Points of Interest > Riverdale Park

Riverdale Park opened as a site for public recreation spanning both sides of the Don River in 1880. The land on the east side of the Don River had once been part of John Scadding's holdings, which ran from the waterfront to Danforth Avenue between the Don River and today's Broadview Avenue. Journalist and publisher John Ross Robertson described the Scadding farm as it was in the late 1820s or 30s:

"Around the homestead fields of... wheat, rye, barley, oats and maize were seen; and orchards containing a great variety of the finest kinds of apple and other fruits.... Asparagus beds and celery trenches were laid out; hemp was grown, and melons of all kinds.... In the flower garden bloomed most of the ordinary English flowers, especially roses of several species.... The [river] flats were converted into meadows, where sheep were to be seen, and all the usual domestic animals; and in convenient nooks here and there, stacks of hay."

Skaters on the Don
Skaters on the Don near Riverdale Park. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 461

Scadding's log cabin, built in 1840 on the east side of the Don, just south of the present day park, was relocated to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in 1879.

In 1856 the City of Toronto purchased 120 acres of the Scadding farm in order to construct a jail and an industrial farm on the site. The Don Jail, constructed on the east side of the river, opened in 1864. Riverdale Park opened on the same site in 1880, and ten years later the jail property was separated out from the park lands. The park was later expanded to its current area of 162 acres. The Riverdale Zoo, Toronto's first, opened within the park grounds in 1894 after several years of lobbying by Toronto alderman Daniel Lamb.

If you walk along the eastern perimeter of the park near Broadview Avenue, you'll notice a row of tall green exhaust pipes. These pipes are used to vent methane gas from a landfill site beneath the park last used in the 1920s.

Riverdale Park, looking west, May 2006 Photo: Jennifer Bonnell

In the early 1960s construction of the Don Valley Parkway bisected the park and reduced its area reduced to 104 acres. Shortly afterwards, the City parks department announced an ambitious park improvement plan that greatly enhanced the sports facilities at the park. In 1974, the Riverdale Zoo closed its doors, and its animals were moved to the new Toronto Zoo in Scarborough. Riverdale Farm opened in 1978 as a historic site and education centre.

Text: Jennifer Bonnell


Bring Back the Don: Riverdale Park East Forest and Wetland

The Task Force to Bring Back the Don. Bringing Back the Don. City of Toronto, 1991.

City of Toronto Culture Division. Riverdale Farm: A Brief History of Riverdale

John Ross Robertson, Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto: A Collection of Historical Sketches of the Old Town of York from 1792 until 1833, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1893 (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894), vol. 1, 194-95.

Lost Rivers, Points of Interest along Lost Streams: Riverdale Zoo


Jennifer Bonnell & Marcel Fortin, 2009. A member project of NiCHE in partnership
with the University of Toronto Libraries - Map & Data Library Contact Us