7 News Archive
Riverdale Zoo/Riverdale Farm

In the 1850s the city of Toronto purchased some land in the Don Valley with the intention of building a connected jail and work-farm. On this land they built the Don Jail but instead of creating a connecting farm they eventually used the remaining land to create Riverdale Park. In 1899 a local municipal alderman named Daniel Lamb donated a small number of animals to the city which made up the original Riverdale Zoo, on a location just to the south of the Necropolis Cemetery.

Over the coming years the zoo received more animal donations including one of its most famous guests, an elephant named Princess Rita. Over the years they acquired other non-native animals like lions, snakes, hippos, monkeys and others, many of whom were not suited for the Canadian climate and did not last long.

As cultural perceptions of how animals should be treated changed over the course of the 20th century the small enclosures and cages at the Riverdale Zoo seemed out of date. So, when construction on the Toronto Zoo was completed in 1975 the Riverdale Zoo closed down. In 1978 the Riverdale Farm opened in its place showcasing smaller numbers of farm animals better suited to the Canadian climate.

Related Reading
Chris Bateman, A Brief History of the Riverdale Zoo, Blog TO (May 18, 2013)
George Rust-D’eye, The Riverdale Zoo, Seven News, April 12, 1975.
Penina Coopersmith, Cabbagetown: The Story of a Victorian Neighbourhood (Toronto: James and Lorimer Company, 1998)

Elephant at Riverdale Zoo