One of my family’s annual rituals is to take part in Doors Open, an event that takes place across the province of Ontario every year between April and October. In Ottawa, it always happens on the first weekend in June. This year, doors were opened to the public in more than 100 locations.
There are participants in every corner of the city and for a few kilometres outside it. In past years my family has visited, among other places, the water treatment facility, the Ismaili Imamat (home of the Agha Khan in Canada), the traffic control centre, the City of Ottawa Archives, a mosque, the Diefenbunker (named after Prime Minister Diefenbaker, the Diefenbunker was meant to protect the Canadian government from nuclear attack. It’s now a cold war museum) and Canadian Space Services (a former NATO Satellite site).
This year, we went to three places.
Our first stop was The Mayfair Theatre.
Built in 1932 in the depths of the Great Depression, the Mayfair Theatre is one of Ottawa’s last two neighborhood cinemas, and one of the oldest surviving independent movie houses in all of Canada. It has the distinction of never having been owned by, or affiliated with, any of the major cinema chains.
The Mayfair is a gorgeous old building, full of interesting architectural details. We got to see everything up close, find out what’s behind the theatre’s balconies (answer: “nothing”) and find out the history of the creatures who are permanently perched on them (one is a costume worn in the movie Alien and the other, that looks like Elvis, is actually a villain from the Karate Kid). The best part was going into the original projection room, with all it’s film reels and projectors, side by side with “Christie” the new digital machine.
Daniel, my 10 year old, had what seemed like a hundred questions for the very patient theatre manager. After a while, I went to sit in the theatre itself, content to sit quietly and soak up the atmostphere (and enjoy the very modern air conditioning. It was hot out!). Before left, I was able to fish my umbrella out of the theatre’s lost and found (it had been left there by my film buff older son), ending the visit on yet another positive note.
After the theatre, we got in the car and drove to Rogers TV, where we had a tour of the studio and audio, video and editing suites. The tour ended on-set where visitors could use cameras set up around the set and pretend to be interviewed on stage. I was struck by how friendly and enthusiastic all the staff and volunteers were. One of the station’s on air hosts had a giant cooler and was giving out popscicles and ice cream sandwiches. I think some of the parents were a bit nervous about sticky fingers on expensive cameras but the staff all seemed very laid back.
Our last stop was at the OC Transpo Industrial Garage. I was the least enthusiastic about this visit but it may have been the one I liked best – perhaps because Daniel loved it so much. There were buses from the 1950s, through to the most modern double decker, a Para Transit bus (kids could sit in a wheel chair and feel what it’s like to be lifted inside) and various maintenance and emergency vehicles. There was even a bus with a bike rack, so we could figure out how to put a bike on the front of a bus (next year, it would be great to have a bike handy to get some hands-on experience). Daniel was determined to try every vehicle and we think he achieved that goal.
There were Doors Open volunteers everywhere but also OC Transpo staff, standing among the vehicles and inside the buildings, ready to answer questions.
Our favourite part was a mini-tour of the maintenance facility in a double decker bus. Our guide was funny, interesting and frank. He took a few good-humoured jabs at management but he was clearly proud of his work, as were all the staff working that day. The tour ended with a drive through the bus wash – a big hit with all the kids and adults.
This kind of event is the very best kind of public relations and probably a good morale booster for those involved. I can’t help wondering if there is some place in Ottawa about which I feel passionate enough to help with Doors Open next year.