The pain of getting what you wished for

Sometimes when things finally turn out the way you’ve been hoping, it causes a few problems. This past weekend the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre again participated in Doors Open Toronto, running our historic tunnel tours alongside a series of other incredible venues. Based on last year’s popularity, we decided to run tours on both Saturday and Sunday to accommodate more people. We re-wrote the tour script to keep it fresh, trained new volunteer guides, and developed a new game for kids.

When registration began slowly, I became anxious that the tunnels had lost their appeal. The tours eventually filled and I felt a sense of relief. Then last week we were included on Now Toronto’s Best Doors Open Events for 2017 and Urban Toronto’s Top Building Picks for this Weekend. I started fielding phone calls and emails and decided to extend the size of the tour groups to accommodate more people.

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Tour group inside the tunnels (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)

Before the first tour had even started on Saturday morning, the crowds were double the number that had registered. We extended the sizes of the tours as best we could and squeezed in an extra tour for the afternoon. But the numbers kept coming and we couldn’t keep up.

Saturday evening my team sat down to brainstorm how to handle Day 2 more smoothly. We checked every list over, discussed how much further we could stretch the size of the tours while still maintaining safety, and added three extra tours to the schedule for the walk-ins.

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Curatorial Assistant Ben Mitchell with tour group outside the loading dock doors in the tunnels (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)

By the end of the weekend we took 1,057 people through the historic tunnel system but unfortunately still had to turn people away. The number is small compared to many sites that participate in Doors Open Toronto, but an incredible feat for us: in all of 2016 we only took a total of 1,788 people through the tunnels so this two-day number is a record for us!

Our feet are sore, our throats are raw, but we’re thrilled – and humbled – by the response. But as Anne Jones wrote to the Editor of the Toronto Star yesterday: we left some people disappointed and we have a lot of work ahead of us to meet this new demand.

Some of the questions we’ll need to explore are:

  • Why didn’t people know about registration this year? What was different from last year?
  • How can we accommodate more people while still maintaining safety in the tunnels and a quality tour?
  • What’s the best way to leave room for walk-ins and day-of registrations?

On the grand scheme of things, the popularity is what I’ve been wishing for all year. Now that it’s here, the true challenge will be to hang on to it – keep things fresh, anticipate the hurdles better, and make sure everyone gets a chance to see what they came for.

*A personal request: If you know Anne Jones or your family was among those we couldn’t get onto a tour this weekend, send me an email and I’ll arrange a tour for you: jennifer.bazar@humber.ca As an historian of psychology by training, I never want to discourage an interest in our mental health history!

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Volunteer Guide, Jennifer Leonard, with group inside one of the tunnel’s branches (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)
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Curator Jennifer Bazar with group on the steps of the newly re-opened Administration Building of the former Mimico Asylum (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)