By Sean Meyer
Chad Callander was just five years old when his grandmother died at the South Street Hospital.
Of course, he is only one of thousands of people who share an equally bittersweet feeling towards the 136-year-old facility. But thanks to the 10th annual Doors Open, Sept. 17-18, Callandar — who also happens to be the event’s new media and marketing co-ordinator — and many other people will be able to say a final goodbye before the facility is closed for good and demolished.
“South Street, I believe, came to us just after last year’s Doors Open. They wanted to do something because the hospital was closing and they didn’t know what would happen with the site,” Callander said. “We were absolutely thrilled. It is important particularly as we are London Heritage Council to remember our history. But also you have to consider the hospital and the effect it has had on people.”
Doors Open London opens up 52 locations throughout the city, free of charge, for local residents and visitors to tour and reminisce about.
In the case of South Street Hospital, this will be the first and only opportunity people will have to tour the facility.
“I remember talking about that (his grandmother’s death) with my mom and she wants to go through that experience again and remember. I think it is going to be an important site to a lot of people,” Callander said. “For someone like myself who has lost a family member, it is a chance to say goodbye. For those who have never been there, it is a chance to experience something that was much more than a hospital to so many people.”
As with all Doors Open locations, visitors will have the opportunity to walk through, often with guided tours, and see sights they have never experienced. When it comes to the South Street Hospital, that experience will be amplified.
The facility will have equipment that has been moved out of locations such as the operating rooms or the morgue returned so visitors will be able to experience how these rooms were used in their heyday. In cases where equipment wasn’t available, organizers have moved in old photos and set up displays that will reflect the hospital’s past.
“But I have to give credit to the South Street hospital staff and their volunteers for pushing this forward. Most of the volunteers are people who previously worked at the hospital, so they can answer questions, share the history,” Callander said. “I think for those who may have worked there it will be a last chance to look at their own history. For the people who live around the hospital, it has been a staple for them in that community, so it will generate a lot of interest.”
The public’s interest will extend beyond just the hospital, although Callander expects it will be among the most popular locations during Doors Open.
“The number of visits is tough to compare. You might get only 10 people to one site, but they are 10 very engaged visitors. At the same time there are others that get thousands,” Callander said.
“I think South Street will see the most visitors. We have some sites that don’t participate regularly. But because this is the first time, and the last time (and) since this is the only chance people are going to have to see South Street, I am almost afraid we are going to get too many people.”
In addition to South Street’s first appearance in Doors Open, there will be several other firsts this year.
Bike School London will be hosting cycling tours of various locations, predominately in the downtown and around the University of Western Ontario. The idea of the bike tours, along with a contest on Twitter where people guess the front entranceways to various locations, is to attract a new crowd to the Doors Open.
This year’s event will also include the city’s third Car Free Weekend, which Callander said will make downtown locations even more attractive.
The 10th anniversary of Door Open London also marks the first ever Doors Open Middlesex. A launch party will be held on Sept. 11, from 1-4 p.m., at the Middlesex County Courthouse.
“That building will only be open that day. It isn’t open during Doors Open weekend. It is rarely available because they have bookings, but it will be available that day,” Callander said. “We will be having actors sitting inside the jail telling stories about the jail. That should be pretty exciting.”
For more information on Doors Open, including a list of all 52 locations, visit www.doorsopenlondon.ca.