By Amy Sarah
One of the most interesting aspects of Nuit Blanche is the invitation to go inside – both figuratively (to interpret and discover each installation) as well as physically (to explore normally closed-up, pay-entrance-only buildings such as Massey Hall, Casa Loma, or Maple Leaf Gardens).
My friends and I started out after midnight, biking through the dark trails at Queen’s Park, and came across a group of people singing and chanting. The dark vastness of the park and huge congregation of people listening and playing along created a sinister, enchanting atmosphere. We then biked over to OCAD, where we found an intriguing invitation to ride a bike which had been set up to create a shadow-play of riding a horse—the speed of the biker determined the speed of the horse galloping along the wall. We also found long lineups at most of the installations we tried to visit. Since we didn’t want to wait in line all night, we asked random people what they thought and mostly, everyone seemed disappointed or discouraged—so we decided to go to Maple Leaf Gardens. Even if the video installation is disappointing, we thought, at least we can see the interior of a building that’s been closed to the public for years.
The Gardens were incredibly beautiful with their haunting lighting and decrepit seating. The video installation was intriguing after all—authoritative voices spoke over top something like a visual of stomach-churning. But mostly we found ourselves drawn to the idea of seeing more of the Gardens—we wanted to go through the box seats; one friend had a long-standing obsession with getting onto the roof. The stairwells were blockaded by white fences, and after trying to jimmy a few, we gave up and started for the exit. But when we looked back at the hallway, we saw two guys sneaking out from behind the fence. So, of course, we found ourselves sneaking in.
We figured within minutes we’d be told to leave since security would probably be patrolling the whole building, but nobody disturbed us. Instead we walked through unlocked doorways, offices strewn with papers, broken lamps and phones with the receiver off the hook, and a room with only one lonely television in the middle of the floor, still plugged in. We even found a small room which led to the Maple Leaf Gardens safe, gigantic and unlocked. Then: new rooms, hallways, stairwells into new spaces. We wanted to find an entrance to the roof but gave up and started to leave. We turned down a dark hallway, and one friend shined a bike-light at the wall. Attached to the wall was a metal ladder which led, high up, to a metal door. So we climbed. And after pushing open the metal door, we found ourselves at the lowest roof of the Gardens, which then led to another, higher roof. We climbed a long, slippery, metal ladder which curved along the white dome of the Gardens, onto the very top of the roof.
We looked out over the city at 4 a.m. People watched us through the windows at the hotels and apartments that surround the Gardens. We stayed on the roof for almost an hour, looking out over the city and feeling like teenagers, before we decided to walk back through the hallways, the rooms, getting lost, finding our way out. We passed directly in front of about five police officers while exiting; no one noticed.
Overwhelmed, we got our bikes and looked through the guide for other installations we could visit but none seemed like they’d top the climb to the roof. So we settled on pancakes at Fran’s and, half-asleep, talked about the rooms and roofs of the Gardens.