Toronto has over a hundred unique village neighbourhoods – what are some of your favourites? One of mine is lush n’ leafy Cabbagetown!!
I recently read an article that proclaimed Cabbagetown as being “drenched in character”. Personally, I think it would be more accurate to say that Cabbagetown is “rooted” in character, anchored by a rich history that dates back to Toronto’s inception. One might even say that the intangible ‘something’ that makes this enclave a desirable place to call ‘Home’ is in the very soil it’s built upon – soil that played a large part in earning Cabbagetown its unique name!
Follow me down the quiet allées, as I dig up a short history on one of Toronto’s most coveted neighbourhoods.
Nestled between Sherbourne Street and the Don Valley, and situated south of Bloor Street East, Old Cabbagetown is a collection of treed residential streets home to several of the city’s most picturesque heritage homes. In fact, the neighbourhood contains North America’s largest collection of preserved Victorian residences! How amazing is that? Anyone who has lived in Cabbagetown knows how proud the community is, which is due in large part to its colourful past.
The first homeowner in Cabbagetown was Lieutenant–Governor John Graves Simcoe. He laid out the Town of York in 1793 (now Toronto) and a series of lots were given to the Upper Canadian elite. The first lot west of the Don River and encompassing a large part of what is today Caggebtown was given to Simcoe’s son, Francis, who was just three years old at the time! When the Simcoe family built the first house in the area, it was located about where the Castle Frank Subway Station is now situated on Bloor Street east of Sherbourne. Neat, eh?
The neighbourhood’s name – Cabbagetown – received it’s moniker in the mid-to-late 19th century after the infamous Potato Famine (1845-1849) sent waves of Irish (and Macedonian) immigrants across the Atlantic to settle in Toronto. Large numbers of these immigrants located in the area south of Bloor, and west of Sherbourne. The story goes that families were so poor they utilized every available square foot of arable land to grow vegetables, which included cultivating the front gardens of their homes. It turns out that brassicas (of the cabbage vegetable family) tend to have very shallow root systems and only require a few inches of nutrient-rich soil to grow, so they were fairly easy to cultivate making them a popular crop. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for the neighbourhood to be recognized for the abundance of mini makeshift family farms, and the prevalence of Cabbage. This distinguishing characteristic led to the neighbourhood being coined Cabbagetown, and it stuck.
Around the same time – in 1850 – the City of Toronto established the Toronto Necropolis as the city’s main cemetery, essential preserving a large swath of green space, which actually quite picturesque and peaceful. This, along with Riverdale Farm was the start of an unofficial preservation of Cabbagetown’s greatest asset: its trees. The vegetation remains extremely lush to this day, but the neighbourhood wasn’t always so beautiful.
A hundred years ago, there was one major geographical class distinction in the city: the east side typically housed the working class, while the west side accommodated a mix of residents, including the more affluent merchant and professional classes. This is because, in a booming centre of production and commerce, the most desirable locations are those which aren’t downwind from all the industry. In Toronto, our lake breezes once blew all of the city’s smoke, soot, and stench over the east end. From Toronto’s inception this hardly appealed to the affluent, so they located north and west, leaving the less desirable east side for the working class.
After World War II, poverty reached its worst in Cabbagetown, with the area south of Gerrard dominated by near-destitute families and housing, which caused an uptick is drug trafficking, prostitution, and crime in the neighbourhood. This was exacerbated by the construction of the Regent Park and Moss Park social housing complexes in the 50s. The irony is that the City was actually trying to “clean the slums” by building affordable housing, and Regent Park’s “Garden City” complexes were the council’s vehicle to do so.
Unfortunately, the tightly packed government-subsidized housing had the opposite effect; in fact, the one noticeable change in the in the social fabric of the area was that much of the crime and poverty migrated south of Gerrard. In 1970, in an effort to preserve North Cabbagetown’s beautiful streetscapes – lined with detached and semi-detached Victorian homes – the municipality passed a bylaw that prohibited the construction of any building of higher than four storeys in the area. While this effectively saved the leafy views of Cabbagetown’s residents, many believe it was the cause of the high-rise boom in St. James Town to the north, which was just outside of the borders affected by the bylaw. Did you know that St. James Town – as of March 2011 – was the most densely populated area in all of North America?! It was estimated that St. James Town’s population density was more than 18 times that of other the City of Toronto neighbourhoods.
