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On my first visit to Orillia, I had my eyes opened to the charms of this small Ontario town – a town that opened its ‘Doors’ to me as well.

When I was asked to accompany a friend to Orillia for the weekend, the invitation came last minute so I hadn’t done my usual research into what to do or see. Fortunately, that was all taken care of, as our visit had been scheduled to take in two events that the city was holding: Doors Open Orillia, and the launch of the city’s annual Streets Alive public art competition, the theme of which was ‘Downtown Doors’. Needless to say, I was curious to see what was behind both sets of doors.

Stephen Leacock's House is now a museum

Stephen Leacock’s House is now a museum

Doors Open Orillia

The Doors Open concept first originated in France in 1984, the idea being to invite people to explore hidden treasures in their own cities and towns by giving them access to places that in many cases had never been open to the public. The idea migrated to Canada in 2002 when the Ontario Heritage Trust began Doors Open Ontario, and a few years after that Orillia became a participant. As this was my first visit to the town, Doors Open was the perfect opportunity to enjoy free access to some of Orillia’s historic buildings, including the Museum of Art and History, the Opera House, and Stephen Leacock’s House. (Read more about them in this earlier post.)

But as a visual artist, for me the highlight of this ‘double door’ weekend was the creative competition that takes place right in the heart of Orillia’s heritage downtown:

"Letters" from a previous Streets Alive theme

“Letters” from a previous Streets Alive theme

Streets Alive Orillia 

Now in its 6th year, this annual outdoor event invites local artists to create themed works of art as semi-permanent installations that will be displayed throughout the summer on Orillia’s downtown streets. For the launch event, the streets are closed to traffic and the entire downtown is made into a pedestrian mall where local musicians, residents and visitors mingle with the artists whose creations are unveiled for the first time. The project is a competition, with winning entries determined by votes submitted by both a juried panel and the public, making this project a true community event. That same civic pride was evident in the participation of local businesses, many of whom sponsor the art pieces, or end up purchasing them afterwards and using them as art on their own premises.

One of several 'Leacock chairs" from past years owned by Era67 restaurant

One of several ‘Leacock chairs” from past years now owned by Era67 restaurant

The 37 doors themselves were as varied and eclectic as the artists who created them, and getting to meet the people behind the art and hearing their own stories was part of the small-town charm of the event. I particularly liked this door, designed by architect Joanna Fonseca and combining three of her passions: drafting, quilting and antiques. Her mixed-media door is papered with her own architectural drawings, stitched together into traditional quilting patterns, and displayed with antique hardware and drafting tools.

"Portal" by Joanna Fonseca

“Portal” by Joanna Fonseca

The traditional 'log cabin' quilting pattern frames a log cabin architectural drawing that is stitched on.

The traditional ‘log cabin’ quilting pattern frames a log cabin architectural drawing that is stitched on.

Then there was this door completely covered in mirrored mosaic pieces, the same material used to make the dress worn by the model – a dress that weighed pounds (maybe more than the door itself!) 

"Door of Futures Past" by Ruth Germain

“Door of Futures Past” by Ruth Germain

Other doors were more whimsical

"Into the Woods" by Marc Calverley

“Into the Woods” by Marc Calverley

"Carnival Jewels"/Jennifer Lawton, "The Green Door"/Susan McTavish, "In the Outdoor"/Peter Fyfe with Meg Ritcey

“Carnival Jewels”/Jennifer Lawton, “The Green Door”/Susan McTavish, “In the Outdoor”/Peter Fyfe with Meg Ritcey

…and one sponsored by the local bookstore even functioned as a Little Free Library where passersby are invited to take a book/leave a book as part of a worldwide free book exchange.

"Invitation" by David Giannuzio and Erin Damery

“Invitation” by David Giannuzio and Erin Damery

Leave a book, take a book Little Free Library

Leave a book, take a book Little Free Library

It was a great way to spend an afternoon, wandering from door to door, listening to local musicians on the street, and chatting with the residents, many of whom are supporters of the arts and happy to see that Orillia is becoming known as a town that does the same. The only difficult part of the day was trying to decide which 3 doors were my favourites so I could submit their names on the ballot.

Turns out that in typical small town fashion, Orillia opened its doors to welcome me – doors that are always open to you, too (at least till the end of summer, that is).

TIP: Orillia’s Streets Alive art pieces are on display all summer along Orillia’s Downtown streets, which is a great excuse to visit and do a little shopping while you’re there (or eating at one of the town’s many tempting bakeries!) Visit the Streets Alive website to learn more about this year’s theme and find out how you can vote for the winning art piece, too.

Special thanks to Sharon at Dream Travel Magazine, who invited me to join her in Orillia, and to Ontario’s Lake Country Tourism who hosted our weekend.


PINTEREST_StreetsAlive Orillia
Jane with Hat Tanzania

Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.

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