In July 2018, I visited Allan Gardens to photograph inside the greenhouses. Prior to entering the Palm House, while taking photos from the walkway that leads to the front doors, I failed to notice a man on a motorized wheelchair approaching me. When I became aware of his presence, I said, “Good morning.”
He smiled and enquired, “Are you a tourist?”
I replied, “I was born in Toronto but have not visited the park or the greenhouses for many years.”
Expressing surprise, he declared, “I can’t believe you’ve ignored such a great city attraction for such a long time.” I agreed. After a short conversation, as he prepared to maneuverer his wheelchair away from me, he declared, “I am 92 years old and visit Allan Gardens several times a week. I intend to do this until I am over 100 years of age.”
A very worthwhile goal, I thought.
The Palm House in Allan Gardens on February 19, 2019.
I revisited Allan Garden and its greenhouses on a cold winter day In February of 2019 to experience it in a different season. On entering the Palm House, the first thing I noticed was that my eye-glasses immediately fogged-up. Despite it being a nuisance, the warm, moist air felt pleasant on my face. A few moments later, an employee informed me that it was 16 degrees Celsius inside the greenhouses, though it felt much warmer to me because it was so cold outside. The employee also informed me that the humidity was maintained by spraying the brick floors with a hose, a rather old-fashioned method, but quite effective. When the greenhouses were constructed, built-in humidifying systems were not yet available.
On this day, Toronto was in winter’s grip, but inside the greenhouses there were displays of colourful blooms of amaryllis and cyclamen, as well as groupings of tulips and miniature daffodils. I also noticed that compared to my visit in July, there were considerably more visitors. Viewing flowering plants and lush greenery is a greater attraction when the scenery outside is covered in snow. This is one of the reasons for the great success in March each year of Canada Blooms.
The greenhouses were also being employed as a pleasant environment for other activities. A woman was sitting on a bench in the Palm House to sketch, and another visitor on a bench was reading a book. There was also a school class of teenage schoolgirls who were recent immigrants to Canada. Their teacher seemed very proud to show-off the facilities and the wonderful displays.
The Palm House, the camera facing west, on February 19, 2019.
Allan Gardens possesses a long and varied history. It was originally known as the Toronto Horticultural Garden, its name changed to Allan Gardens in 1901. This was to honour the man who donated the original five acres to the Toronto Horticultural Society. To discover more about the history of Allan Gardens, follow the link: Historic Greenhouses in Allan Gardens—Toronto – Historic Toronto (tayloronhistory.com)
The main attraction of the greenhouses that exist in the park today is the Palm House. It is often employed for wedding ceremonies and special events. Under its enormous dome, tall leafy palms and other tropical plants grow in profusion. The Palm House is the oldest structure that exists in the park today. It opened in 1910, following a disastrous fire that demolished the previous pavilion in 1901. Another attraction in Allan Gardens is on the east side of the park, the statue of Robert Burns, placed there in 1902.
Postcard printed in 1910 of Allan Gardens. The view gazes northeast toward Carlton Street; the pathway leads to the fountain (now demolished), located in front of the Palm House. The Postcard is from the collection of the Toronto Public Library, pcr-2170.
The summer of 1913, the view gazing west toward the Palm House. Visible is the fountain designed by the same architects as the previous pavilion (constructed in 1879). Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, item 01101.
View looking across the grounds of Allan Gardens, from the doorway of the Palm House, on August 1, 1914. The camera is pointed east toward Sherbourne Street. Photo from the Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, item 0371.
This diagram of the greenhouses is not to scale, but it shows the various structures within it.
Inside the south greenhouse in 1914, view looking north from its south end. Toronto Archives, S0372, SS 0052, item 0259.
Looking into the north greenhouse in January 1914. The stairs have since been replaced with a ramp to facilitate easier access for the handicapped. Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, item 0252.
The south tropical greenhouse in January 1914. Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, item 0261.
View of the Palm House in 1925, prior to greenhouses being built on its north and south facades. The front of the Palm House (east facade) has been altered since this photo was taken. The fountain is visible on the right-hand side of the photo, and the steeple of the Old St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, is visible in the background. Toronto Public Library, r-777(1)
Adults and children in the early-1920s, posing for a photo while sitting on the stone wall that encircles the fountain. In the background, visible is the east (front) facade of the Palm House, which has two large pillars, one on either side of the central entrance. Today, there are large windows where the pillars and centre entrance were once located. Likely, the facade was altered in the late-1920s (see next photo).
