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

Photo Courtesy of Artistic Gardens

Outdoors at Last!

Contributed by Kathy Flaxman. Deck, patio, back garden, balcony – everyone with access to outdoors is making the most of the warm weather.  Now, we have a chance to feel free and normal and experience … [Read More...]

bh2

GETTING TO KNOW YOU – part 2

Contributed by Anita Bostok and Norman Hathaway. Cabbagetown is a neighbourhood of beauty, heritage, cultural diversity and inclusion. Anita and Noman are proud to contribute this regular feature … [Read More...]

Cabbagetown_houses

Summer in Cabbagetown

Contributed by Gerald Michaud, Broker - Manager - HomeLife/Realty One Ltd., Brokerage. I love Cabbagetown in the summer. It’s a beautiful and family friendly neighbourhood with delightful surprises at … [Read More...]

money-andre-bermon

The end of cash?

Contributed by Andre Bermon, Publisher of the bridge. When was the last time you paid with money? Was it before the pandemic? Then you are not alone. It’s no surprise that societal changes caused by … [Read More...]

Meal-program-for-residentsx

The Corner during the Pandemic

Contributed by Aravind Joseph  (The Corner). The Corner is an organic community hub in SJT where residents and service providers come together seamlessly to collaborate, innovate and build community.  … [Read More...]

NedHanlan-parliament-street-news

Ned Hanlan 1855 – 1908

Contributed from the Cabbagetown People Website - www.cabbagetownpeople.ca Champion Oarsman – Ned Hanlan His resting place can be found in the Necropolis @ Section C, Lot 40   Ned’s … [Read More...]

416project4

The 416 PROJECT

Contributed by artist Jorge Molina. It’s been four years since Canadian artist Jorge Molina conceived of The 416 Project, installing 416 unique canvases throughout the many neighbourhoods of Toronto, … [Read More...]

Six Feet Apart

A Song written and contributed by Duncan Fremlin, RE/MAX Hallmark Realty Ltd.duncan@morethanahome.ca When the pandemic hit, my work as a Realtor wasn’t affected since it was declared an essential … [Read More...]

spring-cover

Spring 2020 Issue

SO LONG SARAH! Sarah Cook, our publisher for the last two years, has taken on a new opportunity. Sarah will infused some new life into the Parliament Street News, got the Instagram going and developed … [Read More...]

randy-brown-parliament-Streeet-news

The Excellent Festival

Over the past 31 years, Randy Brown and 25 members of the Cabbagetown Art & Crafts (CA&C), which is an association of resident artists, have organized the sale in Riverdale Park during the … [Read More...]

bob-mcniven

Lives Lived – Bob McNiven – 68

Contributed by Duncan Fremlin -- Bob McNiven, musician and singer,  harmonizer, songwriter and incurable romantic was born in Pennsylvania on May 24, 1952 and died at home in Toronto on May 4, 2020 of … [Read More...]

bh2

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

Contributed by Anita Bostok & Norman Hathaway -- Cabbagetown is a neighbourhood of beauty, heritage, cultural diversity and inclusion. Anita and Noman are proud to contribute this regular feature … [Read More...]