Tag Archives: cabbagetown

Scenes From The Toronto Necropolis

I sometimes avoid telling people that I’m interested in cemeteries, particularly the famed, old ones like the Toronto Necropolis. To history buffs and genealogists, they get it. To other people, not so much. Why would you go to a cemetery when you’re not visiting a loved one?

Well, for starters, the Necropolis is Toronto’s second non-denominational cemetery. It opened in 1850 after the closing of Potter’s Field in Yorkville and (some of) its inhabitants were moved to this one.

Toronto Necropolis Chapel
The two buildings that front the cemetery, found at the end of Winchester Street, are the 1872 Gothic Revival Chapel and the Victorian Gingerbread-style former gravekeeper’s residence (now offices).

Toronto Necropolis Chapel plaque

Toronto Necropolis office
A peek inside the cozy chapel produces a stunning stain glass window and vaulted ceiling.

Toronto Necropolis chapel inside (1)              Toronto Necropolis chapel inside (2)

It doesn’t take much wandering to realize that there’s nothing too orderly about the Necropolis. Graves with varying lifetimes are placed next to each other in a fashion that isn’t the row-on-row fashion that dominates our mental image of what a cemetery looks like.

Toronto Necropolis (2)
That’s because the Necropolis exists in a quasi-parkland sort of setup that was part of a broader 19th century movement to make cemeteries more inviting. It certainly achieves that. It’s also an inviting place for the information it tells us about our society.

The Necropolis is rich in its story-telling potential: from macro political tales of the 1837 Upper Canada rebellion & the founding of Canada to the individual profiles of the first black mayor of Toronto or the first black doctor in Canada. It also gives us a chance to talk about everyday existence as it pertains to life and death of people throughout time.

Beginning just ahead of the chapel and roughly circling clockwise around the cemetery, amongst the notables I see are:

George Brown, founder of the Globe &  father of Confederation.

Toronto Necropolis George Brown (2)
A monument to the only two men hanged for the 1837 Rebellion. It purposely looks broken to signify a life cut short. The original gravestone stands in front.

Toronto Necropolis 1837 Rebellion (3)

Toronto Necropolis 1837 Rebellion (2)             Toronto Necropolis 1837 Rebellion (1)

The Lamb family, of which Daniel Lamb, who founded the Riverdale Zoo, was a member (although he is curiously buried elsewhere).

Toronto Necropolis Lamb Family (1)
The Ward sisters, of which Ward’s Island is named, who drowned tragically in the harbour. Their stone, like many in the cemetery, is very weathered and illegible.

Toronto Necropolis Ward sisters
Anderson Ruffin Abbott
, the first black doctor in Canada. He tended to Abraham Lincoln on the night of his death.

Toronto Necropolis Anderson Ruffin Abbott
William Lyon Mackenzie, the leader of the previously mentioned rebellion, Toronto’s first mayor, and newspaper publisher. (I hope he’s not writing too critically about us down there.)

Toronto Necropolis William Lyon Mackenzie
A couple of familiar Toronto street names in Yorkville’s Joseph Bloor(e) and Willowdale’s John Cummer Sr. of the Cummer family. The former possesses the creepiest portrait of any Toronto historical figure, while the latter were industrious North York pioneers with the giddiest name.

Toronto Necropolis Joseph Bloore        Toronto Necropolis John Cummer Sr

And most recently, former NDP leader Jack Layton with his smiling bust as sculpted by his widow, Olivia Chow.

Toronto Necropolis Jack Layton
But beyond the notables, it’s interesting to walk around and take in the kinds of stones, the tributes families have laid out for their loved ones, and the contours of the land.

There are garden-like walkups, ‘fenced’ off monuments, and beautiful sculptures. And lots of obelisks.

Toronto Necropolis (3)

Toronto Necropolis (4)              Toronto Necropolis (5)

The Necropolis has some public art, one of which is entitled ‘Onwards’ – a reminder to move one with one’s life while also honouring those who have left us.

Toronto Necropolis Onwards (1)
As I make my exit out of the Necropolis and get a final look at the chapel and cottage, I’m pretty convinced about the intrigue, beauty, and cultural significance of the Necropolis and places like it. Next time I’m asked Why?, I’ll be more inclined to say back Why not?.

Toronto Necropolis (6)

Toronto Necropolis (7)

Toronto Necropolis Chapel Back
For the final find of the afternoon – another buried tribute of sorts – there’s also a time capsule buried in front of cottage, one of quite a few in the city. Sadly, I don’t know if any of them will be opened in my lifetime.

Toronto Necropolis time capsule

Scenes From Riverdale Farm

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.

1 Riverdale Farm sign
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.

2 Riverdale Farm Simpson House
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.

4. Riverdale Farm
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.

5. Riverdale Farm bunny

6. Riverdale Farm turkey
From there, it’s off to see some goats and sheep, although the latter are sadly M.I.A.

8. Riverdale Farm goats
9. Riverdale Farm
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.

11. Riverdale Farm Residence
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.

12. Riverdale Farm  Residence clinker bricks

13. Riverdale Farm Residence
Backtracking, I do some wayfinding and try to determine whether north is actually north (it isn’t), before finding myself at the cows.

14. Riverdale Farm directions

16. Riverdale Farm 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.

17. Riverdale Farm Donnybrook ruins

18. Riverdale Farm Donnybrook ruins clinkers
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.

19. Riverdale Farm  ponds

20. Rivedale Farm pond
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.

22. Riverdale Farm bridge

29. Riverdale Farm  bridge
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.)

25. Riverdale Farm monkey cage

26. Riverdale Farm monkey cage
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.

31. Riverdale Farm                33. Riverdale Farm

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.

34. Riverdale Farm  horse art
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.

35. Riverdale Farm Winchester Bell box mural

Random Scene: Power station on Winchester

image

Near Parliament. Riverdale Farm-inspired.