|this weekend saw the 8th annual doors open festival answer the eager anticipation of explorers and lovers of buildings and urban spaces throughout ontario. the idea of the festival is that buildings with historical, political, aesthetic or environmental (or really any) interest make themselves available to the general public for touring, photographing and general nose-pushing scrutinizing. for urban explorers and adventurers like myself, this is like christmas or easter in that it is society’s acknowledgement that this kind of awareness-raising is not only valid, but shared by a wide public interest.
last year, i totally ignored the event. this year, since i have spent many a weekend adventuring solo, i thought that it would be best to hook up with my new friends at the toronto urban exploration and adventure meet-up to turn this into more of a celebration than a deep and focused investigation. so i arrived at the scene of my own adventure #7, the distillery district, at 9:30am – bright and shiny in my adventuring lime-green t-shirt, adventuring shorts and my deprecated new balance road trainers. we met up at the balzac’s coffee, and started off at the first most logical point of interest, the distillery district itself. there were tunnels, racks for storing casks, clever buildings and all the history that this venue has to offer.
but the true star of this first leg of the urban adventure was the psychology of the “group tour”. as i wrote before, i am far more accustomed to adventuring by myself, so trying to accommodate a group dynamic was clearly one of the challenges that i had been anticipating. but really – 60 people all queuing up to look at the same venue to the exclusion of several other immediately available locales… people who individually would be spirited and opinionated and divided on just about any decision, all paralyzed at a stop light waiting for someone to command them to cross the street – it was a moment that made historic movements towards totalitarianism seem all-too plausible.
i was really fortunate to have latched on to dom, an organizer of another meet-up who had the initiative to break off from the group and go to do his own thing. i was of half a mind to do the same thing, but he put the thing into action. we broke off from the group and started the “fanning out” process, making the whole exercise far less frustrating. please take it from me, there’s nothing worse than having 60 people all trying to cram into the same 10’x10’ room of a historic building, possibly up 10 flights of steps, so that everyone can spend five minutes taking pictures of hundred year-old pipes.
i even managed to roam off of the prescribed path and find an unlocked roof door (some roofing was being done at the same time as the event) and got up on top of one of the taller buildings in the distillery and got some great shots of the area from a fairly unusual angle – that was the big victory of the day, and it wasn’t even 10:30 yet!
the next stop was the joey and toby tanenbaum opera centre just a little up front street. last year, the canadian opera company opened a brand spanking-new opera house on queen street and university avenue, but for my money, the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre looks far more the part of an opera house. not only that, but the opera house marks the original site of the ontario parliament over 130 years ago, giving it even more historical weight. our much smaller group took the group tour through the facility and admired set pieces, props, practice rooms, and the enormous theatre/rehearsal room. the highlight however was the incredible european courtyard, complete with imported french gaslight lanterns, bronze statuary and a cutie little gazebo suitable for weddings or (if it were edmonton, pot-smoking).
the day was not without disappointments. i was suckered into going into st. lawrence hall, which, while being staggeringly handsome on the outside, was a complete disappointment on the interior. i don’t think i even bothered to take a single photo of the interior. also, st. james cathedral, on church and king, while being one of the oldest and certainly the most auspicious historical buildings in toronto, seemed just another church, driving home the all-too-canadian insecurity about the lack of real history and identity to which we should feel entitled. however because i had failed to eat breakfast or consume anything more than two cups of coffee all day, i think hunger, more than cultural ambivalence, may have been colouring my experiences.
so a group of 20 of us stopped at poor quesada mexican grill and first up, i ordered the “big-ass burrito” for a whopping $9.25. consisting almost entirely of rice, the “BAB” was big-ass to be sure. i managed to get through a full 95% of it, leaving only 5% of pure rice filling behind. refuelled and reinvigorated, it was time to get back to discovery mode. but really, i had entered a completely new mode that principally involved making new friends.
our group migrated to mainstream downtown and at queen and yonge, we took in a really spectacular discovery. apparently, toronto is host to a cultural and architectural rarity – a “double-decker” theatre. in edmonton, we have the citadel theatre for theatre and musical events – the elgin and winter garden theatres in the heart of the toronto downtown core are two of these classic opera-house styled theatres stacked one on top of the other… if i had not been inside of it, i would never ever have imagined that such a thing could/would/should exist. i’m very much looking forward to taking in a show there.
it was a elgin theatre that i jumped groups. i’d met most of my group of 20 at earlier socials, but there were a group of about four other new people that i thought would be nice to meet and spend some more time with because they seemed really interesting. i spent most of the rest of the adventure with them, getting to know them better. they introduced me to whole foods, an upscale organic market in yorkville, where people have more money than sense, and the hazelton lanes – where poor (well, and exceedingly wealthy, i suppose) urban travellers can run into a posh urban mall and use the toilet.
we had taken the TTC north from queen street to museum station in order to get to the hare krishna temple on avenue road. again, we did a group tour and i learned a little something about the hare krishnas and their organization, which was a valuable lesson in and of itself. by this time though, i was full-up with exploration and having an awesome time chatting with “A”, “D”, “L” and Will (he gets his real name used because he wasn’t on the rsvp list!).
we’d had about seven hours of adventuring (with a rather disappointing five venues under my belt? these people are clearly amateurs) and were ready for drinks. at betty’s, we had great conversations, defiantly broken off from the rest of the TUEAM group, talking about growing up in toronto, raising kids here, crime, careers and all the kind of non-adventure stuff that real-people like to talk about. i’m starting to really like meeting new people. “D” is about to leave for a three-week volunteer-vacation at a 400-year old convent in the mountains of italy where she will work and play and enjoy the vistas just outside of rome. “L” is a medical-microbiologist working as a project manager for a company that manages clinical trials and looks about 10 years younger than she probably is. her friend, will reminds me of myself when i was 17 – all lanky limbs and stag-leaps down the main street for no apparent reason. “A” though was a real find and is about my age, has piercing blue eyes, fantastic facial bones, beautiful skin, two funny cats, a 16-year-old daughter who is addicted to facebook, has a superman emblem on her cell-phone display, and drinks stolichnaya from the freezer. seriously – only in a city like toronto can one bump quite randomly into a group of three complete strangers who in their entirety make you so very very happy to be so very very eclectic!!
ttc day pass: $8.50
balzac coffee and a bottle of evian: $3.50
quesada big-ass burrito and a bottle of water: $12.40
two strongbow ciders and a smoked salmon sandwich (and tip) at betty’s: $27.00