Since the formation of St. James Town to the north and Regent Park to the south, the residential pocket north of Gerrard, east of Parliament near the Riverdale Farm became Cabbagetown as we now know it, and began undergoing a slow gentrification that has turned the enclave from lacking to luxe! Serving as a cultural hub for the creative intelligentsia, the area is increasingly popular for its more suburban aesthetic, along with its proximity to the downtown core and its interesting character housing stock. Much of the area, which is dotted with small private streets and quaint cafes, now serves a very different class; the preserved Victorians and similarly aging housing stock are now part of a designated Heritage Conservation District.
The size, character and – let’s be honest – majesty- of the collection of Victorians cannot be denied. Over a century old, these homes have undergone painstaking renovations starting around the 1980s (like in the archive photos below) right up to present day. For the most part, the individual goals of these private renos has been to preserve the exterior (as required by the HCD), while transforming the interior to suit modern aesthetics – namely the ‘open concept’ space plan – and provide the latest modern conveniences. As you can imagine, even the semi-detached Victorians in Cabbagetown are now worth over a million dollars easily, with some selling for many millions.
One of the most popular aspects of it is it’s suburban “village” feel. Indeed there are parts of Parliament street’s architecture that feel very ‘small town Main Street’! Featuring the perfect balance of day-to-day shopping and design destinations, Parliament Street offers everything from the St. Jamestown Steak And Chops butcher or the baked goods of Jet Fuel, to Urbaneer’s favourite candle stick purveyor at Spruce Home Decor. Feeling peckish? Try my favourite resto in the area – House On Parliament! Family-run Cranberries and The Irv are also worthy of a visit, on Parliament and Carlton respectively! Oh and don’t forget Hey Lucy just around the corner! Looking for custom lighting? Check out Studio Lampcage. And, of course, all the basics for daily errands are nearby – grocers, cafes, an LCBO, a Beer Store, Shoppers, and even a convenient Starbucks!
Cabbagetown’s ecclectic and colourful evolution over the decades has instilled the area and ints resident with a unique sense of community identity that makes it one of the most popular destinations for today’s homebuyers!
How enriching would it bee to call a slice of this history ‘Home’?! Check out our new listing in Old Cabbagetown: An Enchanting Cabbagetown Cottage On Alpha Avenue, offered for sale for $799,000!
This 1890’s workers cottage has just been refreshed and is now on the market for the first time in over 30 years! If you love character, this one’s a heart-grabber!
This part of the city is so rich in history that it has it’s own walking tour! If you’re curiously to learn more about the area, the housing and the history check out the community’s website for more information!
Love Cabbagetown, Architecture & Design As Much As I Do?
Here are some other posts of mine on Urbaneer.com which I believe you’ll enjoy
Country Charm At Riverdale Farm In Cabbagetown
It’s The Cabbagetown Tour Of Homes By The Cabbagetown Preservation Society!
Love For Spruce Decor In Cabbagetown
Bay & Gable Victorian Architecture In Toronto
And consider checking out my Neighbourhood Page On Cabbagetown which features census profiles, local amenities and our flavour video!
And here’s my other Neighbourhood Pages for downtown Toronto!
If you enjoying our dip into Toronto’s storeyed past, try these blogs on for size:
Why Toronto’s East Side Real Estate Has Historically Been Cheaper
Garden City: The History And Revitalization Of Toronto’s Regent Park Neighbourhood
Excavating The History Of Toronto’s Avenue Road
Gentrification, Densification, And The History Of Toronto Real Estate
Thanks for reading!
~ Steve & The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000
– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –
Celebrating Twenty-Five Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor
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