Riverdale Farm in early 1900’s a most beautiful description of a visit, much about the adding of animals



First I saw the white bear, then I saw the black; Then I saw the camel with a hump upon his back. Everyone who has read Thackeray’s impressions of his visit to the Zoo will remember the order in which he describes the animals. No two zoos arrange their animals in the same way. In the very large zoos the animals are all housed in streets of cages. In the London Zoo, for in- stance, the visitor passes down Bear street, crosses over into Wolf avenue, and then saunters down Ostrich row. They have not attained to this aristocratic plenitude in the Toronto Zoo, and consequently the spectator sees a new variety at every step. There are over 250 living things in the Riverdale Park, since the idea of a city zoo won favour with the Council, and these birds and beasts are arranged in a happy-go-lucky fashion which wards off monotony. But the Riverdale favourites are lodged in most comfort-able quarters. Passing through the charming park with its pleasant shade trees and great beds of flowering shrubs, the visitor walks beneath a large palm tree, into the close proximity of creatures which are assembled from the burning tropics, the Siberian snows, Arabian deserts, and the gorgeous East. First, we come to the lion house, a magnificent brick building, with a caged verandah, on which a lion and his gentle partner, Nero and Venus, parade all day long, stopping long enough to feed or enjoy a brief siesta. The upstairs of their house is nicely furnished, and has windows.

