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Nostalgia Tripping: Allan Gardens

Posted by Agatha Barc / May 9, 2010

Allan Gardens historical photographKnown originally as the Horticultural Gardens, Allan Gardens was Toronto's first civic park. Located on the south side of Carlton Street at Sherbourne Street, it consists of ten acres of parkland and six greenhouses, where both seasonal and permanent plants are cultivated over 16,000 square feet of garden space.

Limited public space existed in the growing city before the creation of the Gardens. There was some parkland located west of the Exhibition, but at that time, it was considered to be well beyond the city limits. Scattered, small parks were also located on the grounds of several institutions, including the Parliament Buildings on Front Street, and Government House and Upper Canada College, but a proper public space for the recreational use of Toronto's residents was lacking.

According to G.P. deT. Glazebrook's The Story of Toronto, George William Allan was a long-time president of the Horticultural Society of Toronto, and in 1857 he proposed that he would sell five acres of his Moss Park estate to the city at tantalizingly low price on the condition that the land be developed for horticultural purposes and the benefit of the public.

Allan was also a municipal politician, first working as an alderman, who was elected in 1855 as the 11th mayor of Toronto. He later entered national politics, serving as first as a senator and then as the Speaker of the Parliament.

Old Pavillion Allan GardensNumerous prominent citizens urged the city to purchase the five acres that Allan was willing to sell on the grounds that there was not a single park or public square for recreational purposes in the highly dense, industrialized city. In Cabbagetown Remembered, George Rust-D'Eye writes that the park was officially opened on September 11,1860 by the Prince of Wales, who planted a maple tree to mark the occasion. In 1878, a pavilion modeled after the Crystal Palace (a structure erected for the British Great Exhibition of 1851) was built, and in 1885 the grounds were beautified and laid out with lawns, flower beds, and benches.

Allan Gardens FountainThree years later, the ownership of the land was transferred to the city. At one time, the Gardens also featured the largest fountain in the province. When Allan died in 1901, the park was renamed in order to commemorate his service to the city and its people. On June 6, 1902, the pavilion was destroyed by fire, which had served as the city's only large concert hall for the prior twenty years. It was replaced in 1909 with the present Palm House, designed by R. McCallum.

In 2003, the University of Toronto donated a greenhouse originally located at the corner of College Street and Queen's Park Crescent (built in 1932), which had been used by the Department of Botany to conduct research on pollination and plant disease. It currently houses Children's Conservatory, a program offered to schools located in high needs neighbourhoods.

Historical photo torontoThe grounds also played an important role in the life of the nearby Cabbagetown and Don Vale communities, and even though the green space was located outside of their respective geographical boundaries, it was the largest indoor public space in the city, which provided the residents with a venue for public and political debates and gatherings.

A little known event, the Allan Gardens Riot, took place on May 30, 1965. It was a response to the announced rally of the Canadian Nazi Party, at which the self-proclaimed leader, William John Beattie, was scheduled to give a speech. The following day, the Toronto Daily Star reported that about four thousands counter-demonstrators watched as eight men, suspected to members of the party, were severely beaten and injured. The riot lasted only fifteen minutes due to the rapid response of the police. There are conflicting accounts on the reasons behind this event, and Mayor Philip Givens blamed the media for sensationalizing the meeting even before it took place and for falsely claiming that the party had a city permit to hold the meeting.

Allan GardensDespite the fact that the Gardens are located in a central location and easily accessible by transit, several studies conducted at the beginning of the 2000s concluded that they were not a popular, city-wide attraction. This was mostly associated with poor maintenance of the grounds and a lack of proper investment in the facilities that would protect the heritage value of the property.

Since 2000, the city has started to revitalize the Gardens along with the enclosing parkland, which includes an upgrade of the existing facilities and revision of the programs available to the public.

20100509-allan-vert.jpgAll photos but the second to last are from the Toronto Archives. Fond and series information is contained at the bottom of each image.



