After what feels like a million years of being locked up in your own house, this weekend you have the opportunity to safely socialize with other folks and ghosts alike in some of Winnipeg’s beautiful historic buildings.
Doors Open Winnipeg is an annual event organized by Heritage Winnipeg. The public can explore Winnipeg’s heritage by touring old buildings, historic neighbourhoods and more – with COVID restrictions in place.
This year, the event takes place on Sept. 11 and 12 with multiple activities and locations to visit each day. Online registration opened Sept. 3 but there are plenty of time slots available.
Attractions include a West End BIZ Audio Mural tour, Grant’s Old Mill Museum and a scavenger hunt to find a loose Golden Boy.
One award-winning tour takes visitors through the Vaughan Street Jail at 444 York Ave. Tours of the jail run from 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. both days of the event. Tour participants can expect to hear “stories of famous Canadians from both sides of the bars, inmate treatment, 19th century law, see a flogging rack (and) walk into solitary confinement,” according to the description.
Kristen Treusch is the owner and operator of Square Peg Tours and hosts the jail event.
“Doors Open is the one opportunity for the public to get into the building, otherwise you can’t enter it at any other time,” Treusch says.
Treusch’s crew dresses up in period costumes and relays stories that give context on women’s treatment in jail, the city’s red-light district and specific historical figures like Hugh John Macdonald, she says.
It’s important for the Vaughn Street Jail to participate in Doors Open as one of the only buildings in the event “that needs protection and (heritage) designation,” Treusch says.
“It should be opened up a lot more often for people to have access and learn about it,” she says.
Cindy Tugwell, the executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, sees Doors Open as more than just an event to visit and learn about buildings’ heritage, as well as architectural and social history.
“The purpose of Doors Open (is) to enjoy the social connectivity (while) learning about the history and heritage and culture and really celebrating the city,” she says.
Tugwell describes the work Heritage Winnipeg and Doors Open do as having “a double benefit for the city,” both working with and supporting participating heritage venues throughout the year and encouraging the public to head downtown and explore different areas of the city during the event.
Hosting Doors Open during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, but the organization and their venues and tour guides got creative, offering pre-registration and time slots for tours and building entrance.
“It’s interesting how innovative people can get when there’s problems to solve,” Tugwell says. She adds that Heritage Winnipeg and their community are small but mighty.
To learn more and register for Doors Open Winnipeg this weekend, visit doorsopenwinnipeg.ca.
Published in Volume 76, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 9, 2021)