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.
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.
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.)
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.