My welcome into Riverdale Farm comes with a new-ish, yet old-timey looking gate, however I bypass it to round around to the Winchester Street entrance.
The farm’s main building, the Victorian-style Simpson House, is home to the Cabbagetown Regent Park Museum, which is open for business today. It’s unique in that it’s the only museum in Toronto devoted to telling the story of a specific city neighbourhood. I have a soft spot for the museum for the time I volunteered there.
My time at the museum has taught me of the Riverdale Farm area’s long past: From the pristine valley the Aboriginals encountered (the Algonquian word for the Don itself was Wonscotonach, meaning ‘burnt back grounds’), to the land granted to John Scadding by Mr. John Graves Simcoe which was eventually purchased by the City for parkland, to the zoo Daniel Lamb (whose family is buried in the neighbouring Toronto Necropolis) established here in 1888, and finally, to the heritage farm we now know and have enjoyed since 1978. Walking through the farm, I get a sense of each layer.
My first stop is the Pig Barn to take in, among others, some turkeys and bunnies that would have existed in a farm around the turn of the 20th century.
From there, it’s off to see some goats and sheep, although the latter are sadly M.I.A.
Following the path all the way down, I come to the Residence. This is the first of a handful of remaining buildings that are original to the zoo. This one was, in fact, the keeper’s home. It was also a morgue and an animal hospital as well during its tenure.
My favourite feature and tidbit of the Residence is the use of clinker bricks in its construction, which incidentally was conducted by Don Jail inmates as a work project. I’ve heard stories of prisoners interacting with children, and how it was the happiest time for the inmates during their sentences because of it.
Backtracking, I do some wayfinding and try to determine whether north is actually north (it isn’t), before finding myself at the cows.
Above the cow paddock is the Donnybrook Ruin, a towering structure whose original purpose, as far as I know, is a mystery. I was delighted to spot some clinkers in its walls too.
I forge on down the Lower Road and come to the Riverdale Farm Ponds. These algae covered water bodies are important bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and serve as vibrant ecosystems. They also help in renaturalizing the Don River Valley and bring it back to a time before the river was channelized and rerouted.
Before meandering across a bridge, I note a barrier to the side which warns of the crossing’s occasionally flooding. Yuh oh. Although I can’t be sure, the bridge itself looks like a left-over from the zoo days.
The monkey cage is most definitely a relic, however. Much is made of the ethics of keeping animals in cages for viewing pleasure; even more is made of the state of early zoos and the sizes of the holding cells. The Riverdale Zoo closed and moved to Scarborough in part because its very inadequate facilities. (Also, a zoo next to a growing metropolis isn’t the best of ideas.)
Mustering the uphill climb back, I take a peek down the Middle Road, which doesn’t really lead to anything, but allots for a good view of the Meeting House.
My exit from the farm includes some horse-inspired art outside of the Simpson House. I quizzically study it for a second, eventually giving my due to the effort that must’ve went into its construction. Then, I’m off on my way, this time passing under the new-old sign I shunned before.
This isn’t the end of my Riverdale Farm themed encounters, however. This charming little Bell Box Mural located Parliament on Winchester boasts a great tribute to our barnyard friends.
4 thoughts on “Scenes From Riverdale Farm”
Donnybrook tower was the guards tower, because as you noted much of the Riverdale Zoo facility was constructed by Don Jail inmates. “This one was, in fact, the keeper’s home. It was also a morgue and an animal hospital as well during its tenure.” is not completely accurate, that was the Curators residence and indeed many animals were kept there to be raised or receive constant care, but the hospital and morgue as such was in a separate building to the west of the residence. That was also where the steam boiler heating system was located that provided heat for much of the main buildings including the residence. In the lower floor of the residence there was at one time a workers lunch room and washroom facility, but that was not used after about 1960 when the workers started using a lunch and locker room located under the Monkey house. Yes that stone bridge was an original feature, it was not accessible by the public circa 1950 and onwards because it was physically located inside a large penned off waterfowl area, it connected to an island area where that really old and seldom used original cage was located and also to a small underground facility that contains high power water pumps, added to increase the city water volume and pressure requirements of the zoo. Cool pictures they bring back great memories, thanks for sharing!
Dave, much obliged for the correction and info! I did find an archival picture of the bridge much later on — it’s a pretty one. Bob
I only know that because my Dad was the curator of Riverdale Zoo and I grew up living in the residence at 201 Winchester Street for many years. I used to love going up in Donnybrook Tower, the tiny entrance door to the tower was off the second floor of the building at that time attached to it, steep narrow circular stairs of wood lead up to the observation deck. In the basement level of that building was the winter quarters for the Hippopotamus (their names were Marlin and Perky, they at one time had a baby named Bubbles) Was an awesome fun place to grow up as you might imagine, especially since I had the keys to the entire Zoo facility.