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155 buildings — including haunted ones — at Doors Open Toronto

The doors to 155 Toronto buildings, including nearly 20 haunted ones, will swing open for the public this weekend for the popular Doors Open Toronto event.

Many of the city’s museums, churches, schools and heritage buildings will be participating again at the May 24-25 event.

They include Mackenzie House, St. James Cathedral and the Canada Life building downtown. Osgoode Hall, R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant in the Beaches and Bridgepoint Active Healthcare, formerly the old Don Jail, are other buildings that attract big crowds. And the City and OMNI TV building is again part of Doors Open Toronto.

About 40 new buildings have been added to the Doors Open Toronto program this year. Program supervisor Kerri MacDonald told CityNews.ca in April she’s really excited about Knox College at the University of Toronto’s St. George campus, which has been the backdrop for movie shoots and features a Wolff pipe organ in the chapel as well as a beautiful garden.

“So that’s one of my personal ones that I’m really interested in,” she says.

Another must-see building is the Artscape Youngplace, the new arts and cultural centre on Shaw Street in the Queen Street West neighbourhood. MacDonald says it’s another example of an old building that Artscape has repurposed and given new life to.

“This is the one this year that they’re showcasing,” she says.

Other new participating buildings to check out this year include the Cornell Campbell House, an 1836 farmhouse in Scarborough, and the Theatre Centre, the live arts hub in the historic Carnegie Library Building that opened last month.

MacDonald says that Doors Open Toronto also tries to feature buildings outside the downtown core and this year will focus on attracting visitors to the northwest part of the city with the Black Creek Experience, which will have pop-up stores and feature local attractions, businesses and organizations.

The theme for this year’s program is Secrets and Spirits… Exploring the Mysteries Behind the Door and the public will have access to unseen spaces, including an underground church bowling alley, a hidden tomb and haunted tunnels.

Visitors will also get to hear spooky stories to go with the 19 buildings and sites that will be sure to send chills down your spine, says Rowena Brook, Haunted Walk of Toronto tour manager, who provided the research for Doors Open Toronto.

There will be a walking tour at the Distillery Historic District where there have been many sightings of a man in old-fashioned clothing. He is believed to be co-founder James Worts who threw himself into the company well in 1834 several weeks after his wife died during childbirth.

Other eerie tales of the distillery include the sounds of cats meowing and foot-high streaks of grey and black moving across the floors in the showroom of Hastens, the Swedish mattress company. The building used to house grain for the alcohol and was patrolled by cats to keep the mice population in check. But it is said an employee who didn’t like felines had them destroyed.

“There’s nothing more terrifying than ghost cats in my opinion,” Brook says.

There have been many sightings of a shorter-than-average man in a frock coat at Mackenzie House, the home of Toronto’s first mayor. A former employee of the home, which is now a city museum, has also seen the words “responsible government” left in the printing press at the back of the building one morning, a concept William Mackenzie was a strong proponent of.

  • There have been sightings of a man in a tuxedo walking in the kitchen and disappearing through a closed door at the Guild Inn in Scarborough, which was the summer home of Col. Bickford in 1941.
  • The old fire hall, which now houses CMU College of Makeup Art & Design, was home to Second City back in the heady days of Martin Short and Gilda Radner, who died in May 1989. Unusual occurrences began about a month before Second City had to vacate the premises in 1997. The theatre flooded, lights flickered off and on and equipment inexplicably stopped working. “So those working there started to wonder if there was something there in the buidling that didn’t want them to leave,” Brook says. CMU instructors and students have also reported sightings, including an instructor who heard singing emanating from a bathroom when no one was inside.
  • The Auxiliary Female Asylum used to be at the site that’s now the legislative building at Queen’s Park. Over the years, there have been sightings of three female spirits, Brook says. And one of them was seen in the tunnel that connects the assembly to the Whitney Block. Sometimes people who use it as a shortcut have seen a woman hanging from a hook. “It’s scary enough that many enough won’t use the tunnel,” Brook says.

Toronto was the first North American city to launch a Doors Open event in 2000, as part of a millennium project, and has since attracted more than two million visitors to its buildings. Last year, Doors Open Toronto, which was inspired by Doors Open programs in France, attracted 223,000, up 70,000 from 2012.

See below map for locations and descriptions of participating buildings.


What buildings will you try to visit? And which ones do you think should have been included in this year’s Doors Open Toronto? Share your thoughts in the comments.