Doors Open festival will open doors and minds | Opinion | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Doors Open festival will open doors and minds

A guided tour of Halifax's overlooked architectural marvels.

Doors Open festival will open doors and minds
Stephen Archibald’s working career was in museums, and he continues to be fascinated with material culture and the surrounding cultural and natural landscapes. What he notices often appears in his blog at

Every spring a trifecta of great events gets me reoriented to the wonders of Halifax. First, Jane’s Walks in early May encourage conversations and rambles in the street. Then comes Open City, which I use as an opportunity for urban exploration, fuelled by backdoor takeout. And the third, this weekend, is the very special Doors Open, when you’re welcomed into buildings.

On June 6 and 7, more than two dozen sites are waiting for you (, including iconic buildings like the Town Clock, places of worship, industrial sites, even a couple of ships. This is the third year for Doors Open and it has been an immediate success. Last year, they reported over 30,000 individual visits!

The selection of buildings changes somewhat every year. Doors Open this year includes the oldest building in Halifax, St Paul’s, and the newest great building, the Central Library. I like to believe that experiencing many styles of building from all eras makes us better architectural consumers. Arguments around preserving the old or building new have plagued our city for decades. If we were better able to frame the discussion around the quality of existing and proposed developments, it might help.

A Doors Open adventure benefits from a plan of action. If you have never visited City Hall or the Legislature, they are essentials. The TV sound bite from the Legislature scrum or live tweets of city council mean much more when you can say, “I’ve been there!” And the Legislative Library is one of the best rooms in the province.

Consider some small buildings you pass but never notice, like the Cambridge Military Library and Lady of Sorrows Chapel (the church that was built in a day). They have amazing stories and after a visit you won’t be able to un-see them.

Last year, the old fire hall on University Avenue was a magnet for young families. Everybody was having a great time and it felt like folks were settling in for the duration. Remember, studies show that a visit to a special place, like the Legislature, can stick in young minds for the rest of their lives.

Of particular interest to me are the new buildings Doors Open offers this year. The spectacular atrium of the NS Power building on the waterfront will be a crowd-pleaser. Dalhousie’s Steele Ocean Sciences building is also impressive. I like that it respects the often disrespected concrete of the older Life Sciences building.

The Beth Israel Synagogue is fascinating (ask about men having breakfast together). The 1950s details of the building are a real treat—notice the light fixtures and stair railings. There is a good selection of places of worship included in Doors Open and visiting them all would be a great theme.

No need to be limited to the peninsula. In Dartmouth, the MacPhee Centre for Creative Learning is new to me and in the restored Union Protection Building. With Halifax Transit in the news so much, a visit to its Ragged Lake facility would be enlightening.

A final pro tip: at Doors Open in previous years, Government House has had long lines to get in. Consider waiting until June 19 and lining up for the Lieutenant Governor’s garden party, open to all, instead. That’s what I’m going to do.


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