Wednesday, February 11, 2009

in search of nature at yonge + dundas

Going to school on one of the most unimaginative, tree-less campuses in Canada can be a depressing experience, especially when it comes to green spaces. A four block radius of the Ryerson Theatre School reveals four food courts, three malls, thirty-seven Tim Horton's (more or less), twenty-seven buildings with ten or more stories and... seven trees? The closest we get to nature is that time last October when a hawk had its nest on roof of a nearby apartment building. As I walked past the skating rink on the way to class last October, I saw a crowd of students watching the hawk rip apart a pigeon on the top of that giant rock. Ah, nature.
However, only two blocks east, among the marginalized and destitute, lies Allan Gardens, sadly forgotten but not completely ignored. It's a really beautiful collection of buildings - it reminds me of parasols and Victorian dresses, and when you look up the history of the gardens, it gets even more interesting. William Allan, one of the first settlers of Toronto, built his house - "Moss Park"- on the land that now houses Allan Gardens. But the gardens are actually named after his son, George William Allan (who was president of the Toronto Horticulture Society and mayor of Toronto). George Allan gave the donated the property to the city, and it was named after him when he died in 1901. The original pavilion burned down a year later, and the present palm house was built in 1909, making this year its 100th birthday!

You can find more info on Allan Gardens here and here, including some old photos. And, if you feel like playing librarian/detective, Toronto Archives has tons of old photos... none of which are available online, unfortunately. (But the Archives site does have 1,000's of photos of Toronto dating back to the 1800s.) The greenhouses are sadly empty, save for some business workers on their lunch, the odd homeless person looking for a warm break from the winter weather and a handful of gardeners. Last time I was there I asked one of the gardeners what happened to all the big, old goldfish I remembered in the ponds. He replied, "Raccoons - they break in through the heat vent. A few months ago I came in in to find them high up in the branches of the palms over there, gutting the fish." Just like the hawk, even in the most man-made environments, certain animals still manage to carve their own niche and thrive in the inner city.

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