Cabbagetown – the 19th Century Lives On
Condemned, then restored
The Cabbagetown neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario, Canada has one of the largest areas of continuous, preserved Victorian housing in all of North America. It can be hard to believe that such an important historic district came from such humble beginnings, but that is indeed the case: the name ‘Cabbagetown’ was a slur used by Toronto’s more prosperous British residents, who were offended that hundreds of families who had fled famine in mid-nineteenth-century Ireland and wound up in the area, used their front gardens to grow cabbages and other vegetables (instead of roses and decorative shrubbery; other myths attribute the moniker to Polish immigrants cooking the vegetable often). Cabbagetown had already slid into decline well before the Depression and stayed that way until the 1970s and ‘80s, when the largely untouched Victorian housing was discovered and gradually restored.
Cabbagetown, Toronto by Jay Woodworth
A high-demand neighbourhood
Cabbagetown is now a physically beautiful, highly desirable and culturally active community in which to live. Here, converted workshops, boutique businesses and tiny workers cottages share streets with grand old homes. Much of the area has been designated a Heritage Conservation District, so that any renovations or additions made to the buildings must pass a rigorous permit process to ensure that architecture remains in keeping with the flavour of the neighbourhood. Far from being ashamed of their neighbourhood’s humble beginnings, many Cabbagetowners today proudly display the Cabbagetown flag, which is a tongue-in-cheek variation on the Canadian flag with the maple leaf replaced by a cabbage.
The Cabbagetown Preservation Association was founded in 1989 to further conserve the architectural integrity and historic character of the neighbourhood. Though the well-preserved homes and buildings can give the sense of transporting visitors back to the nineteenth century, behind many of the restored façades are some marvels of modern construction and conversion. But visible from the sidewalk are the truly Victorian building facades, gardens, fences and other elements that make Cabbagetown one of Toronto’s most unique and significant neighbourhoods.