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Cabbagetown

The Cabbage Gardens

How did Cabbagetown get its unusual name? The legend goes that its name originated in the 1840s, when thousands of Irish immigrants settled in the area. Impoverished by the potato famine in their homeland, they could only afford to eat stew made from the cabbage growing in their front yards. Cabbage became one of the main staples of their diet, and the name Cabbagetown stuck, as it is still used more than 150 years later. Other versions of the story note that so much cabbage was cooked by these poor immigrants that the neighborhood reeked of the smell of this odiferous vegetable.

Cabbagetown by Jay Woodworth
Cabbagetown by Jay Woodworth

From Rags to Riches

Few Toronto neighborhoods have undergone such radical change as Cabbagetown. The area now known as Cabbagetown bears little resemblance to the old Cabbagetown. Decades ago, it was a run-down, low-or-no-income neighborhood, the ‘largest Anglo-Saxon slum in North America’ as Hugh Garner wrote in his novel “Cabbagetown”. Being a blue-collar neighborhood, Cabbagetown was hit hard during the Great Depression.

The neighbourhood stayed this way for many years until the first enterprising homebuyers saw potential in Cabbagetown. The city’s historical streetscapes lined with Victorian architecture, struggling artists, panhandlers and an array of independent businesses has undergone a slight gentrification in recent years. Much of the original Cabbagetown was razed in the late 1940s to make room for the Regent Park housing project, and many incoming franchise businesses were opened.

In the 1970s, affluent Canadians began buying up dilapidated Victorian houses and restored them to their original beauty with whimsical architectural detailing, brightly painted walls, delicate iron fencing, carefully manicured lawns and fragrant gardens. Since 1988, the cultural and historical integrity of the area has been managed by the Cabbagetown Preservation Association (CPA), which is made up of local residents.

Cabbagetown has now turned into one of Toronto’s most popular neighbourhoods, attracting a large number of Bohemian types, namely artists, folk musicians, and writers.

The Victorian Neighbourhood

Almost every style of Victorian architecture can be found in Cabbagetown’s vibrant streetscapes, including Gothic, Queen Anne, Italianate, and everything in between. The narrow streets provide a perfect backdrop for the charming urban gardens. Tall slender row houses, built between 1860 and 1895, rub shoulders with arts and crafts bungalows and gingerbread cottages, along with a few larger detached homes sprinkled in between.

Cabbagetown by Jay Woodworth
Cabbagetown by Jay Woodworth

Cabbagetown was once described by the New York Times as “containing the largest collection of Victorian homes in North America”. In efffect Toronto’s true scale museum of 19th century residential architecture, Cabbagetown has become a Heritage Conservation District protected by municipal bylaw. The neighbourhood flag, featuring a green cabbage on a white background, is bestowed on a home or shop owner for architectural or design excellence.

What Style Is Your Cabbagetown Home?

We often identify our homes as Victorian, but “Victorian” isn’t a style; it’s a period. The Victorians loved to play “architectural dress-up” using designs from other times. In the decades following the Victorian era, new styles appeared with their own characteristics. Knowing Cabbagetown ‘s styles gives some guidance in making decisions when a home or its details are being restored. If you are a homeowner in Cabbagetown and you‘d like to find out the style of your home, you can have a look at the Preservation Association Website.

Riverdale Park & Riverdale Farm

If you’re looking for a place to spend some quality time with your family, Riverdale Park is one of the best choices. It is Cabbagetown’s recreational centre, located at the corner of Winchester and Sumach, offering sports fields, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a jogging track. It also serves as an access point to the Lower Don Recreation Trail. In the 1970s, the park was the original site proposed for the 40,000 seat stadium that would become the SkyDome. The plan was eventually abandoned, in part due to the strong objections of local Alderman John Sewell.

Riverdale Farm chicken by mattjiggins
Riverdale Farm chicken by mattjiggins

In Riverdale park, you ’ll also find the municipally operated Riverdale Farm, where you can take your children to enjoy demonstrations of daily farming chores like animal feedings, egg collection, cow and goat milking, horse grooming, and other agricultural concepts and experiences. There are pathways through 7.5 acres of wooded areas, around ponds and into butterfly-herb-vegetable-flower gardens. Along the way, as you come across barns and outdoor paddocks, you may say hello to a wide variety of livestock, including cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and cats. Beyond a delightful stroll, the Farm offers activities and fun for all ages. Some highlights include the parent and tot programs, pottery, quilting, summer day camps, yoga, tree planting, fresh bread from the wood oven, and the Tuesday Farmers’ Market.

Other Green Spaces

Allan Gardens, at the corner of Carlton & Jarvis, offers outdoor gardens, greenhouses and the glassed-in Allan Gardens Conservatory, providing a tranquil setting year-round in which wedding photographs are commonly staged. It is especially lovely over the Christmas holidays, when a holiday flower show takes place in the tropical gardens.

Allen gardens Toronto by carolsouthern
Allen gardens Toronto
by carolsouthern

Other nearby green spaces in Cabbagetown include David A. Balfour Park and Todmorden Mills Park.

