Allan Gardens

Sunday, October 9, 2016

George William Allan was born in the town of York in 1822 on his father’s Park Lot and would go on to be an important figure in Canadian politics.  Allan served with the Bank Rifle Corps during the 1837 Rebellion and became a Toronto Alderman in 1849.  He was Toronto’s 11th Mayor serving from 1855 to 1858 when he became a member of the Legislative Council.  Following Confederation, in 1867 he became one of the first members of the Senate.  Allan was a member of the Upper House until his death in 1901.

On March 24, 1819, George Allan (sr) purchased Park Lot 5 which was one of the 100 acre lots that ran from Lot (Queen) Street to Bloor Street.  These long narrow lots (660 feet wide by 6,600 feet long) were generally given to men of importance and this lot had originally been granted to Cheif Justice William Osgood who lost the land patent for failing to build a house and live on the land.  Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe had planned the lots as a means of attracting an upper class to help manage the town of York.  Unlike most settlers, these men had only to built a home and live there or rent it out to gain ownership. The grounds around Allan Gardens contain some of the downtown core’s mature trees.

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The city grew quickly and soon these Park Lots became prime development sites with each property owner able to do pretty much whatever they wanted to.  They could build roads across their lots where they desired and this is the reason that most of the east-west streets in this section of town only run a few blocks and then end.  George Allan built a palatial home on the south end of the lot that became known as Moss Park because of all the moss that grew on it.  The desire for profit led to the quick development of most of the Park Lots with the result that there were very few areas set aside for public parks.  In 1858 George Allan donated 5 acres of land to the Toronto Horticultural Society to create what has become one of Toronto’s oldest parks.  The use of symmetry extends from the greenhouses to the grounds themselves and a pair of walkways enter from opposing corners to meet in front of the greenhouses.

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In April 1854 Allan had released his plans for the development of Moss Park with villa style lots.  The area that would become Allan Gardens was laid out with four homes on each side and a large oval park in the middle.  Two years later the Toronto Horticultural Society had been given use of 5 acres to develop as public gardens which they would later expand to 11 acres.  September 11, 1860, marked the official opening of the Horticultural Gardens with the Prince of Wales on hand for the ceremony.  A pavilion had been built that year for the opening ceremonies and a second pavilion was built in 1879 however, it burned down in 1902.  It was replaced in 1910 by the Palm House which is seen in the cover photo.  The picture below shows the inside of the Palm House, looking up.

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This Toronto Archives picture of the Palm House from 1913 shows the building shortly after construction and without any of the additional greenhouses that now flank it north and south.

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A photo of the building today shows a much different skyline in the background.  Also of interest is the change in the location of the doors.  Gone is the single central door which has been replaced with two doors located on either portico.  The four corinthian columns across the front have also been removed.

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George Allan died on July 24, 1901, after which the park was renamed Allan Gardens in his honour.  Today there are six greenhouses with a combined area of over 16,000 square feet. A seasonal display pays tribute to the harvest with this statue which is out of its gourd for a fancy dress.

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The tropical house was moved from Exhibition Park to this location in the 1950’s and has a chrysanthemum display as a feature this month.  The ‘pumpkin’ below will continue to bloom and will create a colourful display as the month progresses.

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Additional greenhouses were built in 1924 and 1956 to expand the conservatory’s collection of plants and flowers.

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The Arid House (Cactus House) was also moved from Exhibition Park in the 1950’s and contains many different species of cactus.  The Golden Barrel Cactus, also known as Mother-In-Law’s Cushion, is native to Mexico where it is endangered in the wild.  Mature plants can live for 30 years and will only begin to have flowers after about 20 years.  The small yellow flowers that grow near the centre turn into a fruit that contains seeds for the next generation of plant.  These cacti also spread through a root system and corms. Allen Gardens has several of these cacti that are quite large but none that are near the one-meter size that they can attain.

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Allan was a strong supporter of the arts and was a champion for Paul Kane and James Audubon in the years before they became popular.  It is fitting that the park he created is home to a statue of Robert Burns which was erected in 1902.

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Allan Gardens originally did not extend to Jarvis Street and that side of the property was built up by the late 1870’s.  Two historic churches remain one on either corner of the grounds, with the Baptist Church being on the corner of Carlton and Jarvis.  This Gothic Revival church was built in 1874 from Queenston Shale and opened in 1875.  This is the third building to be occupied by this congregation which had organized in 1829 on Lombard Street.  The lone remaining house in this block is now used as the Toronto Baptist Seminary and is next door to the church.

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A couple of other houses and a Collegiate Institute have been removed and now St. Andrew’s Church stands alone on the north corner.  It was built in 1878 of Credit Valley Stone and was used by the Presbyterian Congregation that moved here from their old building at Church and Adelaide.  Estonian and Latvian refugees acquired the church in 1951 after being displaced during World War II.

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The Allan Gardens greenhouses are open year around from 10 am to 5 pm every day.  They have seasonal features that make repeated visits enjoyable.

Google Maps link: Allan Gardens

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