Don't be surprised if you see the ghost of Santa Claus at our next networking evening at the Winchester Hotel in the middle of Cabbagetown. This area and hotel are amongst the most colourful and desired places to visit in Toronto.
Firstly let me tell you NETWORK-NETWORK will be on Wednesday, April 16th starting as usual at 5 p.m. The location is the Winchester Hotel located at 537 Parliament at the corner of Parliament and Winchester, one block north of Carlton. It is newly renovated and classy pub with a history, and yes we will be having dancing.
Here's the story of the Winchester Hotel and Cabbagetown. This area that most Torontonians call Cabbagetown was once called Don Vale. It was the southern end of what we now call the Don Mills Road.
Today most of us think of the Don Mills Road as a six-lane suburban road that slices through the back splits and high-rises of North York, finally ending just beyond the Don Valley Parkway near O'Connor. At first, none of that route was "Don Mills Road". Rather, a road known as the "Mill Road", according to the earliest maps, began at today's Winchester Street, and Parliament Street, tracing Winchester eastward to the necropolis where it descended into the Don Valley. It then remounted the eastern wall of the valley, skirting it to Pottery Road where it descended to the site of the "Don Mills", known later as Todmorden Mills. A few years later, the name "Don Mills Road" was given to Broadview Avenue from Queen Street northward, and to O'Connor as far as today's Don Mills Road, where the extensive Taylor Mills complex stood at the fork of the Don River's two branches.
Traveling on Toronto's early pioneer roads was as much a pub-crawl as it was a voyage, and taverns appeared at frequent intervals. From the site of the Santa Claus Hotel, occupied today by the Winchester Hotel, where we will be networking, journeyers need only to reach the bottom of the valley where they could pause once more for refreshment in the Don Vale House. By the time they made it back up the east side, and through Doncaster, just north of today's intersection of Danforth Avenue and Broadview, they could sip once more in one of the two taverns that marked Todmorden.
Don Vale, up until the 1870s and 80s, was more a scattered rural community than it was a clustered village. It consisted of the Santa Claus Hotel at Winchester and Parliament, some country homes along the Mill Road (Winchester), the necropolis, and at the foot of the hill below the necropolis, the Fox Head Hotel, which later became known as the Don Vale House, giving the community its name.
An early and most unpleasant industry here was the Peter Lamb glue and blacking factory located at the east end of Amelia Street. Operating from the late 1840s to the 1890s, it cremated animals to manufacture glue. Although Lamb built a few cabins for his workers, the presence of this noxious operation discouraged residential development in the area.
Although some speculation had taken place as early as the 1850s, development was not feasible until the 1880s, when a rush of immigration from the British Isles brought workers looking for housing near the factories by the tracks at the foot of Parliament Street. By the turn of the century, Don Vale had become the newest suburb in a rapidly growing and rapidly industrializing Toronto, and the rural community disappeared.
A few vestiges of rural Don Vale are still evident today. By the 1890s John Ayre's Lakeview Hotel had replaced the Santa Claus, and had achieved a reputation as "an excellent up-town hotel ... rapidly growing in favour as a resort for the traveling public and families." It was praised for its good lawn, telephone and convenient access to all parts of the city. Although it was nearly a mile from the lake, a view of the water was possible from its belvedere. Renamed the Winchester Hotel, it still dominates the intersection, and is now a local pub and our destination for NETWORK-NETWORK.
The oldest building in Don Vale is the Charles Parson House at 85 Winchester, just a short distance east of the hotel. It was built in the 1850s as a country home for a local leather merchant. At the time he could enjoy an unimpeded view north to St. James Cemetery, and east to the necropolis. Another two blocks further east stands the beautiful Daniel Lamb House, set back from the sidewalk. When it was built for the son of the owner of the Lamb factory in 1867, it was still only one of ten houses on Winchester Street. A little further east, and a few paces south on Sumach, stands a contemporary of the Lamb house, Number 384, built in 1866 and known as the "Witch's House." South and east of Sumach and Winchester is another long-established Toronto institution, the Riverdale Zoo a place I loved to visit as a kid. It was conceived by Daniel Lamb in 1899, then an alderman for the City of Toronto. From a lonely polar bear and a couple of wolves, the zoo grew into a popular destination for children from all across the city. When the Metro Zoo opened in Scarborough in 1978, Riverdale became a petting farm, with livestock, barn and historic farmhouse moved in from Markham.
Across the street is the Toronto Necropolis. It dates from 1852 when development pressures in Yorkville forced the potter's field burying ground to move from there to this site. The Victorian Gothic chapel was designed by Henry Langley in 1872. Beyond the chapel, Winchester ends and "Mill Road" becomes a service lane for the Riverdale Farm. At the base of the hill upon which the necropolis sits, the road ends at the Bayview Extension, marking the approximate site of the Don Vale house. It had remained a popular sporting tavern, with fighting and gambling, until it closed in 1880. It was torn down two decades later.
The site of the repulsive Lamb "glue factory", at the east end of Amelia Street, is now a pleasant park, and a common front yard for a row of early 1900s town houses. The Lamb factory manufactured glue, ground bone, animal charcoal, and a shoe and stove lustre known as Lamb's Penny Blacking. The main building burned in 1888, and by 1900 the site had become a park. A few workers' cabins yet stand on Amelia Street east of Sumach.
The Don Vale area, erroneously called "Cabbagetown", (an Irish neighbourhood which was actually south of Gerrard), is one of Toronto's most strollable residential neighbourhoods. Its streets are crammed with an astounding mix of 1880s and 90s tiny workers' cabins, and grand upper-middle-class homes, often side by side. The "gentrification" of the area that began in the 1960s has meant the retention of the historic homes and streetscapes, and the development of a strong sense of pride in the area's heritage.
So now you know the rest of the story. Come on out for a great evening of networking in one of Torontos most interesting and historic neighbourhoods and pubs.