Walking Tour: Cabbagetown
Start: Allan Gardens.
Finish: Sumach and Gerrard streets (for streetcar to College Station).
Time: 2 to 3 hours.
Best Time: Tuesdays from May through October, when the Farmers' Market is open in Riverdale Park West.
Worst Time: There is no worst time; all of the other attractions on this tour can be seen on weekdays and weekends.
Cabbagetown, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, has gone from rags to riches more times than most can count. Built up in the 1840s by Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine, the name of the district comes from the cabbage plants they grew in their front yards. It has been both a wealthy enclave and a slum, but today, the residential streets have been gentrified, and the surrounding commercial streets are on an upswing.
1. Allan Gardens
This was Toronto's first civic park. For many years, it ran to the seedy side, but since the University of Toronto took over the care of the greenhouses in 2004, it has become a charming place to visit again (but not at night). The Children's Conservatory is well worth a look, but the crown jewel of the garden is the Edwardian Palm House.
At the corner of Carlton and Sherbourne sts., you'll see:
2. St. Luke's United Church
Known as Sherbourne Street Methodist when the first sermon was preached here in 1887, this is one of Toronto's most beautiful examples of religious architecture. From the outside, the imposing stonework and turrets make it look like a castle. Inside, the sanctuary has been completely refurbished in the past few years. The glorious stained-glass windows are the pièce de résistance (the church once had a wealthy congregation, and you'll see that the windows were all "dedicated" by businessmen trying to outdo one another).
On the N side of Carlton St. is:
3. St. Peter's Anglican Church
This parish was originally based in a cemetery chapel. In 1866, John Strachan, the Aberdeen-born Bishop of Toronto, opened this church. It's a pretty example of High Victorian Gothic, and later additions are in keeping with its original style.
Walk E along Carlton St. to:
4. Daniel et Daniel
This food shop at 248 Carlton St. (tel. 416/968-9275) is a good place for simple but tasty fare, like meat pies and generous sandwiches. There are freshly baked pastries, pâtés, tarts, cakes, and other treats made in-house.
You're now at the intersection with:
5. Parliament Street
Parliament Street got its name because the first Upper Canada government buildings in "muddy little York" (as Toronto was then known) were built at its southern end in 1793. Today, it's the main commercial artery of Cabbagetown. This isn't exactly trendy (at press time, Starbucks had yet to set up an outpost on this stretch), but you can make some great finds. At no. 480 is a branch of Planet Aid, the secondhand-clothing store that raises money for projects in the developing world. Sharon's, at no. 503, is a small but glamorous boutique with clothing and accessories. Green's Antiques, at no. 529, is a true gem, with plenty of great chairs, ottomans, and sofas, many of which have been newly upholstered by the talented staff.
6. Peartree or Jet Fuel
One reliable place to grab a bite is the Peartree (507 Parliament St.; tel. 416/962-8190), which serves hearty salads such as the goat cheese and spinach. Another great spot is Jet Fuel (519 Parliament St.; tel. 416/968-9982), a coffee shop that has become a local landmark (bike couriers love this place). Everything here is made with espresso, so be prepared for a good jolt.
Turn right at Winchester St. (at the corner, you'll pass the Laurentian Room), and walk E. At the NE corner of the intersection of Winchester and Metcalfe sts., you'll see:
7. Toronto Dance Theatre
The former St. Enoch's Presbyterian Church was built in 1891 in a Romanesque Revival style. Oddly, the redbrick exterior makes the building (almost) blend in with the rest of the neighborhood (quite a feat, given its size).
Continue E to:
8. 94 Winchester St.
This was once the home of magician Doug Henning. You can't go inside (it's someone else's home now), but a plaque at the front commemorates his life (1947-2000) and immortalizes him as "magician, teacher, politician." The first two are easy to get, but the last requires some explanation. In 1994, Henning stood for election to Parliament as a member of the Natural Law Party, an organization memorable mainly for its belief in levitation.
Continue walking E on Winchester St. and turn S onto:
9. Sackville Street
This quiet street had some of the loveliest homes in Cabbagetown. While the architecture is an eclectic mix, you'll mostly see variations on Victorian and Queen Anne styles. Walk down to Sackville Place (the street will be only on your left side). Across from it is Pine Terrace, a series of Victorian redbrick town houses built in 1886.
Walk N back to Winchester Ave. and follow it E to Sumach St., where you'll find:
10. Riverdale Park West
This is a lovely park that's a favorite with neighboring families. While you stop to enjoy the scenery, you can learn more about Cabbagetown's history. Look for the large maps and plaques in the park's northwestern corner, and you can learn all about many of the fascinating people who once called the neighborhood theirs. (Hint: Doug Henning fit in very well.)
Across from the park, on the N side of Winchester Ave., is the:
Walk under the Gothic-inspired porte-cochere to enter Toronto's city of the dead. This is the prettiest cemetery you could hope to find, and if you stop at the office (on the right side as you step under the archway), you can pick up a free map that will guide you to the final resting places of some of Toronto's famous inhabitants. Check out the imposing stone Celtic cross that marks the grave of William Lyon Mackenzie, the leader of the Upper Canada rebellion who later became the mayor of Toronto.
When you finish here, exit through the porte-cochere; on your right is the:
12. Necropolis Chapel
This small chapel is a lovely example of High Victorian Gothic style. Architect Henry Langley built it in 1872 (he's the same person who designed the towers at St. James' Cathedral, and St. Michael's Cathedral). The chapel and the adjoining porte-cochere are widely considered to be two of the finest pieces of Gothic Revival architecture in Canada. (Langley is buried in the Necropolis, and his grave is on the map mentioned above in stop 11.)
13. Park Snacks or Riverdale Farm
You won't find many places to grab a snack within the residential heart of Cabbagetown. The exception is Park Snacks (no phone), a take-out-only spot at the southwest corner of Winchester and Sumach sts. In summer, you can buy drinks, ice cream, or sandwiches here. Riverdale Park West provides many benches that are well shaded by trees. Year-round, you can buy snacks at Riverdale Farm.
On the eastern edge of the park, you'll see the entrance to:
14. Riverdale Farm
It's a rarity: a working farm in the heart of downtown. The grounds are clean and the animals very well cared for. It's a charming place to visit, particularly if you have children in tow, but even if you don't, you can appreciate the chicks, bunnies, cows, horses, rare-breed pigs, goats, and other animals. Watch out for baby animals, too.
When you leave the farm, turn to the left and follow its perimeter; this will give you a good view of:
15. The Don Valley
There's been a big movement to "Bring Back the Don" in Toronto, and the valley has been revitalized by it. The Don River is no longer a mighty force, but at least its valley is green. Across the valley, you can see the controversial renovation of the notorious Don Jail, which is becoming a health center. Also, consider leaving the area and wind your way north up the Bayview Extension to the revitalized Evergreen Brick Works (about a 15 minute hike), a unique heritage site that was once the city's brick factories. Today, it's an environmental project that offers a view into the past alongside beautiful parklands, a cafe, and on Saturday mornings, a bustling farmers market.
Walk S along Spruce St. to Gerrard St.; from here, you can catch any westbound streetcar, which will take you to College Station.