Oh my goodness … anyone in Toronto in need of a bit of stress relief should head right on over to Riverdale Farm. Located a short walk from Parliament Street and Carlton, it’s a farm right inside the city, and what a wonderful dreamlike place it is. My sister and I went one recent afternoon and I took lots of pictures to show you.
Visitors are welcome to just walk right in, free of charge. While we were there we didn’t see a single person who appeared to be working there, although I understand from their site that there are times that you can watch and interact with the farmer at work. On that lovely Monday we were left to enjoy it all at our own leisure and nearly had the place to ourselves. With no petting or feeding allowed, the animals were relaxed in their natural habitat.
A little background : Riverdale Farm is a 7.5 acre park, with everything you would have found on a typical family farm in Ontario during the late 1800s to early 1900s. It was created in the late 70s, on land that had been bought by Toronto in 1856 from one of the first Europeans to have lived in the area, John Scadding. The land was first used as a park and then became the city’s first zoo in 1894, remaining so for 120 years until the current zoo was established in Scarborough. Following the moving of the zoo, the residents of Toronto were given the gift of this enchanting farm.
Here are some historic photographs of the former Riverdale Zoo that I found within the City of Toronto Archives. There were also pictures of the zoo animals but they’re too heart-breaking to repost. To put it bluntly, there appeared to be little regard taken to the well being of animals back in those days.
Today, where cages and pits once were, there are safe and comfortable homes for healthy, happy and well-cared-for animals.
There’s a 160 year old barn that originally stood on a “real” farm located northeast of Toronto, owned by a family named Francey, giving it its name “The Francey Barn”. It was donated and moved to the Riverdale site in 1977, where it was rebuilt stone by stone and board by board.
To go with this historical building, a farmhouse was built to exactly represent the one that would have been on the Francey farm back in 1858. This Victorian-style building known as The Simpson House was designed by restoration architect, Napier Simpson Jr, who sadly died shortly after its completion.
Additionally, there’s a pig and poultry barn, and large paddocks for the horses, donkeys, cows, sheep and goats, complete with protective nooks and fields of daisies. There’s also a big duck pond for the waterfowl. The animals who live there are special in that they are direct descendants of historic breeds, not found on today’s commercial farms.
Somehow we missed getting to the pig pens, so no pictures of pigs :(
^ Francey Barn ^
^ Horse and donkey corral – you can see part of a donkey on the left, however the horses stayed out of the sun in the protection of their little hut. ^
A walk beyond where the animals are, brings you to the original zoo-keepers house, that was built by prisoners at the former Don Jail in 1902.
And over on a small island reached by crossing an ancient stone bridge, is a ruin from the old zoo, where the monkeys used to live.
All is found amidst peaceful gardens and a mature forest.
It’s truly an idyllic place, that we are very lucky to have access to. After the city’s former administration suggested it be closed in 2011, in an effort to save money, it was saved thanks to donations by the Weston family and other private corporate donors, guaranteeing its operation for another decade.
After walking around for a couple of hours, we left to go for a late lunch. In the blink of an eye we were out of the rural wonderland and back amoungst houses, shops, and tall buildings.
We decided to try Cranberries on Parliament and were happy we did. Good food and very friendly service.
Riverdale Farm has a fun sounding Fall Festival coming up the weekend of September 9 and 10, complete with corn shucking, chicken calling and cow flap tossing. Your guess is as good as mine, lol! Details.
Thanks very much for checking out my post,