Doors Open Ottawa is returning to in-person tours of prominent buildings, though the 2024 celebration of Ottawa heritage and architecture on the June 1-2 weekend is also offering the virtual and hybrid options it employed during the pandemic.

The 22-year-old Ottawa tradition is expecting up to 100,000 visitors offered a chance to peek inside some 90 participating buildings.

Doors Open Ontario says the universal theme for Doors Open events will focus on music, says Emily O’Kane, the event coordinator of Doors Open Ottawa.

Since 2000, Doors Open events have been giving people across the country the opportunity to appreciate heritage sites and architectural marvels.

First established in Toronto, the event began in Ottawa in 2002. Eventually the idea has spread across the nation, reaching all provinces and territories except for Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

In Ottawa, properties such as the Supreme Court building, embassies, museums and science centres, welcome visitors free of charge on the first full weekend of June. Most buildings showcased at the event are not accessible to the public at other times.

In 2020, the event was cancelled, but in 2021, virtual tours were implemented. In 2022, tours were mostly hybrid, and in 2023, more in-person tours were re-introduced, but the event was still largely online or hybrid.

“We are thrilled to be returning to a live, in-person event but with the added bonus of enhanced virtual content,” the city recently announced.

Doors Open Ottawa was first held in 2002

O’Kane said there were only 60,000 visitors during the pandemic and that online tours were a “very different sort of model,” with most visitors using online resources.

This year, Doors Open Ottawa is reviving its mostly in-person tradition, with some hybrid tours also expected to run, according to Linda Russell, founder of Doors Open Ottawa.

She said organizers are looking to retain the event’s “simple model”, which includes the custom of meeting neighbours and strangers person-to-person.

Owen Cooke, a volunteer for the Rideau Archives building in rural North Gower, said the small, brick house located in south Ottawa has been showcased ever since Doors Open was introduced in Ottawa, and its doors will open once again in June.  

Built as a town hall in 1876 for residents of the North Gower area, it stands proud today as a library for locally and nationally important manuscripts and other historical documents.

Cooke said the Rideau Archives usually provides in-person tours only, and that one year during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, the tour was switched online.  

“Then we had a year where we had virtual tours, and we didn’t find the virtual tours satisfactory,” said Cooke, citing a lack of public interest.

This year, Cooke said the archive building will welcome wood carver and community activist Rick St. John, who will display his artwork in-person in June.

Other buildings, including the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum are also expected to return in-person this summer.

The museum issued a statement, as well, about its new “Highlights Tours” event on June 1 “to allow more visitors to experience the site”, offering “tours will last approximately 30 minutes and will cover key areas in the Diefenbunker.”

Visitors walk down the Diefenbunker’s Blast Tunnel. The Cold War-themed museum in Carp, which is expected to be part of the 2024 edition of Doors Open Ottawa, recalls the tense decades after the Second World War when Canada’s government made preparations for a potential nuclear war between NATO nations and the Soviet Bloc countries. [Photo courtesy the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum]

The City of Ottawa has not yet revealed the official number of sites participating this year, as applications for building managers to participate were being accepted up to Feb. 23.

Russell said the event is a good way for people to connect with their city.

“It’s a shared experience in a big city, so you get to know your neighbours,” said Russell. “It gives them a better understanding of how the city works, where they live, how the city’s designed and how we should care for it in the future.”

Many new buildings make their debut each year. The City of Ottawa welcomes people to recommend a building they want to see during Doors Open Ottawa. The event email is: