7 News Archive
Don Vale ("Old Cabbagetown")

Don Vale, or “Old Cabbagetown” as it now usually called, is a small neighbourhood on the west bank of the Don Valley. Roughly bordered by Parliament and Gerrard Streets as well as St. James Cemetery, the Necropolis Cemetery, and Riverdale Park, Don Vale is one of the quietest and greenest parts of the old Ward 7.

During the 19th century Don Vale was a mixed-class community with most residents living either in working-class cottages or stately middle-class homes. As was common for the older areas south of Bloor Street, however, in the early 20th century most of the area’s middle-class residents left the neighbourhood and moved further north. Many of the larger homes in the neighbourhood were then converted to rooming houses. As Don Vale and the surrounding area became more crowded and housing conditions worsened, local philanthropists financed the Spruce Court apartments, which along with Riverdale Courts were some of the first social housing in Canada.

After the Second World War much of the very old housing in the area was looking run down. Although perhaps not as bad as St. James Town to the west or the area that would be demolished to create Regent Park to the south, many houses were in need of repair. In 1963 the city declared that it was going to apply “urban renewal” to parts of the neighbourhood. Local residents, however, were not going to allow the city to demolish local homes without consultation and the Don Vale Ratepayers Association fought back. The resulting battle over the future of Don Vale was long and arduous for both sides, but in the end residents were able to stop the city from demolishing homes in their neighbourhood.

During the 1960s middle-class residents also began to move back into the neighbourhood. Labelled by long-time residents as “whitepainters,” these new middle-class residents bought up the old Victorian Era homes and renovated them. While many of these new residents were simply drawn to these historic homes, their presence began to increase local property values and rents beyond what working-class people could afford. So, even though they had defended their neighbourhood from urban renewal, many working-class residents were eventually driven out as the neighbourhood became too expensive.

At some point in the 1970s local business people and real estate agents began to refer to Don Vale as “Old Cabbagetown.” This was, in part, because much of the rest of what had actually been called Cabbagetown had been destroyed by urban renewal, but it was also a strategy by homeowners and the local business association to promote the historic character of the neighbourhood.

Kevin Brushett, “Blots on the Face of the City: The Politics of Slum Housing and Urban Renewal in Toronto 1940-1970” (PhD diss., Queen's University, 2001)

Penina Coopersmith, Cabbagetown: The Story of a Victorian Neighbourhood (Toronto: James and Lorimer Company, 1998)