Doors Open Toronto: Illuminating the City's Great Spaces


279 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-676-97498-8
DDC 917.13'41044





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is the editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


In May 2000, Toronto became the first North American city to launch
Doors Open, an annual weekend event in which over 100 buildings of
architectural and/or historic significance citywide open their doors to
the public. This richly illustrated and well-organized guidebook by
urbanist and former mayor John Sewell is the ideal companion to that
event. It’s also a satisfying read for the armchair tourist.

The book is replete with lively anecdotes, discerning architectural
critiques, deft portraits of Toronto notables (from William Lyon
Mackenzie to E.P. Taylor), and a wealth of intriguing details, such as
the fact that the restoration of the Winter Garden Theatre included the
use of “hundreds of pounds of bread dough … to clean the handpainted
watercolour walls.” Older buildings in the downtown core dominate the
profiles, but there are compelling examples of the new, from the
controversial Graduate House to the light-filled, seemingly weightless
structure that houses the Ontario Association of Architects.

By placing Toronto’s important buildings “in a social, physical,
and political context,” Sewell hopes to instill in readers a sense of
civic responsibility and respect for heritage. He traces the origins of
Toronto’s heritage movement to successful efforts in the 1960s to save
Old City Hall, dubbed “that old dump at Bay and Queen” by then-mayor
Philip Givens. A similar indifference to heritage concerns has been all
too evident in our post-amalgamation times. Doors Open Toronto is a
timely reminder of what, exactly, is at stake.


Sewell, John., “Doors Open Toronto: Illuminating the City's Great Spaces,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,