David / May 9, 2010 at 11:32 am
The U of T greenhouse was built in 1932 and rebuilt in Allan Gardens in 2003.
Derek replying to a comment from David / May 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm
This has been corrected. Thanks for pointing out the error.
W. K. Lis / May 9, 2010 at 02:13 pm
Since Allen Gardens is a horticultural exhibit, maybe the park could show us ignorant masses how to keep a lawn weed free, without pesticides and herbicides.
dandelion replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / May 9, 2010 at 05:44 pm
nothin wrong with weeds. they're plants too.
Bonk / May 9, 2010 at 07:03 pm
I didn't realise the Palm House turned 100 last year...
Imagine being transported back in time to a soiree in the Pavillion House that preceeded it? Oh the times they must've had in that building the twenty odd years it stood, nevermind the stories the park could tell over so many decades.
3dme / May 10, 2010 at 07:05 am
If anybody has red/cyan glasses check out the 3d pics I recently did of Allan Gardens.
3dme / May 10, 2010 at 07:08 am
Is Allan's pub on the Danforth related to this Allan? I think there is some connection.
Christopher / May 10, 2010 at 01:43 pm
I can't recall, since it has been at least several years since my last trip to that area, but is the fountain highlighted in some of these photos still there?
Bonk / May 11, 2010 at 12:24 am
Sadly it does not remain. It was replaced long ago by concrete and a drinking fountain broken since nineteen dickety-two.
constantgardener / May 11, 2010 at 03:31 am
Why would those drinking fountains EVER be repaired?
Every single one in this city has been ruined by psycho-toddlers and kids who think nothing is cooler than the POWER to clog a fountain with sand!
It's endless. But at least plants renew themselves.
AAron / July 15, 2010 at 08:49 am
Was there once a hotel/bar or bowling alley where Allan Gardens is? I have heard a couple people mention this. Was there a fire at this hotel?
Nichole Watkins Adkins / April 12, 2011 at 10:01 am
My great great grandfather Alonzo Watkins was the head gardener to the Horicultural Gardens later renamed Allan Gardens. He lived on the premises in the 2 story victorian home with his wife Miriam Peacey and their son Walter Frank "Wally" Watkins. I have been doing research lately and cant wait to see this place in person. RIP Alonzo Watkins.
Wayne Moore / July 27, 2011 at 11:55 am
I rember my mother taking me over to Allen Gardens to wade in the fountain pool in the hot summers of the mid 1940's, we would walk from Ontario St. Thank you mister Allen.
Wayne Moore / July 27, 2011 at 12:02 pm
I rember my mother, my sister and I walking from Ontario St. to Allen Gardens on a hot summer day in the mid 1940's, to wade in the pool, I think it also sprayed water. Thank you Mr. Allen.
ed horner / February 18, 2012 at 05:10 pm
The hotel Aaron referred to was (in my youth) Larry's Hideaway. I'm sure it had a proper name before that. Yes, it burned. It was located on the north side of the park on Carlton. A facebook page dedicated to the hotel and the rock years can be found at
ed horner replying to a comment from AAron / February 18, 2012 at 05:11 pm
Hi Aaron, I think the hotel you referred to was (in my youth) Larry's Hideaway. I'm sure it had a proper name before that. Yes, it burned. It was located on the north side of the park on Carlton. A facebook page dedicated to the hotel and the rock years can be found at
Peter Mykusz / September 9, 2013 at 11:09 pm
Enjoy watching this video of Allan Gardens:
carrie-anne / February 21, 2014 at 07:30 pm
allen gardens hotel was called larry's hideaway. it had a bar and a tattoo chair. i got my first tattoo there! also saw quite a few punk bands play before it burned down. families rarely used the park in the early 80's because there were far too many homosexuals having sex in the bushes and looking for strangers to have sex with in the public washrooms. it was disgraceful.i lived across the street and was horrified by what was going on in broad daylight in the presence of children. (the park was located in the middle of the underage red light district, hardly a place for tourists)
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