Doors Open Amherstburg gives public peek into their own backyard


Doors Open1 Doors Open2 Doors Open3 Doors Open4By Ron Giofu

People from near and far got a closer look at Amherstburg on the weekend thanks to the Doors Open program.

A total of 22 places in Amherstburg participated in Doors Open this year, with free tours given at, in or near historic sites, museums, private historical homes, art galleries and art studios. One of the popular sites on the tour was the home known as “Island View,” the home located at 671 Front Road North owned by David and Deanna McDowall.

“I think I’ve said it a few times today but when you have a jewel, you don’t hide it,” said David.

Upgrades and improvements to the home have been a family affair, added Deanna.

“We don’t mind showing it off a bit,” she said.

Many people commented they didn’t know what the home looked like inside and the McDowalls also stated they too often wondered what the home looked like inside before they purchased it. David said when they first participated in a Doors Open program in 2004, they were told to expect 300-400 people but received 1,100 instead.

“It’s a little calmer today,” he said with a smile.

Deanna said many people come in with their own recollections of the house.

“I think one of the most exciting things for us is that people have relatives attached to the house,” she said. “It’s really great it brings people back with little pieces of history.”

David recalled having two women at the home one year – one from Philadelphia and the other from Washington – and to have them discover they were related once they started hearing historical information about Island View.

“They had a little reunion here,” he said.

The home was, at one point, a boarding house and the McDowalls met people who were born in the home. It is always fun to meet people with a connection to the home, David added.

Bruce McPherson, who owns the Lewis Arner home at 6790 County Road 50 with wife Kelly, said crowds were consistent throughout the day. Owners of the home for just over a year, McPherson said he and his wife worked in a museum so they have interest and knowledge of history.

“We’re just interested in the area,” he said. “When we were asked, it was kind of an honour.”

Denise Calzavara moved into her Rankin Ave. home in June and merged her home with her art studio. She enjoyed being part of the Doors Open program and had people participate as well, cutting out photos from magazines to be part of her “collective collage.”

“It’s been fun,” she said. “I’ve seen lots of people I haven’t seen in a while and met new people.”

With Doors Open Ontario having an arts and culture theme this year throughout the province, it lead to Calzavara being one of the local artists being involved along with other artists as Gina Laderoute, Elio Del Col, Larry Gardner as well as the Gibson Gallery and Mudpuppy Gallery.

“It’s lovely to see that. We have a bit of a community among us,” said Calzavara. “I think it gives (the public) a bit more appreciation of the work that goes into it. It’s a true profession. It’s nice to have recognition of it being a profession.”

Park House Museum curator Valerie Buckie said it was “busy” and said there were visitors from as far as Holland and India. However, the majority of visitors were from nearby.

“The bulk of them have been from Essex County. That’s interesting,” said Buckie. “It’s mainly local people.”

Crowds were increased over previous Doors Open events, she added.

“I think it’s going fairly well,” said Buckie. “Usually, it’s slow. It’s really hard getting people into a museum.”

Lori Bezaire, owner of the Dalhousie Bistro, said she tries to support the arts in Amherstburg and was glad to have gotten involved with Doors Open.

“So far, it’s been very beneficial,” she said Saturday afternoon. “It’s been fun talking about what the original building looked like and where it is.”

Bezaire said she would consider participating again, if asked.

Manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota was at the Gordon House meeting visitors and said there were a lot of them to meet. Rota stated she underestimated the crowds that turned out.

“I’m impressed. There’s been a lot of people,” said Rota.

While Saturday’s warm weather likely drew a lot of people out, Rota believed the War of 1812 events helped draw people as well.

“Building on the investments in 1812 and the tall ships and everything the sites have been doing over the last four to five years, people are more aware of our history,” she said. “I think we are really starting to reap the benefits of that.”

Rota met people from Michigan, Chatham-Kent and around Essex County but said at least half seemed to be from Amherstburg, many of whom had never been to one of the community’s historic sites.

“People are interested to know what is in their backyards,” said Rota.

Doors Open Ontario is promoted across the province by the Ontario Heritage Trust to make Ontario citizens more aware of their architectural heritage. Amherstburg has been a participating community for most of the last decade.

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