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.

20170528_104146
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.

20170528_142015
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!

20170528_121906
Volunteer Guide, Jennifer Leonard, with group inside one of the tunnel’s branches (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)
20170528_173741
Curator Jennifer Bazar with group on the steps of the newly re-opened Administration Building of the former Mimico Asylum (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)

Notes from a Morning at the Whimbrel Watch

Thanks to an introduction from Terry Smith at Friends of Sam Smith, I had the opportunity this morning to attend the annual Whimbrel Watch out at Whimbrel Point in Colonel Samuel Smith Park. My primary aim was to work with the Humber Arboretum to interview Tim McCarthy and Wayne Renaud for the upcoming exhibit at the Interpretive Centre (oops! spoiler alert!) but as a first-time attendee of the Whimbrel Watch I thought it might be fun to share my notes from the experience:

4:00am – My alarm sounds and I fumble around in a daze. At this stage in my morning consciousness I’m not sure I could identify a “bird” let alone a whimbrel. Even the simplest morning tasks seem more complicated and I am silently grateful that I will be a cup of coffee deep before I meet up with the group.

4:30am – I head out to the car. The first thought that strikes me is that in the pitch black the street is alive with bird songs. Their volume is surprising against the silence from the houses. Before I have a chance to think much further about this early morning chorus, I become aware of a light rain and focus instead on wishing away the clouds.

img_5504.jpg

5:15am – I am wandering into Colonel Samuel Smith Park. Sunrise will not officially take place for another half an hour but there is more than enough light in which to navigate the paths in the park. I expected an eerie, lonely walk through the dark but am instead surrounded by lit paths, dog walkers, and birders armed with large scopes. I had no idea there was such activity at this hour!

5:30am – My first view of Whimbrel Point as I approach reveals that I am not the first to arrive. My nervous and shy “hellos” are greeted with warmth and welcome. Wayne Renaud – one of the men I have come to interview – is among the group. It becomes immediately obvious that he is just seeping with knowledge about birding. He’s also much more prepared than I am for the day’s event: layers of fleece, a toque and mitts, and a bag filled with snacks to take him through the day – only his sunburnt (or perhaps wind burnt?) cheeks show any sign that the weather may pose a challenge.

5:45am – A crowd is starting to gather. Tim McCarthy – the second man I have come to interview – is easy to spot when he arrives. Dressed in shorts despite the chilly breeze, he wears a collection of feathers in his cap and a stuffed whimbrel pokes out of his backpack. He announces to the group that he has received an early morning email from his contacts in Virginia and the news is not good: the storms are still raging in the U.S. and no whimbrels were spotted leaving overnight.

6:15am – Despite the bad weather to the south, the first flock appears overhead. The sighting stops the conversation dead and a wave of binoculars and camera lenses point in unison towards the birds. Counts are shared with the group – around 35 in this flock – as Tim records the time and weather details on his clipboard.

IMG_5515.JPG

Wayne and Tim spend the next few hours sharing stories of their own entries into birding, how they became involved in the Whimbrel Watch, and why the annual count is important for the conservation of the at-risk species. By the level of energy the two exude you would think this was Day 1 of the Whimbrel Watch – in fact, the two men have been out daily since the 19th.

9:30am – The excitement with the appearance of the first flock has waned and the numbers of birders out at Whimbrel Point has begun to shrink. A momentary thrill comes when another flock is sighted – but the mood quiets quickly as the group determines it is the same flock as earlier, still making the rounds. Today is shaping up to be a quiet one for the Watch.

IMG_5514

11:00am – I am starting to fade. The early morning wake-up has distorted my stomach’s idea of when lunch should arrive and the cold has now seeped in through my bones. The conversation over the morning has been fascinating – a collection of first-timers and experts alike have generously shared tips, suggestions, and a wealth of stories. A school group visiting the area approaches to learn about the whimbrels and I use their arrival as an excuse to seek out food and warmth.

11:30am – I arrive back at the Interpretive Centre with my cheeks burning red from the morning wind exposure. The whimbrels failed to turn out but their dedicated watchers have made the experience worth every moment. I feel committed to the full experience now and make plans to return this weekend for another attempt to spot the flocks.

IMG_5513

Want to experience the Whimbrel Watch for yourself? Join the group out at Whimbrel Point anytime between now and the end of the month (or stop by during this Saturday’s Spring Bird Festival!). Every knowledge level is welcomed but be warned – the passion of these birders is contagious and you may return home only to find yourself shopping for a pair of binoculars online…

Upcoming Event!

Never Alone(1)

We’ve almost finished up all the logistical work for our upcoming event Never Alone: LGBTQ+ activism and collective action forum. We’ve partnered up with the lovely folks at Humber’s LGBTQ+ Resource Centre to find some passionate speakers to talk about community organizing and what people can do to help make change in their own communities.

Tara-(5)credited

Tara Farahani is an award-winning social worker, advocate, and writer whose work has featured in the Huffington Post and the Journal of Critical Anti-Oppressive Social Inquiry.

 

Sylvia-Thorn---Akia-(colour)Akia Munga is the outreach coordinator at the Black Coalition for Aids Prevention and co-chair of Toronto’s Harm Reduction Alliance. His advocacy focuses African Caribbean Black Trans & Non-Binary folks who have sex with men.

Christopher Karas (Chris Young, Globe and Mail)

Christopher Karas was inaugurated into the “Legion of Queer Heroes” at World Pride 2014 for his advocacy work challenging the Catholic School Board’s stance on Gay-Straight Alliances, and continues his advocacy challenging Canada’s Gay Blood Ban.

For more on our speakers and event, check out our Eventbright page!