On Saturday, August 12th, 2017 a group of local nature enthusiasts joined Richard Aaron and the staff of the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre on a walk of Colonel Samuel Smith Park.
The weather was fine for a walk; not too cool and not too hot. Shady, though threatening to rain; it thankfully held off until after the tour.
There were over twenty of us, all told. The youngest was around four, and the age ranges in the group meant that our guide was asked quite a diversity of questions. Sometimes he was asked how to remove ticks, or tell the difference between two closely related plant species, and sometimes he was asked “what’s this?… what’s this?… what’s that?” including what kind of grass that was on the side of the path. I don’t think many adults would actually ask that question on a tour, we tend to take the grass for granted, and that was just one of the ways the young folks added a lot to the day.
But we did find lots of things other than grass on the walk: sidewalk mushrooms (relatives of the button and cremini mushrooms you buy at the store), Queen Anne’s lace (which is related to carrots and attracts bugs with a black spot in the centre of its flowers), and even a snake (likely a garter snake, but sadly squished on the road, so hard to identify).
The diversity and beauty of the birds of the park are justifiably one of its highlights, but it was lovely to get out and learn about some of the other creatures that call it home.
After all, it takes a whole ecology to hatch a single chick!
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org As an historian of psychology by training, I never want to discourage an interest in our mental health history!
The history and culture of the Ojibwe Anishinaabe and Iroquoian peoples;
The history of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital;
The history of education in the Lakeshore Grounds area including the Lakeshore Teachers’ College and Humber College; and
The history of ecological development in Colonel Samuel Smith Park
Each topic is rich and diverse all on its own – but the topics also knit together beautifully in the tapestry that is the history of the Lakeshore Grounds.
Most of our events and exhibits deal with one topic at a time – but this Saturday, March 25th, we’re taking on the challenge of presenting the woven tapestry as a whole. Our goal is to encourage everyone to look at the Lakeshore Grounds with fresh eyes, to see the different threads that have made it what it is today.
With the support of Myseum of Toronto, we’ve designed a new walking tour of the Lakeshore Grounds that begins at the Interpretive Centre, takes us through the Humber campus (yes, there’s a quick peak at the tunnels) and ends in Colonel Samuel Smith Park. And it’s not just a new tour route, Can You See What I See? is a storytelling event combined with a guided tour. That means that throughout the tour route you will encounter storytellers who will share short stories inspired by the indigenous, psychiatric, educational, and ecological histories of the Lakeshore Grounds.
Tours leave every hour with the first tour at 12pm and the last leaving at 4pm from the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre. The tours last roughly 1.25 hours and the route is fully mobility accessible (ASL interpretation available on the 12pm tour).
Come explore the Lakeshore Grounds with us and see its familiar sights from a new angle. Register for your preferred tour time by clicking here.
Looking for something a little EXTRA special? Myseum is coordinating a bus from Toronto that will include both the Can You See What I See? tours and the mAPPing the Territory exhibition at Humber’s North Space Gallery. The event is free but space is limited so be sure to reserve your seat by clicking here!