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.
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.
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.