Cabbagetown is the neighbourhood is an east downtown neighbourhood with a colourful rainbow of history. According to the Cabbagetown Preservation Association, its the largest continuous area of Victorian housing in all of North America. It borders from Sherbourne, east to the Don River, south on Shuter doing a jog up Parliament to Gerrard, north on Wellesley up Parliament to the St. James Cemetery.
Originally the town of Don Vale, this area was all farmland and cottages in the 1850s.The community to the south, now known as Regent Park, was the neighbourhood that was populated by the Irish immigrants. They grew cabbage in their front yards which began the nickname Cabbagetown. Once both towns became part of Toronto, brick Victorian homes were built for the immigrants who worked in Corktown. The area reached its peak as a prosperous working class neighbourhood right before the ﬁrstworld war. Then came the Depression, poverty struck this area hard and everything became run down. The homes were shared by multiple families, the landlords were slum lords and by the 1940s, it had become the poorest and seediest neighbourhood in Toronto.
The next 70 years would bring on the most change in the neighbourhood. The entire area, both the original Cabbagetown and Don Vale (the current Cabbagetown) became slated for tear down to build housing projects. First the south part, Trefann Court, was cleared in 1940s and called the Regent Park housing project. New immigrants came which was the beginning of ethnic diversity in the neighbourhood. The plan was to expand the project to Don Vale but thankfully in the late 1960s, early 1970s when the high rises of St. Jamestown were built, there was a movement that opposed massive urban renewal and bylaw was approved to ban any building higher than four stories.
Then, in the early 1970s, the history of Don Vale would change forever, thanks to the Gentrification Whisperer, otherwise known as Darrell Kent. Kent, a young business man, realtor, and all around bon vivant, was a key player in the development of current day Cabbagetown. He bought a huge home on Metcalfe, renovated it, sold it for a proﬁt and did the same for a few more houses. Soon with his help, other people bought properties to restore and live in and a community was born. The area changed its name to Cabbagetown and over the years became a thriving neighbourhood for the gay community, artists, writers, and baby boomer Bohemian types, and even if they had corporate jobs they maintained their hippie sensibilities. By the 1980s, Cabbagetown had hit its real estate stride and homes were selling at prime Toronto prices. Darrell Kent passed away in 1989 but his legacy in the neighbourhood lives on.
Today’s Cabbagetown is ﬁercely protected by its preservation association and rules for renovating in the conservation districts are strictly enforced. The Cabbagetown Association also provides tours of the neighbourhood homes and gardens as well as the two historical cemeteries, Necropolis and St. John Cemetery. Their agenda is to preserve the integrity of the original Victoria architecture of the area and keep the character of Cabbagetown by providing information and education through their programs.
The community spirit in Cabbagetown has been maintained by its long term and newer residents since its gentrification in the early 1980s. Many of these homes are worth well over a million but this is an area where upscale does not equal snobby. Low income families from Regent Park and St. James Town, new immigrants, as well as panhandlers mingle with the Cabbagetownies on Parliament and Carlton Street, a sale on toilet paper at No Frills is everybody’s business.
There are annual festivals including the Cabbagetown Festival in September which features Carlton street closure and art and crafts, home tours, bands, and politicians. In May, there is the Forsythia Festival which features a parade from Wellesley to Riverdale Park. In keeping with the community’s passion for the arts, there’s an annual film festival of short films as well as dance and theatre year round and the Toronto Dance Theatre on Winchester as well as Danny Grossman Dance Company and Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre on Parliament.
Cabbagetown is a great place to raise kids, close to good schools as well as Riverdale Park with a petting zoo and a weekly farmers market. It’s arguably one of the prettiest neighbourhoods just to walk around, with the spectacular Christmas lights in the winter,and the beautiful gardens in the spring. You can almost get lost in time and be transported back to the early 1900s. Except now the cabbage in the front yard is planted in decorative planters and is purely ornamental.