Shops and Restaurants

When in Cabbagetown, downtown Toronto is at your doorstep. The ‘Old Cabbagetown’ shopping district on Parliament Street and Carleton Street offers a lively selection of one-of-a-kind shops and a vast array of restaurants, while a few hidden gems are tucked away on the smaller residential streets. In the neighbourhood, there are also delightful bed and breakfast accommodations for overnight guests.

Community Centres

The Cabbagetown Festival

Whether you are a resident of Cabbagetown or not, you can enjoy the most notable event of the neighbourhood, the two-day Cabbagetown Fall Festival, which takes place in September every year. No matter the residents’ diverse backgrounds, this festival is a great opportunity for them to show their strong sense of community spirit. The parade, full of bands, floats and local politicians, start marching on the Saturday morning of the festival at 10 a.m.

Cabbagetown festival by jramspott
Cabbagetown festival by jramspott

The festival also features an arts and crafts fair, a dog show, a community-wide yard sale and the popular Cabbagetown Short Film & Video Festival, which profiles the best in film works under 15 minutes long that are submitted from budding filmmakers throughout the world There is also the ever-popular Tour of Homes organized by the Cabbagetown Preservation Association, where several fabulous local homes are opened to a paying public.

Special Projects in Cabbagetown

Cabbagetown People: a unique heritage program which commemorates the numerous historical personalities and colourful characters who lived in Cabbagetown and who have contributed to Canada’s rich heritage. Its aim is to humanize the past, engage both children and adults in their local history, and ensure that this program continues to preserve Canadian heritage for future generations.

Commemorative Street Signage: in 2004, with a grant from The Tour of Homes to help identify Cabbagetown as a Heritage District, the CPA and its designer-in-residence, Steve Yeates, worked with the city to produce signage to mark seven intersections. With the extension of the Heritage Conservation District to west of Parliament Street and south of Carlton, funds were raised to mark intersections in those areas with commemorative street signage.

Church and Wellesley, Toronto’s Gay Village

Cabbagetown is a few steps away from Canada’s largest gay community. Centred around the intersection of Church & Wellesley Streets, the area is packed with cafes, restaurants, gay-oriented shops and a vast array of bars and hot nightspots that cater to an irresistibly seductive mosaic of orientations, cultures, ages, shapes and sizes. The Showtime series Queer as Folk was filmed in the Village.

The 519 Church Street Community Centre Event
The 519 Church Street Community Centre Event

Church and Wellesley is also home to the annual Pride Week celebrations, which takes place during the last week of June. Toronto Pride is the largest event of its kind in Canada; the Pride Parade features over 90 floats and attracts an enthusiastic crowd that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

Another notable event that take place in the area is the Church Street Fetish Fair with more than 30.000 people attending annually.

There is also The 519 Church Street Community Centre, a City of Toronto-run recreation centre that has been adopted locally as the Queer Community Centre. The “519” is a well-known LGBT-friendly space that serves as the meeting place for numerous social and political groups, though its programming and services are not exclusive to LGBT groups and organizations.

Interesting tidbits

  • Cabbagetown is home to the Danny Grossman Dance Company, the Toronto Dance Theatre, and the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre.
  • Located at 200 Winchester Street, Necropolis Cemetery is the final resting place of some notable Canadians including William Lyon Mackenzie, leader of the 1837 Rebellion.
  • In the book “Cabbagetown, The story of a Victorian neighbourhood”, Penina Coopersmith traces Cabbagetown’ s origins in the eighteenth century, its growth in the Victorian era, its decline in the thirties, and its renaissance today. You can read a free copy of the book here.

Location and Transport

The neighbourhood of Corktown, south of Regent Park, now incorporates part of the southern reaches of ‘old’ Cabbagetown. Along with a small number of houses east of River Street, this is the only part of the original Cabbagetown area not to have been demolished in the 1940s. Old Cabbagetown is in downtown Toronto, at the intersection of Parliament and Carlton Streets. Original boundaries were Gerrard Street to the north, Queen Street to the south, Parliament Street to the west and the Don River to the east.

Today, Cabbagetown is north of the original neighborhood, less than 10 minutes from Toronto’s downtown and mid-town shopping, entertainment and business districts. Its boundaries have been often debated. Cabbagetown ‘s current boundaries are generally accepted as Gerrard Street to the south, Wellesley Street to the north, Sherbourne Street to the west and the Don River to the east.

The Sherbourne bus and Parliament streetcar run through Cabbagetown and connect to stations on the Bloor-Danforth subway line. From the Bloor-Danforth line, get off at Castle Frank station and take the 65 bus. Also, the Wellesley bus and Carlton streetcar connect to the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line. From the Yonge line, get off at College station and take the eastbound Carlton street car. For motorists, the Don Valley Parkway is about five minutes away from the neighbourhood. By bicycle, take the Martin Goodman Trail to the foot of Parliament Street and ride north to reach Cabbagetown.

Schools

Cabbagetown ‘s public schools include:

Interested in living in the neighbourhood? Browse the MLS Listings for the perfect house or condominium available in this area.

Cabbagetown map
Cabbagetown map
Cabbagetown map2
Cabbagetown satellite view