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

1950s - The Donnybook at Riverdale Zoo
1950s – The Donnybook 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 also to donate animals. In 1884, the park became 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 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 for the animals’ comfort. The enclosures were cramped and dark, which was typical for the time period.

In the 1950s, a group of citizens put together 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.

2022 - The Simpson House at Riverdale Farm. The farm is located at 201 Winchester St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
2022 – The Simpson House at Riverdale Farm. The farm is located at 201 Winchester St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood

Riverdale Farm & Park

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 (beside today’s Meeting House).

Donnybrook Ruin: Once a two-storey structure, all that remains are the tower and main floor (beside 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 Ruins at Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
2022 – The Donnybrook Ruins at Riverdale Farm in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
1950s - The Donnybook at Riverdale Zoo
1950s – The Donnybook at Riverdale Zoo (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 149)
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)
1925 - The Duck Pond at Riverdale Zoo with Riverdale Park in the background
1925 – The Duck Pond at Riverdale Zoo with Riverdale Park in the background (Toronto Public Library R-1211)
1913 - A busy Saturday at Riverdale Zoo
1913 – A busy Saturday at Riverdale Zoo (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 53, Item 36)
1952 - The bridge and lower pond at Riverdale Zoo
1952 – The bridge and lower pond at Riverdale Zoo (Toronto Public Library R-1235)
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
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)
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)
1928 - Entrance to the Riverdale Zoo from Winchester St
1928 – Entrance to the Riverdale Zoo from Winchester St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 5868)
1955 - Looking southeast towards the gate Winchester St and Sumach St
1955 – Looking southeast towards the gate Winchester St and Sumach St (Toronto Public Library R-1158)
2020 - The gates at Winchester St and Sumach St, southeast corner
2020 – The gates at Winchester St and Sumach St, southeast corner
2022 - A horse in the paddock at Riverdale Farm. In the background are the Donnybrook Ruins from the former Riverdale Zoo
2022 – A horse in the paddock at Riverdale Farm. In the background are the Donnybrook Ruins from the former Riverdale Zoo
2022 - The entrance to Riverdale Farm at Winchester St and Sumach St. In the background is the Simpson House
2022 – The entrance to Riverdale Farm at Winchester St and Sumach St. In the background is the Simpson House
2022 - The Simpson House at Riverdale Farm. The farm is located at 201 Winchester St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
2022 – The Simpson House at Riverdale Farm. The farm is located at 201 Winchester St in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood
2020 - Donnybrook Ruins at Riverdale Farm
2020 – Donnybrook Ruins at Riverdale Farm
2020 - The Residence at Riverdale Farm
2020 – The Residence at Riverdale Farm
2021 - Daniel Lamb heritage plaque on Winchester St in Cabbagetown
2021 – Daniel Lamb heritage plaque on Winchester St in Cabbagetown
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