A relatively unknown treasure of Allan Gardens is the greenhouses. As they pass by the park’s foliage daily on their way to the busy streets that encircle it, many motorists in downtown Toronto never stop to explore them. In addition to Jarvis, Sherbourne, Carlton and Gerrard border Allan Gardens to the west, east, north and south, respectively. There is no admission fee to visit the greenhouses, which are located at 160 Gerrard St. E.
The greenhouse is like a small oasis of warmth and lush growth that reminds us of summer days in the south on a cold winter day. The plants outside the greenhouses look pathetic by comparison with the ones growing inside in the summer.
The history of Allan Gardens dates back to the 19th century. Greenhouses were previously housed in pavilions before the present-day structures were constructed. Toronto Horticultural Society, founded in 1834 — the year that Toronto became a city — plays an important role in the history of Allan Gardens.
The society’s benefactor was Lieutenant Governor John Colborne (1828-1836). In High Park, he is honoured with a lodge named Colborne Lodge. Plants, especially fruits and vegetables, were introduced to improve the province’s plant population.
Originally intended as a botanical garden and pleasant green space for strolls and picnics, this new park became known as the Horticultural Garden. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, officially opened Toronto’s gardens on September 11, 1860.
A large oak tree was planted on the grounds, and it grew to be extremely large, providing a pleasant shade for many decades to keep out the summer heat that Toronto is known for. Sadly, the enormous tree was struck by lightning in 1938, causing it to be cut down including the remaining sections. George William Allan’s wife also planted a tree on the same royal visit in 1860, which was taken down for safety reasons in 1956.
Allan Gardens remained one of the city’s most popular attractions for the rest of the 19th century. Several parcels of land were purchased by Toronto City from Mr. Allan to expand the park. The property surrounded the one he had originally donated. Walks and Gardens funds were utilized to make the purchase.
A nominal amount was then paid by the city to the Toronto Horticultural Society for leasing the newly acquired land. In the agreement, it was stipulated that the grounds would always be publicly accessible and free of charge to everyone. As part of the Horticultural Society’s effort to attract more visitors, they built a greenhouse-equipped pavilion and improved the park in 1864. It was not well maintained, though the pavilion was popular with visitors.
Allan Gardens still maintains this sprawling greenhouse facility, whose main building is named the Palm House. With its enormous dome, this structure is classically proportioned. Building the university’s new pharmacy building, which was constructed in 2003, required dismantling and relocating the greenhouse originally constructed as a botany education facility in 1932.
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