Why I volunteer for Doors Open Guelph
By Jane Litchfield
Photography by Scott McQuarrie, Ward 1 Studios
Jane is rather good at avoiding the camera. This is long time volunteer Dave McConnell in 2018. All photos by Scott McQuarrie, Ward 1 Studios.
The mausoleum? Really? You want me to spend my Saturday morning at a crematorium? That’s what I thought when I received my first Doors Open Guelph volunteer assignment, in 2005. I had signed up as a favour to friends who were the event co-ordinators. That’s why I was a little taken aback when I got my posting. If this is where you put your friends, I wondered, where do you send your enemies? The prison?
But when I strolled through the tranquil gardens of Woodlawn Memorial Park, arrived at the stunning Art Deco building, and opened its stately doors on that rainy April day, I was instantly entranced by its unexpected beauty. I realized this is a place where people honour and remember their loved ones, and the glistening marble, restored ornate plaster ceilings, and stained-glass windows took my breath away.
An old neon sign from Ackers Furniture (now 10C Shared Space) architectural details in St Andrews, and graffiti from the old Petrie building preserved in the new.
Merle Griffin is a dedicated sweep. In 2018 she supported Henry Muth as he guided this tour of St Andrews.
That morning, as I eavesdropped on the tour guide, the site owners and the guests, I learned a great deal, including who to talk to about my own damaged ornate plaster ceilings. When my shift ended, I was reluctant to leave, and I wished I had a way to urge more people to visit this hidden gem while they could. (That was before social media, for me anyway.)
I have only missed one Doors Open Guelph since. I was a counter that first year; since then I have usually volunteered as a tour guide. And years later, when I was assigned to the cemetery keeper’s house at Woodlawn Memorial Park, I didn’t bat an eye. That will be interesting, I thought. And it was. As for prison? I didn’t get to volunteer there, but the Guelph Correctional Centre was one of the most popular Doors Open Guelph sites ever.
Samantha Thom bravely jumped into the tour guide role on her very first Doors Open Guelph.
Private houses are favourite sites for me, and they are always popular with visitors. I have been honoured to guide people through the homes of some of my friends and neighbours, places I had seen often, but really knew little about. Like London House bed and breakfast with its spindle motifs to honour the sewing machine manufacturer who lived there. Another friend’s house had been home to Guelph’s mayor long ago, and a stone beauty on Green Street held echoes of garden parties in days gone by.
Aberdeen House, Lornewood Mansion and Greenbriar are three homes that can be toured on this year's event. Volunteers get to skip to the front of the line!
One of my favourite parts, as a tour guide, is researching the site. This isn’t really necessary, because Guelph’s multi-talented heritage advocate Susan Ratcliffe and her team provide plenty of information for volunteers and guests, but I love learning about things I didn’t know I was interested in. Did you know sewing machines from Guelph were exported around the world in the 19th century? I also love discovering the stories behind a building I have often walked by but never really thought about. Have you noticed the carvings on the front of Guelph’s old city hall?
Formerly City Hall, now the Provincial Offences Court, this grand old building at the corner of Carden and Wyndham will be featured on Doors Open Guelph 2019.
Another plus is seeing places you can’t normally go inside. This is true for visitors too, of course, but volunteers truly get a backstage pass. It’s also a treat to meet other volunteers, from young students to long-time Guelphites, to the mother who comes from another city to volunteer with her daughter. Let’s not forget the site owners, incredibly generous to open their doors, and rightfully proud of their buildings. In 2018 I was thrilled to be on the team at the award-winning restored Petrie Building as the owners and tenant businesses graciously opened theirs. And the visitors – curious and grateful for the opportunity – many from out of town, some of them on a mission to see as many sites as they can in one day, some with wonderful stories about their connection to the building.
On the same team as the elusive Jane Litchfield, Chris Campbell leads groups through the recently restored New Petrie Building in 2018.
As a volunteer position, Doors Open Guelph is not demanding: an orientation session and some on-site training, a little research if you want, and then four hours on a Saturday in April. (April 27 in 2019.) Plus, you get head-of-the-line privileges at other sites that day. Fortunately for me, you do not have to be knowledgeable about history or architecture to be a DOG volunteer. (It’s nice to be curious, though.) As mentioned, there are experts who research the sites and prepare scripts for tour guides and background information for guests. No doubt that wealth of information is one reason Doors Open Guelph attracts so many visitors and gets great reviews.
If you’re looking for a four-hour feel-good gig in April, I encourage you to sign up here. You can be a counter, greeter, sweep, tour guide, or site captain. You’ll be glad you did.
Guelph Arts Council Announces Doors Open Guelph 2019 Sites
Guelph, ON – January 17, 2019 – Doors Open Guelph is a day-long celebration of Guelph's finest buildings, creative spaces, and artistically or architecturally relevant sites. Presented annually by Guelph Arts Council since 2002, the program showcases and celebrates Guelph’s hidden gems, as well as our great resources, businesses, and creative spaces.
The 2019 event will take place on Saturday, April 27, from 10 am to 4 pm. Site details are listed below, and will be posted with event updates on guelpharts.ca.
