Throwback Thursday: The opening of Riverdale Farm, and other news from September 1978

Volunteer Eric Morse continues his look back at Cabbagetown through the lens of Seven News, a community paper covering the then-Ward 7, including Cabbagetown.

Riverdale Farm was about to open its gates for the first time on Sept. 9, 1978, and great was the anticipation. The old Riverdale Zoo had closed in June 1974 but the Donvale Association of Homeowners and Residents (the CRA’s forerunner) had formed a Riverdale Farm Committee back in 1972 and, after several iterations and changes of membership, the Committee was able to implement a plan to convert the old zoo to a working farm.

One barn (the Francey Barn) was brought in from the countryside (Markham) and carefully rebuilt on new foundations.The other was designed and built from scratch, as was the Simpson House, designed on the model of a 19th-century farm home. As Ald. Janet Howard notes in the article below, it was named for local architect and conservationist B. Napier Simpson, who was among the members of the Canadian Historic Sites Commission killed in a Newfoundland plane crash in June 1978. Howard notes that the house will contain, among other things, a snack bar “serving no junk food”.

The opening managed to coincide with Seven News’s Sept. 9 publication date but, in the Sept 23rd edition, George Rust d’Eye fills us in on the great day. Everybody who was anybody in Toronto was there with the exception of John Sewell, who was out of town. As the municipal election was imminent, candidates abounded. Rust d’Eye notes regarding the Simpson House that it was “a handsome and appropriate addition to the Don Vale neighbourhood”.

Speaking of Don Vale, many current residents of Cabbagetown might not really be aware that what we call Cabbagetown (the area bounded by the Necropolis, the Don, Gerrard Street East, and Parliament) is not the original Cabbagetown. That was south of Gerrard, and local author Hugh Garner’s famous Depression-era novel Cabbagetown really referred to the areas south of Gerrard that were razed in the ’50s to become Regent Park, and farther south to what is now Corktown. The old Don Vale neighbourhood only gradually acquired the new name as it gentrified. (author’s aside – I’d have thought that “Don Vale” sounded much more stylish than “Cabbagetown” but who knows what lurks in the minds of real estate agents? Incidentally, the shifting of place names in any locale is a common phenomenon; for example, of all the ancient bridges of the City of Rome, none still bears its original Roman name. The ancient names themselves are still in use, but for different bridges!) In any case, the cultural appropriation of “Cabbagetown” was well under way by 1978, and aroused some ire, as the following letter to the editor bears witness:

“I find it nauseating to have to witness all this ‘Old Cabbagetown’ ballyhoo,” writes Peter Parker of Ontario Street. “These people who are now calling themselves ‘Cabbagetowners’ would never have set foot in Cabbagetown.”

Still on neighbourhoods and their fates, but moving a couple of blocks westward, the area now known as Winchester Park but then occasionally referred to as South St. James Town was seemingly dealt its deathblow as, in the final stage of an approvals process, Cabinet approved the development of Winchester Square by Meridian Corporation, the developers of St James Town.

The article mourned the defeat of residents’ resistance. The odd thing is that the development appears to have gotten into the ground, but never got out of the ground. The foundations were dug, but the hoardings remained up for some thirty years until a much more-modest structure was finally built on the site around in the late 2000s.

And the 519 Community Centre held a community festival.

The full stories introduced above are available at http://www.connexions.org/SevenNews/Docs/SevenNewsFront09.htm . The PDF archive is a remarkable achievement by Connexions, a collective dedicated to preserving social activism, of which 7 News is surely a shining example.

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