Riverdale Zoo – The Site of the Old Zoo is Riverdale Farm & Park

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Circa 1950 - The Donnybrook at Riverdale Zoo
Circa 1950 – The Donnybrook at Riverdale Zoo (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 149)

The property that Riverdale Farm and Park reside on today was once home to Riverdale Zoo. It was located on the southeast corner of Winchester St and Sumach St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto.

The History of Riverdale Zoo

In the mid-1850s, the city purchased the farmland from John Scadding. He was clerk to John Graves Simcoe, Canada’s first Lieutenant Governor. Years later, the area was re-designated as parkland. A Cabbagetown resident and politician named Daniel Lamb donated a few deer and asked others to donate animals. In the mid-1880s, the park became home to the Riverdale Zoo.

1907 - Crowds at Riverdale Zoo. Today, the site is home to the Riverdale Farm and Park
1907 – Crowds at Riverdale Zoo. Today, the site is home to the Riverdale Farm and Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 646)

For nearly 90 years, the city’s first zoo was home to many animals, including bears, monkeys, lions, elephants and more. The zoo was built for people’s viewing experience rather than the animals’ comfort. The enclosures were cramped and dark, which was typical for the time period.

In the 1950s, a group of citizens assembled a committee to look at the possibility of a major zoo with a naturalized environment. The Metropolitan Toronto Zoological Society was established in 1966, and a year later, the City approved the area of Glen Rouge as the site of the new zoo. In the summer of 1974, the animals were moved from Riverdale Zoo to Metropolitan Toronto Zoo, today’s Toronto Zoo.

Riverdale Farm & Park

2022 - The Simpson House, a Victorian-style farmhouse at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto
2022 – The Simpson House, a Victorian-style farmhouse at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto

Today, the site of the old zoo is Riverdale Farm and Park. The 7.5-acre farm opened in 1978 and is a beautiful representation of a working Ontario farm. It’s not a petting zoo. Visitors can chat with the staff while they’re doing their chores which include feeding the animals, collecting eggs, horse grooming and cleaning the paddocks, stalls and pens. Along with keeping horses, sheep, cows, pigs, goats, chickens and geese, there are also flower, vegetable and herb gardens, ponds and forests.

Many of the zoo’s buildings were torn down; however, three remnants remain:

The Residence: Built in 1902 by prisoners of nearby Don Jail and used as the zookeeper’s residence, zoo hospital & staff building (next to today’s Meeting House).

Donnybrook Ruin: Once a two-storey structure, the tower and the exterior walls of the main floor are all that remain (next to today’s cow paddock).

Island House: Once home to many birds, waterfowl and animals (in today’s lower pond but not currently accessible).

Riverdale Farm and Park are located across the street from the historic Toronto Necropolis.

