Before launching into glorious rapture about the gardens surrounding historic St. James Cathedral, I thought I would mention a naughty story about an elderly matron’s experiences in the 1870s, in Allen Gardens, situated at Jarvis and Carlton streets. In those days, when some English immigrants arrived in Canada, they believed they had arrived in a backward colonial city, and disapproved of the behaviour of its residents. While strolling through Allen Gardens, the woman was confronted with a shocking situation. She immediately sought the assistance of a policeman.
“I demand that you arrest that man over there on the park bench,” she cried forcefully. “He’s being amorous with a dead woman.”
“Give me a moment madam. I will investigate.”
The officer was also British, and when he returned he told her, “Have no fear madam. The woman is not dead. She’s Canadian.”
Another Strange Tale
Many years ago, I thought it odd that the city demolished a row of historic buildings to create a green space to the east of St. James Cathedral. They bull-dozed a valuable part of Toronto’s architectural past. However, today it is difficult to quarrel with the results. Despite the busy traffic on the south side of the park, and the rocket-red streetcars continually trundling by, the park is a green oasis amid an area that sadly lacks garden space. Each spring, displays of tulips cheer the hearts of those who have survived another long Toronto winter. At the end of May, after the tulips drop their petals, the perennials push forth their delicate blooms toward the ever-warming sunlight.
St. James Cathedral dominates the park like a watchful guardian. The predecessor of the church was erected in 1807, but was destroyed by the great fire that swept King Street in 1849. The church hired F. W. Cumberland and Thomas Ridout to design a new building. Its construction commencing in 1850, using imported Ohio stone and bricks. The magnificent Gothic spire, which towers over 300 feet in the air, was added between the years 1873 and 1874. Until it was completed, the church was “like a shorn lamb,” as Arthur Eric stated in his book, “Toronto- No Mean City.” The clock in the tower was installed in 1875. Today, the spire contains Canada’s only set of change-ringing bells. Every Sunday morning their sonorous sounds peel out over the surrounding quiet streets.
Exploring the Gardens in St. James Park in Spring.
Allium plants, which grow from bulbs and belong to the chives family
The ever humble, always reliable chive plants
nineteenth-century fountain in St. James Park
Quote about Toronto from The Villages Within, available at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.com
Canadians living beyond Toronto’s borders decry its flat, boring landscape, oblivious to its verdant river valleys and the lofty heights of the Davenport Road hill, which sweeps across the city, providing impressive panoramas of the towering high-rises nestled around the shores of the lake. They seem unaware of the many forested streets and intimate neighbourhoods, tucked between the busy downtown thoroughfares. A short ferry ride from the skyscrapers of Bay Street, the Toronto Islands provide a recreational retreat that seems a world away from the city’s bustling avenues. The Toronto landscape has much to offer a perceptive observer.
Critics state that Toronto traffic is murder, and that the Don Valley Parkway should be more appropriately named the Don Valley Parking Lot. The capacity of the Gardiner Expressway, they say, is stretched beyond the limits of the most generously proportioned girdle. During the rush hours, Toronto’s pedestrian traffic obstructs the city’s sidewalks to the point that they are impassable. However, the crush of humanity is usually not a problem, unless it is an extremely hot day and deodorant is in short supply. Travelling on the subway is a noticeable exception.
Critics claim that Toronto’s crime rates are devastatingly high, despite statistics proving it is one of the safest cities in the world. We suspect that the city’s worst crime is claiming the title “The Nation’s Largest Urban Centre.”
Many of those who criticize the city, likely have not visited St. James Park.