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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?