The History of Parliament Street

Originally contributed to our original issue of the Parliament Street news by Nora Ottaway, On behalf of the Cabbagetown Regent Park Musem.

Named after legislative buildings later burned to the ground by invading American forces, Parliament Street has been the setting of excitement, growth, and change for more than 200 years. Shaped by a combination of natural features (Lake Ontario, the Don River Valley) and the built environment (Corktown, Cabbagetown, Regent Park), Parliament Street is a living reflection not only of the history of Toronto but of Canada as well.

 
Established in 1791, the Province of Upper Canada moved its capital to York (Toronto) in 1793. In need of a place to house his new government, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, commissioned the construction of two modest Georgian buildings that were grandly dubbed the “Palaces of Government.”  Ontario’s First Parliament was located on the shore of the bay just east of Berkeley and south of present-day Front Street. Completed in 1797, the red-brick structures were plagued by bad luck. They were burned by invading American forces in 1813, rebuilt in 1820, and burned again in 1824, this time by accident. The fires and the “marshy” air by the lake (which was thought to be unhealthy) influenced the relocation of the parliament buildings, although the name of the street stuck, and remains to this day.

 
Parliament Street evolved as a Victorian main street serving nearby neighbourhoods (such as working-class Corktown and Cabbagetown), institutions (like churches and cemeteries, and the Toronto General Hospital on Gerrard), and businesses (like breweries, manufacturers and numerous small shops).  In the time of William Lyon Mackenzie, development was concentrated south of Queen Street, and then moved inexorably northward, to Winchester Street by about 1885 and Bloor Street by 1895.  The Victorian character of these buildings, supplemented by solid Edwardian commercial structures, underlies today’s streetscape.

 
For several decades, the area between Gerrard and Wellesley Streets offered all the attractions of downtown in a picturesque residential area. The Eclipse Theatre, the Winchester Hotel, and clothier Harry Rosen, offered fashionable entertainment, lodging, and clothing respectively to the area’s residents. Grocery, hardware and jewellry stores, restaurants and barbershops served the community, making it a vibrant and thriving part of Toronto. As the more upscale businesses moved away to the city’s downtown core, Parliament Street became a little less glamorous.
Major change came to Parliament Street in the mid-twentieth century, with the construction of Regent Park, Moss Park, and St. James Town that brought high-rise development, new businesses, and an increasingly multicultural population. Equally important was local resistance to wiping out remaining low-rise Victorian buildings to make way for more high-rises. The result has been the creation of a mixed-use, mixed-income community still focused on its modern main street.

 
The last 15 years have brought new life to Parliament Street. New businesses and attractions, from the Distillery District to the ambitious 69-acre revitalization of Regent Park; and sensitive bookending restorations such as the Toronto Police, 51 Division (formerly West Gas Purifying House, 1899) and the Winchester Hotel (formerly Lakeview Hotel, 1888), have given the community a sense that Parliament Street is returning to its historical roots as an area unique for its intersecting residential, commercial, and cultural significance. It’s a street well worth visiting by residents and tourists alike.

TwitterGoogle+FacebookLinkedInDiggStumbleUponBlogger PostDeliciousShare

Other News

david-morris-copy

System is Failing Seniors

Contributed by David Morris - The COVID-19 Pandemic Revealed Our System is Failing Seniors, Ontario Liberals Have a Plan to Fix It The COVID-19 pandemic has touched the lives of every Ontarian. We … [Read More...]

PSN kwt copy

Dear residents and neighbours

Contributed by Kristyn Wong-Tam - It is with great humility that I am running in the upcoming election to represent you as your NDP Toronto Centre champion at Queen’s Park! As your local City … [Read More...]

MPP Job Description

Contributed by George Smitherman, MPP representing Toronto Centre – Rosedale, Toronto Centre in the 34th, 35th and 36th Parliament (1999-2010) Position: Member of the Ontario Legislature Employer: … [Read More...]

Toronto-Centre-election

Provincial Election numbers?

Contributed by Pstreet News. The provincial election is fast upon us, and there is a great battle between the Liberals and the up and coming NDP. With Suze Morrison stepping aside for Kristyn … [Read More...]

rogco-wines

Brigaldara Soave DOC

Contributed by Isabel Wai, Brand Associate, Rogers & Company In the 2000s, Stefano Cesari and his sons, Lamberto and Antonio, initiated a profound renewal at Brigaldara. Today, the estate covers … [Read More...]

ForsythiaFestival-3

Forsythia Festival Thanks

THANK YOU The organizers of the Forsythia Festival would like to thank all the volunteers and sponsors for a long overdue and great day! Financial Donors Meridian Daniel et Daniel Catering & … [Read More...]

green-thumbs

What Are We Planning for the Gardens

For the last two growing seasons we have not been able to be in the gardens with the children so we are excited to be planning in person programs for the children and after what felt like the longest … [Read More...]

Bostok-hathaway

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

Local residents and Real Estate agents Norman Hathaway and Anita Bostok of bostokhathaway.com introduce us to local Cabbagetown Shop keepers is their ongoing series "Getting to Know you". Cabbagetown … [Read More...]

tony-brady-forsythia-festival

My brother, Tony Brady

Contributed by Joanna Brady Schmida - When I was approached by Peter Lovering recently about an addendum to the article he was planning to write for the Parliament Street News, I was delighted. For … [Read More...]

PSN-mar22-01

Hello Beautiful Readers!!

Here we go again, another year of the Parliament Street News. This is our first edition of the year and it was a long winter. But, what says spring better than the Forsythia Festival. After missing … [Read More...]

MapleLicious-1

SPRING BECKONS

Winter Draws to a Close, Spring beckons, the sap is running! Contributed by The Cabbagetown BIA It’s been another long, cold winter, with the odd tease of balmy weather to come. Dire and traumatic … [Read More...]

ukraine-flag-pstreet-news

Thoughts from Kyiv 

Contributed by Professor Mychailo Wynnyckyj in Kyiv. He and his family are in hiding, writing and fighting from a safe(r) house outside Kyiv - Yesterday’s bombing of the maternity hospital in Mariupol … [Read More...]

walterhuston-cabbagetown-people

Walter Huston 1884 – 1950

Academy Award-winning Actor - Contributed by www.cabbagetownpeople.ca. Walter Huston was born in Toronto where his father was a building contractor. He attended Wellesley, Ryerson and Lansdowne … [Read More...]