The Riverdale Zoo was Toronto's first zoo. The zoo first opened its doors in 1894. It housed animals donated or purchased by the city's elite and wealthy. The zoo featured animals in dark and dreary cages, with little thought of habitat or landscaping.
The Riverdale Zoo was finally closed in June 1974, when the new and modern Toronto Zoo was opened in the north-east corner of the city. Most of the original buildings were torn down and the site leveled soon after closing, but three of the original zoo structures remain. Those being the Residence, the Donnybrook Ruin, and the Island House.
The Residence was built in 1902 by prisoners from the Don Jail. It has been used as a residence and office for staff, zoo hospital, and even as a temporary morgue for the Necropolis Cemetery across the road. Today is used as a home for community events and houses the Cabbagetown Regent Park Museum.
The Donnybrook Ruins was originally a two storey building, with this tower being all that remains.
The Island House is found down the hill in the lower area near the ponds. You have to cross an old stone bridge to reach the site, but its well worth the stroll. This is the only cage structure still remaining. It held different types of animals and birds during its day as a zoo attraction. This was also known as the monkey house, but from my visits to this zoo as a small child, I can remember the monkeys being in a large indoor cave type of structure, but my memory is fuzzy at best.
The area now houses Riverdale Farm, which is a showcase to display the usual farm animals and activities to the people of Toronto, who may never get any closer to a real farm. This is a great place to bring youngsters, and a fabulous place to explore the remains of the old zoo.
New buildings including barns and a classic farmhouse, have been erected since the old zoo closed, but it retains the original and rural feel of a farm in the middle of a large city.