This Montreal family, and 22 others, are throwing parties with no idea who's on guest list

Daybreak's Shari Okeke visits door #13 of the "23 Doors" an event in Mile End. Each night this month, until Dec. 23, a different household opens its doors to anyone who shows up.

23 households in Mile End are opening their doors, 1 home each night, with no idea who will show up

Nicolas and Céline Petsilas hosted 'door #13' in the 23 Doors event at their recently renovated home on Clark street in Mile End. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Neighbours who don't know each other in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood are getting a rare glimpse into each others' lives through a project called "23 Doors/Les Portes Qui S'Ouvrent." 

Every night, since Dec. 1, a different home opens its doors to welcome any neighbours who show up and this will continue until December 23rd.

Daybreak's Shari Okeke decided to knock on one of those doors to find out more about the project and what it means to Montrealers living in Mile End.

The 'Mile End Fairy'

Patsy Van Roost, known to many as the "Mile End Fairy," is the organizer behind 23 Doors.

Van Roost is an artist who is very active in the Mile End community and loves to create magic during the holiday season. 

The idea of 23 Doors came out of a conversation she had last year with a roommate from Switzerland, who told her about people in Switzerland opening their doors to neighbours. Van Roost was determined to do something similar in Montreal.

"I became obsessed for a year," she said.

Patsy Van Roost, know as the 'Mile End Fairy,' convinced 23 households to open their doors to host anyone who might show up. The event, called 23 Doors, is held at a different home each night until Dec. 23. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Van Roost sent flyers to neighbours explaining the project and over a period of about two months she managed to convince 23 households to open their doors, one home each night, to host anyone who shows up.

The evening starts at 5:30 p.m. and ends promptly at 7:30 p.m. when Van Roost rings a bell. The hosts are only required to offer guests a hot drink, but many hosts have chosen to also serve appetizers and offer live entertainment.

No matter the weather, Van Roost shows up with all the necessary supplies plus a gift for the hosts.

"I bring to every home like two big coat hangers on wheels. I bring 66 glasses, two big boxes for the boots, a lamp personalized lamp with the family names," she said.

As the month of December continues, the event is gaining momentum with more guests showing up and many guests deciding to attend several evenings or "doors."

"It's really magical and people become addicted. People come back again and again, but to different doors, so you always meet somebody new."

Door #13

On December 13, Céline and Nicolas Petsilas hosted the 13th "door" at their newly renovated home on Clark street.

The couple has three young children and has not had a lot of time to host parties but were eager to take part in the 23 Doors event.

"I did that with the intention to bring joy to people and comfort so when I'm looking at them right now, I think it's a win-win situation," said Celine Petsilas, who did most of the planning.

Her husband is a little more reserved but appreciated the chance to get out of his comfort zone while about 25 people – many he'd never met – mingled in his home.

"I kind of keep to myself, especially if I don't know anybody, but I must say it's pretty nice.…It's a great vibe," he said.

Babies welcome

Kelli Hanrahan, Emmanuel Charlebois and their son Rowan hosted a 'door' earlier this month and also attended door #13 at the Petsilas family's home. (Shari Okeke/CBC)
Not only are babies are welcome, they've also played host.

Kelli Hanrahan, her partner Emmanuel Charlebois and their three-month-old son, Rowan, were among the crowd mingling at door #13 but it was not their first 23 Doors experience. They'd already hosted a 'door' themselves earlier this month.

"I would really like my baby to be raised in a community and when you live in a city and your family is far away and you're a new parent, you've got to do what you can to meet people and other parents," Hanrahan said.

Now as a guest she's enjoying the glimpse into her neighbours' lives.

"It's nice to see other people's homes. You never know what they look like on the street versus what they look like inside." 

Russian Cuisine

Jenya Kim has lived in Mile End for a few years but hadn't met many people before attending the 23 Doors events this month. She's now met so many people she says she'd love to host a 'door' herself some day. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Jenya Kim says had she known about 23 Doors sooner, she would have offered to host one night.

Instead, she's enjoying the discoveries she making at other people's homes.

Kim, originally from South Korea, translates Russian to English and was tickled that one of the "doors" she attended was hosted by a Russian Montrealer.

"We exchanged our contacts and we're going to see each other to cook together Russian cuisine...I'm so grateful to Patsy for this initiative," Kim said.

New perspectives

Even the Mile End Fairy herself is making new discoveries each night.

After crossing paths with a 75-year-old woman for more than two decades, Van Roost finally met that woman at one of the first "doors" and now they've been connecting nearly every night since then.

Astrid Lagounaris says 23 Doors comes at a time when she's trying to get out more for her health. So far she has attended at least 11 doors and says there's a surprise every night. (Shari Okeke/CBC)
Astrid Lagounaris had been trying to get out walking more often, for her physical and mental health.

"I live alone, I'm of a certain age, I was starting to almost fear the darkness in the evenings," she said.

Now she's out socializing at the "doors" every night, meeting up to 30 people at each event.

"I see people differently now," she said, adding that these days she keeps her head up during her walks, looking around to see who she might recognize from the previous night.

Patsy Van Roost creates a personalized lamp with names of all family members for every household that hosts a 23 Doors evening this month. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

New tradition?

Van Roost posts photos and videos to the Facebook page Les Portes Qui S'Ouvrent and that has generated a lot of interest.

Now she's getting requests from people to recreate 23 Doors in other neighbourhoods.

Van Roost says it's preferable to have someone who lives within the community organize the project so she's preparing a guide book for other neighbourhoods to consult in the new year.

For now, she's busy preparing for the next "doors" that will be opening, every night until Dec. 23. 

"I was hoping it would work but I never expected it to be like this," she said. 


Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, an award-winning CBC original podcast.