning.
Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre
This grand Edwardian building is one of Toronto’s most famous landmarks – an honour earned for the fact it’s the last operating double-decker theatre in the world, and the only one ever built in Canada. Constructed between 1910-1916 by architect Thomas Lamb, it was saved from the wrecking ball in the 1980s. Doors Open Toronto visitors can take a front-of-house look around building and its fabled winter garden, and see samples of the world’s largest collection of vaudeville scenery in its cascading lobbies.
Arts and Letters Club
Built by the St George’s Society in 1891 and designed by Edwards & Webster, the Arts & Letters Club is a private members space on Elm Street. For over a century, it has welcomed architects, musicians, artists and creatives in the city including The Group of 7. Guests can take a self-guided tour of its Great Hall and see a life drawing session in its Painter’s Studio.
Toronto City Hall
Toronto’s 1965 City Hall looks like it’s been flung out of space. Little wonder it’s become the city’s most instagramed landmarks and an emblem of Toronto. Its interiors, however, are not quite so well known, and for Doors Open weekend, visitors can go inside the Mayor’s office, the UFO-like Council Chambers and venture up to the 27th floor observation deck. Get to know a different side of the Viljo Revell designed Brutalist beauty.
Canada might only be 150 but Toronto’s oldest building dates back further – to 1794 to be precise. This pre-Confederation cabin was originally built from squared white pine logs by Jon Scadding, on the east bank of the Don River in what was then the Town of York. Visitors can see Toronto’s oldest house, as well as furniture tools and artefacts relating to life as a settler in the early 1800s.