The Palm House during the winter of 1972. In this photo, it can be seen that the pillars and the door in the centre position have been removed, replaced by doors on the north and south sides of the east facade. In the background can be seen a high-rise building, heralding the beginning of the many high-rise buildings that would be constructed on Jarvis Street in the decades ahead. Toronto Archives, F 0124, fl 0002, id 0135.
The University of Toronto’s Botany Education Greenhouse at 6 Queen’s Park (northwest corner of College and University Avenue). Built in 1932, it was dismantled and relocated to Allan Gardens in 2003. This was done to accommodate the construction of the University’s new pharmacy building, the Leslie Dan Building. Today, greenhouse is on the northwest section of the greenhouses in Allan Gardens. It is employed for student programs. Photo from the Toronto Archives, F 1244, item 7374.
In this view, the greenhouses are visible, which in the 1920s, were added to the north and south facades of the Palm House. In this photo, taken in 2018, the buildings in the background on Jarvis Street are taller and more numerous than in the 1970s photo.
The greenhouse built on the north side of the Palm House in the 1920s. The Palm House can be seen on the left-hand side of the photo.
(Left photo) Entrance to the Palm House on the north side of the structure. The classical design includes pilasters (three-sided faux columns) on either side of the door and large dentils in the cornice above the door. (Right photo) View from the doorway, looking into the Palm House.
Palms beneath the great glass dome of the Palm House.
A wedding ceremony in progress beneath the glass dome of the Palm House.
Serious photographers in the Palm House.
Gazing skyward from beneath the dome of the Palm House.
Entrance to the tropical greenhouse on the south side of the Palm House.
Inner pathway in the tropical greenhouse located on the south side of the Palm House.
Lush foliage and red shasta daisies beside the pathway in the greenhouse on the south of the Palm House.
A child runs amid the foliage in the south tropical greenhouse in Allan Gardens in July, 2018. It is not difficult to imagine how the child views the scene — a veritable endless jungle of greenery.
Yellow/red tulips and pink/white cyclamen in bloom in February 2019, a waterfalls in the background. I have observed displays such as this during my travels in tropical countries but never with tulips. They were of course imported for the occasion.
Winter displays of tulips and white amaryllis.
Entrance to the greenhouse where plants grow that survive in an arid (desert) climate (northwest greenhouse)
Golden Barrel Cactus in the Arid House. These plants were first discovered in Mexico.
Entrance to the greenhouses that extends to the west, from the greenhouse on the south side of the Palm House.
A wall of orchids displayed behind glass in the Tropical House, July 2018.
Orchid wall in a glass enclosure where humidity and temperature are closely monitored.
Shed and waterwheel in the southwest greenhouse, where turtles bask in the weak February sun shining through the glass roof.
Close-up view of the turtles.
Orchards in the south Tropical Greenhouse.
Blooms in the south greenhouse at Allan Gardens.
A pond with koi (goldfish) and a statue of “Leda and the Swan,” the figures based on a legend from Greek mythology.
View of the statue of “Leda and the Swan.”
Statue of Robert Burns on the east side of Allan Gardens. Photo July 2018. It was in July 1902 that the life-sized statue of the Scottish poet Robert Burns was donated to the park by the Toronto Burns Monument Committee. It was cast by D. W. Stevenson of Edinburgh, Scotland.
3 thoughts on “Alllan Gardens (Toronto) and the Palm House”
Thank you for presenting this. The greenhouse and facilities in Allan Gardens are in danger of falling victim to the dictum “familiarity breeds contempt”. A trip there, at this time of year, is beneficial. The initial comments about humidity in the Greenhouses underscores how dry Eastern Canadian winters are and how that contributes to making cold seem much colder. I’ve read many references to the previous building that was erected in 1878 but destroyed by fire a decade or so after the turn of the last century. When nearby Jarvis St. Baptist Church was renovated in the late 1880s and fitted with electric lights, the congregation rented the facilities and had their Sunday services there for a few weeks in the Summer. The building was used extensively for music performances and practices and I’ve read that Oscar Wilde gave a talk there.
I noted an error concerning the spire seen in two photographs. Both are of St
,Andrews at Jarvis and Carleton.
Many thanks for your comments and making me aware of a possible error. I hope the post inspires more people to visit the greenhouses.