BY ANNA MARSZALEK
Here’s a bit of trivia: Did you know that since 1973 there have been several attempts to create a national “Heritage Day” holiday, to fall on the third Monday of every February? For some reason the government hasn’t felt like giving us all another day off, but that hardly means our history isn’t worth recognizing. In this province at least, the past is brought back to life during Ontario Heritage Week, which runs this year from February 18 to 24. Add in Black History Month celebrations and Family Day (which is a statutory holiday) into the mix, and the shortest month of the year quickly turns into one of the busiest.
The celebrations are organized annually by the Ontario Heritage Trust and based around a theme that unifies and honours the province’s unique historical and contemporary makeup. For 2013, that theme is “Cultural Expressions” and aims to show the connection between heritage and artistic expression.
In Toronto, Heritage Week’s main attraction is the century-old Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre. Free, no-reservations-required tours of the immaculately restored double-decker theatre—the last in the world still in operation—are offered Tuesday through Thursday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. It’s an excellent chance to gain insight into the golden age of vaudeville entertainment and how, with care, heritage properties can continue to thrive in modern times. The recently opened Parliament Interpretive Centre presents an additional peak into Toronto’s history, with exhibitions about Ontario’s first legislative buildings and their tragic fate two centuries ago. Guided tours and activities are free to all on Family Day (February 18).
If Ontario Heritage Week’s province-wide lineup of events whets your appetite for more, Toronto in particular has plenty of other historic sites and museums with year-round programming. In celebration of Black History Month, visitors to Mackenzie House can learn about the legacy of Victorian-era black writers and journalists. Or why not venture to Fort York to learn about the founding of our city and its role in the brutal Anglo-American War of 1812? (Additional details about City of Toronto museums and special events can be found here.)
It all goes to show that there’s so much more to this city than meets the eye. And there’s no better time to explore than during Ontario Heritage Week.
Featured in this article:>> Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, 189 Yonge St., 416-314-2874; website, map and reviews
>> Parliament Interpretive Site, 265 Front St. E., 416-212-8897; website, map and reviews
>> Mackenzie House, 82 Bond St., 416-392-6915; website, map and reviews
>> Fort York, 250 Fort York Blvd., 416-392-6907; website, map and reviews