Saturday, May 26, 2012

Doors Open 2012 - Day 1

We've picked some real winners so far for this year's Doors Open event where buildings across Toronto allow visitors to inspect areas that are not usually accessible to the public.

De La Salle College Oaklands is a Catholic school that sits on 12 acres of land just south of St. Clair Ave and east of Avenue Road.  Newer buildings for the classrooms have been added to the property but the highlight is the gorgeous Oaklands mansion, built in the 1860s for John Macdonald (no relation to the first prime minister).

While some things like the bathrooms and kitchens have been modernized, the Gothic styled mansion still contains many features from the past.  These include multiple fireplaces with beautiful marble mantles, solid hardwood flooring, elaborately carved wooden staircases, vintage hot water radiators, interesting built-in pantries, cupboards and shelving, hidden doors and passageways.  One side of the house was clearly the servants' quarters including a modest servants' stairwell compared to the grand main staircase for the owners.  It was like a maze to wander through all the innumerable bedrooms on the second and third floors, and it was amusing to hear that there are currently only one or two occupants in this huge house.  Some of the rooms had interesting alcoves including one with a narrow passageway that led to a mini turret.  I've always wanted to be inside a turret!

The Hari Krishna temple at Avenue Road and Dupont Street used to be a Presbyterian church before ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) took it over.  Accordingly the appearance of the building from the outside does not prepare you for the visual splendors of the interior.  The temple room has three altars with representations of Krishna and Radha, the male and female counterparts that form the deity of the Hari Krishna faith.  We were there in time to witness a religious ceremony where a conch shell was blown to signify the start.  At one point incense and a peacock feather were waved at the altars.  Our tour guide informed us that the idols are treated as live entities and have their outfits changed every day and fresh flowers proffered.  Repeatedly, we were hailed by disciples with the chant "Hari Krishna", which seems to be used as an all purpose greeting just like the Hawaiian "Aloha".

We were told about how the 69 year old founder of the faith, Swami Prabhupada traveled to New York City from India with only 40 rupees in his pocket to establish ISKCON.  On one of the walls was a photo showing George Harrison of the Beatles, who was a devoted follower of the Hari Krishna faith.  Many other vibrant, colourful paintings and sculptures were found throughout the rooms.  Every Sunday evening from 6-8:30pm, they hold a "Love" feast with chanting, drumming, a discourse and a free vegetarian feast.  On other days, the vegetarian meal is available for $8.  For Doors Open, we were given a free sample of samosas to try.

 Our last stop of the day was not part of Doors Open but coincidentally happened on the same weekend.  It was a chance to tour Pachter Hall, the home, workshop and gallery of artist Charles Pachter, who is known for his moose paintings, including a series depicting moose with British royalty.

The open house was to present Pachter's new series of paintings "1812: The Art of War" in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  The artist himself was on hand to welcome his visitors and regale us with stories of his art and his past.  He told us about how his high school art teacher gave him a D- but then contacted him years later to say she always knew he had talent (hindsight being 20-20).

 The ultra-modern house with its sleek black outer walls and floor to ceiling glass panels stands out from the older more traditional brick homes in the Grange Park neighbourhood.  Pachter once invited neighbouring Lucky Moose grocery store owner David Chen to view his art, whereby Chen marveled "You have moose too!"

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