Jun 072015
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Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vladimir & Olga

An annual free weekend event in Winnipeg, Manitoba,
where the doors of historic and significant buildings are open to the public

On the last weekend in May, for the past twelve years, various historic and significant buildings, museums and other spaces in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada open their doors to the public as part of the free event Doors Open Winnipeg, sponsored by Heritage Winnipeg.

According to the history information on the event’s website, Doors Open began in Glasgow, Scotland in 1990. Events spread across Europe as part of European Heritage Days. The first Doors Open event in Canada took place in Toronto in 2000.

I remember attending some of early Doors Open Winnipeg weekends with friends and with my daughter, a teenager at the time. We visited the historic Royal Bank of Canada building, built in 1909-1911 and now housing the Ted Motyka Dance Studio, where the cast of the movie Shall We Dance practiced. We toured two former warehouses being converted to condos. We discovered a charming bed and breakfast in a heritage home. Over the years since then, I have visited many buildings and museums as part of this event.

Sampling of buildings featured in Doors Open Winnipeg

Sampling of buildings featured in Doors Open Winnipeg

The photograph above contains a sampling of buildings featured in this year’s event – Saint Boniface Museum, located in a former Grey Nuns Convent, the oldest structure in the city, houses collections relating to Western Canada’s French Canadian and Métis history; Fort Gibraltar, an interpretative centre and museum of a North West Company fur trading post in the early 1800s; the Royal Canadian Mint, where all of Canada’s circulation coins and foreign coins of over 75 countries are minted; and La Maison Gabrielle-Roy, the childhood home of celebrated author Gabrielle Roy.

Doors Open Winnipeg buildings include historic and heritage buildings and museums. Museum entry fees are waived for the weekend and sometimes tours will include areas of the museum not generally open to the public. The roster of buildings varies each year, although some sites show up year after year. The Vaughn Street Jail is a perennial favourite with visitors who line up to tour the 134-year-old former jail, normally closed to the public.

Toronto Bank Building and Ralph Connor House

Bank of Toronto, built in 1905, now housing a restaurant and
Ralph Connor House, a heritage home

Winnipeg Exchange District architecture

Sample of architecture in Winnipeg’s Exchange District

The weekend also features events – walking tours of specific areas, panel discussions, haunted history tours. Last year I took a guided walking tour of the east end of Winnipeg Exchange District, a National Historic Site with heritage buildings dating from 1880 to 1920.

Ross House

Ross House

This year, I visited some sites I hadn’t gone to before. I started at the Naval Museum of Manitoba. It may seem odd to find a naval museum in the middle of the prairies, but Winnipeg has had a Naval Division for the last 75 years. During World War II, naval recruiting in Winnipeg was the greatest of any place inland in Canada. I’m not sure I will visit the small museum again, but the displays are well-done and would be of interest to naval enthusiasts.

I also visited Ross House Museum, once the home of William Ross, who served as first Sheriff of Assiniboia in 1851 and Postmaster of the Red River Settlement in 1855. The home is an example of the Red River frame construction of the period. Seven Oaks House Museum was also on my itinerary this year. It was the home of John Inkster, one of the first free traders and merchants in the area. The house was built in 1853. It is now restored as a museum and furnished with Inkster family belongings and other period furnishings.

Ross House interior

Ross House interior

Seven Oaks House Museum

Seven Oaks House Museum

Dalnavert Museum

Dalnavert Museum

I was excited to learn that Dalnavert Museum, the restored 1895 home of Sir Hugh John Macdonald, a police magistrate and Premier of Manitoba, was part of this year’s event. The museum had been closed for almost two years due to operational issues. Thanks to efforts of a group of museum professionals and heritage advocates, the museum has re-opened. The re-open date was set to coincide with Doors Open Winnipeg. I could tell from the line-up waiting to tour the museum that I was not the only one glad to see this beautiful building re-open.


Line-up waiting to tour Dalnavert,
while actors re-enact late 1800s life on front lawn

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, dating back to 1857,
one of my stops last year

Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vladimir & Olga

Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vladimir & Olga

The roster of buildings usually includes a number of churches, of various denominations. Winnipeg has a significant Ukrainian population and history, the result of immigration starting in the late 1800s. This year’s list of Doors Open Winnipeg contained a number of Ukrainian churches. I visited one, the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vladimir & Olga. It was built in 1950 and can seat 1000 people. It contains icons painted by Sviatoslaw Hordynsky of New York, assisted by local artist Roman Kowal. It has 34 stained glass windows, 16 of which were done by the late Leo Mol. When I arrived, a group of people were seated at the front listening to information about the church provided by one of the parishioners. As she talked about the church, she told about her experiences being part of the congregation as a young child in the 1950s.

Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vladimir & Olga

More images of Metropolitan Cathedral
Iconstasis, wall of icons separating sanctuary from nave, is the work of Serhij Lytwyenko of New York


Chandelier from Greece is a recent addition, only a few years old. When it arrived, the box was too large to fit through the doors. It was unboxed outside and brought into the building in pieces.

Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vladimir & Olga chapel

Smaller chapel at Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vladimir & Olga

Guess Who Gold Records

Gold Records and other memorabilia of the rock band Guess Who,

on display at St. Vital Museum

My last stop this year was at the St. Vital Museum. The museum opened in 2008 in what was once the St. Vital Police Station and Magistrate’s Court, a 101-year-old fire hall. The community of St. Vital dates back to the 1820s. The City of St. Vital became part of a unified Winnipeg in 1971, when 13 municipalities, towns and cities amalgamated. As I wandered through this museum, I thought about my husband, who grew up in the St. Vital area, and how much he would find of interest here.

Kitchen display at St. Vital Museum

Kitchen display at St. Vital Museum

This year’s Doors Open Winnipeg featured 74 buildings and 8 events, most with more than one time slot. It is not possible to see it all in one weekend, but sampling a few buildings every year is a fun way to learn more about the city and its history.

Have you attended a Doors Open event, either in Winnipeg or another city?

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  34 Responses to “Doors Open Winnipeg”

  1. We have never been to Winnipeg but your post shows me that’s something we need to correct in the near future. The section of buildings you’ve showcased are amazing and diverse and should have something to offer everyone. I’d love to visit the St.Vital Museum with its interesting collections and the Ukrainian churches look beautiful. What fun! Anita

    • Anita, Winnipeg doesn’t generally make it to the top of people’s travel lists, but I think it has a lot of offer, particularly in the summer.

  2. I have never heard of this event Donna but I am completely impressed with the idea of it! The pictures are beautiful and from the looks of it, plenty of people take advantage of Doors Open Winnipeg. The event looks and sounds as though it might even be worth planning a trip around.

    • Jacquie, several Canadian cities hold Doors Open events. Each city has its own timing – not all are at the end of May. I did some online searching, but wasn’t able to find any U.S. cities with similar events, but would like to think some exist and I just didn’t find them.

  3. I have never heard of this event. Looks like fun. The Dalnavert Museum building looks amazing. I love looking at architecture.

  4. What a great event—and how lucky a traveler would be to visit Winnipeg when the doors to history are open like this!

  5. What a brilliant idea! I would go every year! The Greek chandelier was magnificent! Thank you for the virtual tour.

    • Thanks Suzanne. I try to find time to get to a least a couple of buildings every year. The odd year I have to miss because of circumstances, but most years I get to a few buildings.

  6. This sounds awesome, oh my! 😀

  7. What a great concept and way to bring in visitors. I also love living homes turned into museums and giving a glimpse of the typical lifestyle and time frame, what a fun experience

  8. I love it when cities have “doors open” events like this one in Winnipeg. It has been many years since I visited Winnipeg, I would like to visit the St Vital Museum – the kitchen display looks interesting. And Guess Who songs are now dancing in my head! I heard their music quite a bit when I first moved to Austin, BTO as well, popular down here.

    • Susan, I think the doors open events are great. Interesting to know Guess Who and BTO were popular in Austin.

  9. Such a diverse array, with St Vital Museum being one that I would love to see. Yet my list gets longer.

    • I think the diverse array of buildings is what makes Doors Open so great. And there was so much more to see than what I showcased.

  10. What a wonderful tradition Doors Open Winnipeg is. Like you, I would’ve happily waited in line at the Dalnavert house. I like how you’ve managed to visit several places each year, a great strategy!

    • It is a great tradition Betsy. It’s nice to get to a few of the buildings each year, but some years I’m happy to have time to visit only one.

  11. Thanks for opening DOORS for us to see what Winnipeg is all “a- BOW-t” (that’s Canadian for ABOUT)

  12. I never thought Winnipeg has this much to offer! Doors Open sounds like such a great way to highight the amazing history, architecture and way of life. But I agree, it must be in summer!

    • Carol, I think Winnipeg is often underrated. By the way, Calgary has a similar event at the end of September, if you are ever visiting your family there at that time.

  13. Doors Open is a great idea. I’ve heard of it and find it an excellent way to encourage people to get out and see their city. A lot of us, especially those who love to travel, tend to forget that there are great things to see everywhere – even where we live. Thanks for the lovely photos.

    • Yasha, you’ve touched on something that I’ve been thinking a fair bit about lately – there are great things to see everywhere. We do tend to forget that.

  14. This is such a great way for a city to ‘give back’ and encourage people to get out and explore their own back yard. Door Open sounds similar to our Free Fun Fridays in the summer here in Boston.

    • Alison, I looked up Boston’s Free Fun Fridays and there certainly are similarities. Nice to see cities encourage its resident to explore their home.

  15. What a great idea to have an annual free weekend event when the doors of historic and significant buildings are open to the public. Every city should do this. Winnipeg is ahead of the curve here.

    • Carole, several cities in Canada have Doors Open events. I wasn’t able to find any U.S. cities with Doors Open events, but I suspect (hope) there are some with similar events under a different name.

  16. We have lots of these open buildings events in the UK – I’ve been to one or two and find them fascinating. It looks as if Winnipeg has got a wealth of interesting buildings to explore.

    • Karen, Winnipeg buildings don’t date as far back as many of the ones in the U.K., but there are a number of interesting buildings to explore nonetheless. I’d love to take in some of the open building events in the U.K.

  17. I had never heard of this event, sounds very interesting. I will have to put it on my list for next year. Beautiful pictures and what a wonderful presentation of the event.

    • Lise, it’s a great event to get into some places free or see inside buildings you don’t normally get into. Maybe next year, we can visit some together.

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