Riverdale Zoo & Riverdale Farm Photos

2022 - The Donnybrook Ruin at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto. It was once a two-storey structure; however, all that stands today are just the tower and the exterior walls of the main floor
2022 – The Donnybrook Ruin at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto. It was once a two-storey structure; however, all that stands today are just the tower and the exterior walls of the main floor
Circa 1950 - The Donnybrook at Riverdale Zoo
Circa 1950 – The Donnybrook at Riverdale Zoo (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 149)
January 21, 2024 - The Donnybrook Ruins at the Riverdale Farm
January 21, 2024 – The Donnybrook Ruins at the Riverdale Farm
1914 – Visitors at the Riverdale Zoo, once in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto
1914 – Visitors at the Riverdale Zoo, once in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto (Library and Archives Canada PA-061110)
1907 - Crowds at the Riverdale Zoo. Today, the site is home to the Riverdale Farm and Park
1907 – Crowds at the Riverdale Zoo. Today, the site is home to the Riverdale Farm and Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 646)
August 18, 1927 – A view of the Riverdale Zoo, once in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
August 18, 1927 – A view of the Riverdale Zoo, once in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 11317)
1900 - The Riverdale Zoo, once in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto
1900 – The Riverdale Zoo, once in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto (Toronto Public Library R-1164)
July 13, 1912 - A busy Saturday at Riverdale Zoo
July 13, 1912 – A busy Saturday at Riverdale Zoo (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 53, Item 36)
1925 - The Duck Pond at Riverdale Zoo
1925 – The Duck Pond at Riverdale Zoo (Toronto Public Library R-1211)
2022 - The bridge over the lower pond to the Island House at Riverdale Farm
2022 – The bridge over the lower pond to the Island House at Riverdale Farm
2022 – The Island House in the lower pond at the Riverdale Farm
2022 – The Island House in the lower pond at the Riverdale Farm
1952 - The bridge and lower pond at Riverdale Zoo
1952 – The bridge and lower pond at Riverdale Zoo (Toronto Public Library R-1235)
1925 - An aerial view of Riverdale Zoo. Today the site of the former zoo is home to Riverdale Farm
1925 – An aerial view of Riverdale Zoo. Today the site of the former zoo is home to Riverdale Farm (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 3789)
1952 - The Pavillion once at the Riverdale Zoo
1952 – The Pavillion once at the Riverdale Zoo (Toronto Public Library R-1236)
1955 - A llama at the Riverdale Zoo. Notice the Necropolis Chapel in the background
1955 – A llama at the Riverdale Zoo. Notice the Necropolis Chapel in the background (Toronto Public Library R-1235)
1950 - The Riverdale Zoo once at the site of Riverdale Farm
1950 – The Riverdale Zoo once at the site of Riverdale Farm (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 148)
May 28, 1928 - Entrance to the Riverdale Zoo from Winchester St
May 28, 1928 – Entrance to the Riverdale Zoo from Winchester St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 5868)
1955 - Looking southeast towards the gates at Winchester St and Sumach St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
1955 – Looking southeast towards the gates at Winchester St and Sumach St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood (Toronto Public Library R-1158)
2020 - Looking southeast toward the park entrance at Winchester St and Sumach St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto
2020 – Looking southeast toward the park entrance at Winchester St and Sumach St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto
1972 – Looking southeast from Winchester St and Sumach St toward the Riverdale Park entrance in Cabbagetown
1972 – Looking southeast from Winchester St and Sumach St toward the Riverdale Park entrance in Cabbagetown (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 841, File 29, Item 28)
2023 - Looking southeast toward the park entrance at Winchester St and Sumach St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
2023 – Looking southeast toward the park entrance at Winchester St and Sumach St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
2022 - A horse in the paddock at Riverdale Farm. In the background is the Donnybrook Ruin from the former Riverdale Zoo
2022 – A horse in the paddock at Riverdale Farm. In the background is the Donnybrook Ruin from the former Riverdale Zoo
2022 - The entrance to Riverdale Farm and the Simpson House
2022 – The entrance to Riverdale Farm and the Simpson House
2020 - Donnybrook Ruin at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
2020 – Donnybrook Ruin at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
2020 – Horses at the Riverdale Farm
2020 – Horses at the Riverdale Farm
2020 - Donnybrook Ruin at the Riverdale Farm in Cabbagetown
2020 – Donnybrook Ruin at the Riverdale Farm in Cabbagetown
2020 - An ivy-covered Donnybrook Ruin at Cabbagetown's Riverdale Farm
2020 – An ivy-covered Donnybrook Ruin at Cabbagetown’s Riverdale Farm
2021 – The Cow Paddock with the Francey Barn in the background at Riverdale Farm
2021 – The Cow Paddock with the Francey Barn in the background at Riverdale Farm
2021 – The Goat Paddock at the Riverdale Farm
2021 – The Goat Paddock at the Riverdale Farm
2022 - The Simpson House, a Victorian-style farmhouse at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto
2022 – The Simpson House, a Victorian-style farmhouse at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto
2019 – The Meeting House on the right and The Residence in the background, on Residence Rd at Riverdale Farm
2019 – The Meeting House on the right and The Residence in the background, on Residence Rd at Riverdale Farm
2020 - The Residence is next to the Duck Pond at Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood. Built in 1902 by prisoners of nearby Don Jail and used as the zookeeper's residence, zoo hospital and staff building
2020 – The Residence is next to the Duck Pond at Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood. Built in 1902 by prisoners of nearby Don Jail and used as the zookeeper’s residence, zoo hospital and staff building
2019 – The Francey Barn at the Riverdale Farm was donated by Mrs Garnett Francey to the City of Toronto in 1977
2019 – The Francey Barn at the Riverdale Farm was donated by Mrs Garnett Francey to the City of Toronto in 1977
2020 - The Pig & Poultry Barn at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto
2020 – The Pig & Poultry Barn at the Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto
2020 – A sign inside the Pig & Poultry Barn at the Riverdale Farm
2020 – A sign inside the Pig & Poultry Barn at the Riverdale Farm
2020 – Pig Pen at the Riverdale Farm
2020 – Pig Pen at the Riverdale Farm
2019 – The Drive Shed at the Riverdale Farm
2019 – The Drive Shed at the Riverdale Farm
 2021 – The Riverdale Farm during the pandemic
2021 – The Riverdale Farm during the pandemic
2019 – The Riverdale Farm map
2019 – The Riverdale Farm map
2021 – The heritage plaque reads: “Daniel Lamb Businessman, City Father A founder of Toronto’s first zoo 1842 – 1920” Cabbagetown Preservation Association
2021 – The heritage plaque reads: 

“Daniel Lamb  
Businessman, City Father 
A founder of Toronto’s first zoo 1842 – 1920” 

Cabbagetown Preservation Association
2021 – The heritage plaque reads:

“Daniel Lamb
Businessman, City Father
A founder of Toronto’s first zoo 1842 – 1920”

Cabbagetown Preservation Association
SOURCE

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