This year Doors Open Guelph will be enhanced by Telling Guelph’s Stories, an event-within-an-event that will increase the role the arts play in Doors Open. Visitors can experience dramatic storytelling at the Gow Bridge with artist Jay Wilson, guided public art and downtown gallery walks, and arts activations at Doors Open sites.
Launching the weekend, Guelph Museums’ Doors Open After Dark will celebrate Guelph’s 192nd birthday, and commemorate the 240th birthday of Guelph founder John Galt, with history and art activations at and around the Civic Museum from 9 pm April 26 to 1 am April 27. Artists and historians can respond to a Call to Artists for Doors Open Guelph and Doors Open After Dark by visiting guelphmuseums.ca.
On average, Doors Open Guelph attracts 6,000 people to its sites each year, 25-50% of whom are visitors to the city. Since its inception, Doors Open Guelph has been part of Doors Open Ontario, an Ontario Heritage Trust initiative that was also launched in 2002 to celebrate community heritage. Guelph’s event has the distinction of being the kick-off event for Doors Open Ontario’s season.
2019 Site Listing:
The Victory School
135 Exhibition Street
Built due to a population spike, the school was named after the Allied victory that ended the First World War. It opened in 1919, with an addition in 1953. Its original brass rails and wooden floors enhance the gracious image presented by its red brick exterior and park setting.
92 Speedvale Avenue
Built circa 1865-67, this Neo-Classical Vernacular house set on its lot of heritage trees is a treasure trove of antiques and art. The house features original woodwork and glass. Art by local artists as well as many unique collections are displayed through the house.
125 Norfolk Street
Lornewood was built by Charles Raymond in 1867 and enlarged later with the Tuscan bays and tower. It was named after an 1879 visit from the Marquis of Lorne and his wife Princess Louise. The house has been restored with its original ornate black walnut trim, ceilings, lead-glass windows, carpets and elaborate furniture.
Marcolongo Heritage Farm
2162 Gordon Street
Settled in 1833, this was one of the first farms in Puslinch. In 1878, James Blair built the granite fieldstone house. The original timber-framed small barn and the large bank barn built in the 1880s or 90s have been restored. The farm property has been designated as a Cultural Heritage Landscape.
Trails Open: The Guelph Hiking Club will run 15-20 minute hikes throughout the day at Marcolongo Heritage Farm.
St. Mary’s Ukrainian Church
115 York Road
The church was built between 1953 and 1962 with three onion domes added in 1963 and a parish centre in 1983. Beautiful painted liturgical icons are featured throughout the church. The active church community hosts several bazaars, a popular borscht festival, and a weekly mass.
Gow’s Bridge Stories
McCrae Blvd. at the Speed River (near Water St and McCrae)
Built in 1897, this stone bridge is one of only 10 stone bridges remaining in Ontario. Peter Gow built the first bridge to bypass the toll gate at Gordon Street. Guelph theatre artist Jay Wilson will tell stories of the bridge, the Brooklyn area, and of some of the scandalous events that took place nearby. Check schedule for performance times.
83 Essex Street
Built in 1880, this building served as the British Methodist Episcopal Church. Constructed in Gothic Revival Style with local limestone, it offered a place of safety and community for the black community, including descendants of runaway slaves. In 2012, the building was purchased by the Guelph Black Heritage Society to create a cultural, historical and social centre.
Provincial Offenses Court
59 Carden Street
Built in 1856, this building served as Guelph City Hall until 2009. Designed by William Thomas in the Victorian Renaissance Revival style, it features elaborately-carved stone features. In 2009, it was beautifully restored as a courthouse, featuring original windows, crown mouldings, arched jail cells, and a grand performance hall.
Diyode Community Workshop
183 Dufferin Street
Diyode is a Guelph-based collective dedicated to re-invigorating the do-it-yourself movement. Situated in the former Carson Reid Homes office, the 2500 sq. ft. workshop contains tools and supplies for wood and metal working, electronics, prototyping and crafting. Diyode members will demonstrate uses of the tools and workshop areas.
Spring Mill Distillery
43 Arthur Street
The limestone building was built in 1835 as Allan’s Distillery, an addition to their grist mill. The Distillery grew with the addition of several buildings. In 1876, the complex became the A.R. Wyatt Company which made lawn mowers and hardware. Over the years, several large manufacturers have used the buildings, now extensively restored to become a restaurant and distillery.
KidsAbility Centre for Child Development
503 Imperial Road North
KidsAbility has provided services to Guelph children and youth with special needs since 2000. The present new hub has 20,000 sq. ft. of space customized to reflect best-care practices. The stunning Canadiana-themed rooms and hall decor create a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere where children can work to reach their full potential.
66 Macdonell Street
Built in Second Empire style and designed by John Day, The Sovereign stands as an interesting neighbour to the Petrie Building. The mansard roof, ornate dormers, and corner turret create an impressive presence. The original ballroom was once used by the Oddfellows, whose symbols survive in the restored offices. It is now the offices of Williams and McDaniels Property Management.
17 Aberdeen Street
Built c. 1880, new owners hired Evolve Builders in 2016 to reconstruct this Ontario Cottage while leaving intact its external heritage appearance. It is now among the most energy efficient homes in the city with an air-tight envelope, heat pump, and many water-saving devices to make this a Blue Built Home. Presented in partnership with eMERGE Guelph.
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