My Life as a 'Doors Open' Tourist

Doors Open events are all about community. This community focus should also apply to how people get to far-flung sites.

By Michael Cumming
Published April 15, 2010

Model of Gore Park at the Steam and Technology Museum, Hamilton
Model of Gore Park at the Steam and Technology Museum, Hamilton

One of my favourite times of years is the Doors Open season. This season starts in the early spring and ends in late fall. One of the great rewards of spring is for Doors Open events to begin.

When this event occurs in Hamilton, I am giddy with excitement as I plot my route to see how many sites I can cram into each day. I have created online maps to better organize my assault of cultural consumption - and to help others do the same.

Worth Visiting

I have learned that almost every single site is worth visiting. The architectural, cultural and community resources of this city and surrounding communities are remarkable.

For example, lining Barton Street, Hamilton are an impressive number of large churches, built at a time when Barton was a major commercial thoroughfare. Eventually, I hope to visit every one.

You don't have to be an architect to appreciate such sites; they are often captivating for all who walk in the door. Usually, there are well-informed guides to help you see and appreciate the social and architectural history that infuses these places.

It's like an 'embarrassment of riches' scenario; incredible riches but few crowds. You sometimes feel very privileged to participate.


Doors Open events tend to be social. They connect you with people who care deeply about buildings and are active in these buildings' attached communities. A building without a community is often not that interesting.

What makes them really come alive are the dozens of people who are passionate about preserving, inhabiting or simply telling about them to strangers.

It's like you stumble into a compelling interactive museum, guided by experts in the field, all for free. I must confess I really like the 'for free' part.

High-Carbon Pastime

The above is all well and good. However, one problem with such cultural consumption is that in my case it is a high-carbon pastime.

I drive to these places in a car because the sites tend to be far-flung and because I want to visit as many as I possibly can. So, for me there is a bit of cognitive dissonance.

Knowing what lurks inside of heritage buildings (usually splendid places and dedicated, kindly people) clashes with my desire to moderate my consumption and keep our embarrassingly-large car parked in the driveway.

The building preservationist side of me wants to work better with the tree-hugger side, because both should be working on the same team.

Getting around to Door Open sites appears to be the only environmentally-suspect aspect of these events.

Fear of Missing Out

I could concentrate on one geographical area but then I would miss out on some out-of-the-way gems. I really do want to see it all.

It's this fear of 'missing out' I suppose is one problem. I want to see all the sites, but perhaps I don't need to see them all at once.

Slow-eating is clearly a good idea, as we often tell our ravenous twins. Perhaps slow-Doors-Open-touring is as well. Buildings that may have taken hundreds of years to acquire their 'patina' may require more than a rushed afternoon to appreciate fully.

Other ways of being more environmentally responsible would be to use public transit, which is often possible, or to use an alternate means of personal transportation such as a bicycle.

Architecture Bus

What might prove most sustainable, however, is to do the touring with other people so that a larger group could pool their carbon consumption.

This is similar to the Art Bus concept - a highly successful Hamilton enterprise that encourages communal gallery touring during Hamilton's monthly Art Crawl.

I'm sure a similar idea could be applied to Doors Open touring, where the attractions are similarly dispersed and the rewards of participation are equally as great.

Doors Open events are all about community. This community focus should also apply to how people get to far-flung sites. A communal approach to transportation would make Doors Open touring more environmentally-friendly and more fun as well.

originally posted on Michael's blog

Michael Cumming is a designer, writer and photographer concerned about sustainable design and urban development. He has training in Architecture and Computational Design and has lived in several cities in Canada, the US and Europe. He is delighted to have settled with his wife and two children in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Hamilton. You can view his website or follow him on Twitter.


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By Imperial (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2010 at 20:37:23

I feel the exact same way about the Doors Open experience Michael.
I love seeing sites and hosting visitors at our sites > Studios at
Hotel Hamilton site is on the tour this year and will be a great stop.

I've forwarded your article on to Barbara of the Art Bus. I think it
would be a great opportunity for them to try something new.

I've always waned someone to organize an antique bus too.

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted April 18, 2010 at 07:06:11

Thanks Jeremy. We did visit the Hotel Hamilton on the Art Crawl and found it fascinating.

One thing that Hamilton has in abundance is absolutely wonderful buildings and street scenes. Doors Open is such a positive experience for me. Often the places of the greatest marginalization (e.g. Barton St E) are the ones where the resources are the most impressive.

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By Passer-by (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2010 at 10:05:43

A few years ago I went to Open Monumentendag (try googling it) in Brussels where Doors Open is a very popular event. Comparatively, Hamilton's list is thin. Our churches are nice, but their doors are usually open all the time. The list would be more impressive if included worship places of other denominations. Beyond religion, it'd be great to see more private buildings and public works open up.

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