Doors Open Guelph offers terrific insights for curious participants

My husband and I are three-season walkers.

From the earliest, muddy days of spring until the snow once again blankets the ground, we try to get out a couple of times each week.

We hibernate through the winter, watching our snowshoes gather dust and my waistline expand, but like most Canadians we eventually grow sick of being indoors. We live for the day when we can lace up shoes actually designed for travelling.

Most of our walks are quick trips downtown, around the university and Guelph arboretum, or just along the Speed River — all, thankfully, within easy walking distance of our home. But on any passable weekend, we make every effort to visit a local woodlot or conservation area, for several hours of trails with hills.

The variety helps, offering different views and, often, different things to talk about. We also enjoy having a destination — something to see or do along with way.

It might be as simple as getting an ice cream from the Boathouse Tea Room or visiting old ruins we found at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre. Better still are walks to and from some of Guelph’s great festivals and events, which for us includes Ribfest and the Friends of the Library giant book sale.

So we were thrilled when we woke last Saturday to learn that Mother Nature and the Guelph Arts Council had conspired to provide us with a perfect spring outing.

The dear lady provided the weather. When we left the house a bit after 10 a.m., we bravely left our earmuffs behind and never looked back. The four hours we spend outdoors (mostly) proved sunny, warm and mild.

The arts council provided the destinations, a baker’s dozen this year, during Doors Open Guelph.

Doors Open is an international celebration of architecture, history and culture that began in France in 1984. It has since spread around the world, and 44 different Ontario cities are holding their own versions in 2015 on various weekends until October.

Guelph has been hosting one for 14 years, each time offering visitors a look at different buildings. I believe we got our first look at Guelph city hall at a Doors Open event just after the building opened.

This year we planned a loop that included the six sites we most wanted to see, plus a new restaurant we’d wanted to try.

Our first stop was the Diyode Community Workshop on Wyndham South, which bills itself as the dream garage for anyone who makes things. Members pay $50 per month to access an array of tools for woodworking, metal work, electronics and prototyping. And there are workshops on how to use those tools.

Diyode is perfect for people like us. My husband is a luthier, a builder of stringed instruments, and has the tools and skills he needs to build a guitar from scratch. He’s interested in building bigger pieces, custom cabinets and tables, but would like some access to specialized — which is code for pricey — equipment and advice.

Diyode had him drooling.

There was also a wee bit of drool at the Western Hotel Executive Suites on Macdonell Street. Built in 1881 with a “façade of local ashlar hammer-dressed blocks of limestone,” its recently renovated luxury suites and penthouses showcase the original brickwork and other features.

Our final stop was my personal favourite — Boarding House Arts, on Dublin South. Built as a family home circa 1850, it has served as a store, tavern, hotel, corn dealer, lumber business and student boarding house, as well as a hall for the Great War Veterans Association, the Royal Canadian Legion and the Knights of Columbus.

It was also home to the Guelph Civic Museum for three recent decades and, today, it is home to a philanthropic foundation, three galleries, and an arts incubator’s offices and studios.

Boarding House Arts is one of several buildings that have caught my eye since moving to Guelph. But I could only learn so much about it and other buildings from friends and family raised here.

By hosting Doors Open, the Guelph Arts Council and its army of volunteers offer residents a much-appreciated peek into wonderful places where we all-too-often simply walk on by.

Guelph resident Michael Strickland enjoys learning about the community he now calls home.

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