Spanning both sides of the Don River, Riverdale Park opened in 1880. Like the river itself, the park has been shaped and reshaped many times over the last two centuries. Prior to being zoned as a public space, it was part of settler John Scadding’s holdings. The City of Toronto purchased the land to construct a jail and an industrial farm. This and subsequent developments uncovered Indigenous belongings, homes, and agricultural sites, including 7,000 year-old slate tools, Wendat longhouses, and corn fields dating back to 1300 CE. The City’s current proposal to rename the Lower Don Parklands in Anishinaabemowin represents an opportunity to recognize its deep Indigenous roots.
The Lower Don River itself once flowed right through Riverdale Park before it was radically straightened in the 1880s as a part of the City’s Don Improvement Plan. Due to its natural cycle of flooding and heavily polluted waters—at one time, thirty-seven sewage treatment plants spilled their effluent into the river—the municipality forcibly channelled the lower Don River to contain its flow, arguing that the tributary was a threat to public health. This urbanized watershed has a long history of ecological degradation, having been contaminated at different turns by high phosphorus levels from fertilizer run-off, E. coli from sewage overflows, and chloride from the dumping of road salt and microplastics. These pollutants create an environment inhospitable to the native flora and fauna that once thrived in this river valley, which is now host to an incredibly high percentage of invasive species.
Riverdale Park evokes Toronto’s history of altered, buried, and polluted rivers and begs the question: what are the rights of bodies of water in the face of development?
This Biennial site description was generated by the curatorial team, in consultation with our creative partners, to offer lesser-known facts and histories, and explore sites in relation to the changing shoreline.
Outdoor venue. Limited accessibility due to grass and stairs.
- Getting There
By Public Transportation:
By Bus: Riverdale Park West is a short walk from the Gerrard St. E/River Street TTC stop serviced by the 506 Carlton Streetcar, running both east and west along Carlton Street.
By Subway: Castle Frank is the closest subway station to Riverdale Park West, with connections via TTC bus/streetcar available to complete the trip.
By Car: Take the Don Valley Parkway to the Bayview/Bloor exit, following the signs for Bayview Ave. southbound. The park is accessible via Bayview Ave, River St, and parking can be found along Carlton St.