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There’s free, full access to Toronto’s hidden gems this weekend

The city is holding its annual Doors Open Toronto event this weekend, a program that lets people tour the city’s most iconic places and peak behind the curtain.

Digital creator and architecture enthusiast Anne Vranic calls it the Olympics for her and other self-proclaimed history “nerds.”

“Typically, I plan weeks in advance because it is a race,” she told CBC Toronto. “I just get so excited because it’s the architecture nerds’ and the culture nerds’ time to shine.”

For the last 24 years, the annual event has given people free access to the city’s historical buildings, unique landmarks and museums. This year there are over 160 sites and running theme is hidden histories and untold stories. 

“It helps keep history and heritage on people’s radar,” Doors Open Toronto’s program lead Kristine Williamson told CBC Toronto. 

New sites and popular mainstays 

This year’s lineup includes multiple new buildings, including the historic University Club of Toronto and the Redpath Sugar Plant.

Popular sites such as the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, known as “the Palace of Purification,” are also back on the map. The art deco marvel was constructed in 1932 and is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

A woman gives a history tour to a group of people at the University Club of Toronto, an Ontario Heritage site.
Anne Vranic, a digital creator and architecture enthusiasts, gives a history tour at The University Club of Toronto, a new Doors Open site. (Submitted by Anne Vranic)

Plant manager Gordon Mitchell said last year there were a record 13,000 visitors during Doors Open. 

“It’s a very beautiful spot on the lake. I’m very proud of our building and we like to maintain it,” he said

Mitchell said this weekend will also provide a opportunity for people to learn about where their water comes from.

“They’re curious about issues like fluoridation, lead in drinking water was a big issue a few years ago, so we like to reassure people that we have those issues well in hand.”

Museums and interactive events

A number of museums in the city will also have free admission this weekend including the Aga Khan Museum, home to a vast collection of Islamic art.

“We exist to highlight the achievements and contributions of Muslim cultures and the way in which they’re connected to everybody else,” said Sascha Priewe, the director collections and public programs.

He said this weekend visitors can expect food, drink, performances and arts and crafts in the park.

A gorgeous white building with a pond in front.
The Aga Khan Museum opened in Toronto 10 years ago. It’s one of several museums in the city with free admission this weekend. (The Canadian Press/Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

Across the city at the Toronto Humane Society, tours will allow people to interact with animals while they learn about the organization’s beginnings in 1887. 

It started with concern for the wellbeing of work horses and a $2-donation, said Lucas Solowey, Toronto Humane Society’s manager of public relations.

“But as the organization grew, they also took on child welfare and animal welfare, so the organization’s been working on a lot of issues for so many years,” he said. 

An art deco building with yellow bricks and a green door.
On May 25 and 26, the city is hosting Doors Open Toronto: an annual, city-wide open house of Toronto’s most culturally and architecturally significant buildings and sites, including the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant. (City of Toronto)

Over a dozen neighbourhood tours will are also taking place, diving into local history, along with a series of talks by architects and urban designers.

Vranic says events like these help raise awareness about preserving Toronto’s heritage. 

“Every time you open a newspaper, a building is at threat… and it really fills me with hope that that’s people aren’t taking that lying down. People are passionate about our buildings.”

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