The lions are in splendid condition, and are apparently happy in their new Toronto home. Quite properly the dis- poser of the animals placed the king of birds next to the king of beasts, and three or four gray and golden eagles occupy a lot roofed over by strong wire. Then come the foxes and prairie dogs and the grey ocelot. A family of raccoons live next door, and any after- noon they may be seen sleeping in their tree, some caught in a cleft and using it as a cradle ; others sound asleep with a leg over a branch, like a man who throws one leg over his arm-chair while taking an after-dinner nap. A pair of grey wolves occupy the next cage to their friends and cousins the raccoons. But the gray wolves, the raccoons, and the ocelot who sleeps in the corner of his cage with his nose in the sawdust, receive but few glances from the children or their parents while the camels browse around in the front yard. The Siberian camel and the African dromedary are new arrivals at the zoo. If the expression is permissible, the camels are being lionized by the public just now. Every visitor stands at eager gaze as the camels walk back and forth carefully lifting their padded, two-toed feet over the pigeons which impudently strut beneath them, and craning their limber necks to catch a far-off view of the pleasant river Don, along whose banks they are wont to stray on particular days. One camel is beautiful as camels go, the other is decidedly unprepossessing in appearance. The cheery, complacent ship of the desert is the Siberian camel. His colour is a-creamy gray, diversified here and there by bunches of curly black hair. His curved neck is a thing of beauty, its soft hue suggesting moon- light on the arid sands. This camel often smiles as he rubs his left hind leg against the wire fence and ruminates on the good times his fathers had as they travelled the caravan route be- tween China and Russia, laden with silks, spices and teas for Muscovy. The corded bales weighed twelve hundred pounds, but the Siberian camel cared nothing for this burden, and walked his forty miles a day to the encouraging incitements of his Chinese driver. The refined, pale gray countenance of the tall, stately Siberian camel forms a striking contrast to the wizened, ascetic face of the dromedary. The dromedary hails from Arabia, and is of a cinnamon-brown colour, and looks as if he wore a buffalo robe. He is an ugly brute, and seems to be a pessimist, but he ought to be proud of himself, for he can travel one hundred miles a day across the burning sands of Araby, carrying his master on his hardy hump. The dromedary is one of the most famous of all the friends of man. From the time of the Hebrew patriarchs he has been the pride of the black tents of the East. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob petted him, and the Arabian sheikh of to-day values him far beyond rubies and fine gold. On first viewing the camels many people are inclined to think they are starved. A camel, however, never grows fat. If he has any nutriment to spare he packs it away in his hump. The camel is a firm believer in concentrated food, in condensed fodder. A full hump will supply meals for a fasting camel for a whole week. The keeper of animals at the zoo lets the eastern potentates roam as much as possible, for it is their nature so to do. Camels are strange beasts, and have a queer taste in the matter of food, preferring thistles and the prickly cactus to smooth and luscious grasses. But” the visitor cannot always stand and look at the camels. He hurries on and pays his respects to the black bears, mother and father and twins, all of them meandering around their cage restless, longing for the wild woods. Brilliant peacocks and pea- fowl are next in order, and then more bears,’the sun bears of Borneo, who are very fond of chewing up wooden objects. Then come the prairie wolves and the Canada lynx, who loves to ^o to sleep lying out along a limb straddle fashion. The lynx does not sleep overmuch, however. He is always on the look- out for an adventure. One day he dis- covered a weak place in his cage, and after impatiently awaiting the coming of night he made good his escape and entered upon a festal escapade, the memory of which still cheers him on gloomy winter days, when visitors are few and dulness palls upon his eager spirit. During the night of his joyous escape from prison-bars the lynx captured seven of the costly wild fowl in the neighbourhood of his quarters and managed to masticate the most toothsome portions of the birds. In the morning the keepers made diligent search for the missing one, and found him at last beneath the bears’ cage. On being invited he refused to issue forth, and the irate keepers were forced to nail up all the openings save one, and against this exit they placed a “shifting box.” The lynx was persuaded to enter the improvised moving van by the full stream of a hose, which a keeper remorselessly played upon him until he re-entered captivity. The Toronto Zoo is set upon the slope of a hill overlooking the Don and there” and performing- a two-step in a very creditable style. This affable brown monster took lessons from a Russian dancing-master in 1897, and travelled extensively on the continent and in England as a public entertainer. Peter the Great i s probably the best specimen of his race now in captivity. He weighs 700 pounds, and as he has not yet reached maturity, he is expect-ed to double his weight if his present state of good health continues. Immediately above the cages of the bears and midway on the slope is the monkey house, the great at- traction at the zoo for the juveniles of Toronto. The house in which the funny little cousins of man are at home is a circular structure containing some ten or eleven cages, with a brick retiring room in the centre. The monkeys come out in the open from a little win-dow, and they are always going in and coming out, for they lead a strenuous life. To stand in front of the Bengal monkey cage is as good as witnessing a trapeze performance. A piece of rubber hose tied to the ceiling of the cage serves as a handle on which the act- ors perform. They spring from their tree to this hose-rope with the most astonish-ing agility. They pull one another down and play tricks all day long, wrestling and boxing and making grim- aces. There is something- irresistibly fascinating’ about all the monkey tribe. A boy looking at the antics of the Bengal monkeys the other day, suddenly saw the comical face of one of the elders poked through the little brick window, and the young spectator nudged another boy excitedly, and cried, “Look, there’s another man coming out!” And that is the idea that strikes every spectator, the great similarity of the monkeys to human beings, and this lends an interest and a drollness to every grimace and every caper in the monkey-house at the zoo. The pheasant house is the last stop-ping place on the tour of the zoo. It is a splendid building, and the birds within are the admiration of every visitor to the zoo, the hues and markings of the rare and gorgeous birds forming a chromatic study for all lovers of the beautiful. There are several deer belonging to the zoo, also a pair of moose, but the latter are to be seen only on Saturdays. It is very difficult to keep moose in good condition while they are in captivity, as they are accustomed when at home in the west to feed on Water ous plants in the summer months, and in winter they browse on ground spruce. In order to give them as succulent a diet as possible in the summer time, the keeper of the zoo takes the moose up to the ravine near the Swiss Cottage Hospital, where they thrive on the tender herbage. On Saturdays they are brought down to the zoo to exhibit them-selves to the crowds who visit Riverdale Park on that day. It is interesting to consider the modest beginnings from which this efficient and well-stocked zoo has sprung. In 1889 two Canadian deer were procured. Then it was considered advisable to obtain a few more Canadian animals to keep the deer from getting lonely. It was the original idea to have none but our own home-grown animals in Riverdale Park. Aid. Lamb, who has taken a very active interest in the zoo from the outset, wrote to all the Indian agents in the west, and also to the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, asking them to buy wild animals from the Indians, and offered a fair price for all captives forwarded to Toronto. He received encouraging letters in reply, and began to imagine he would be swamped with the supply of animals that would be sent to him. But strange to relate, not an Indian forwarded an animal. Our Canadian Indians have always been accustomed to killing animals for food, but have not been taught how to catch them alive. A few white settlers sent on some elk and wolves, however, and these formed the nucleus of the present zoo. Then various animal dealers began to send in price lists and offered to stock the zoo within thirty days. And just here it might not be uninteresting to give average prices which animal dealers ask for their stock, in order to show what an expensive luxury a good zoo becomes. A five-year old Barbary lion costs $1,500, a pair of Nubian lions $750, a female Bengal tiger $750. For the hay-eating class of animals some large prices are asked. For a hippopotamus 83,000, for a female Indian elephant $1,500, for a pair of zebras $1,750, for a Siberian camel $300, for a blue gnou $900, for a pair of kangaroos $65. Monkeys come cheaper. Baboons can be had for $20 each, and small cage monkeys sell at about the same price. An African ostrich is worth $20; white pea-fowl sell at $100 a pair, and a python snake is ticketed at $400. It will probably be some years be- fore Riverdale Park is densely populated with animals, but the progress that has been made during the last two years is very encouraging, and in the next decade in our zoological collection ought to be one of the finest in North America.

William Talbot Allison 1874 1941

Cleric, professor.

Born at Unionville, Ontario in 1874, he was educated at the University of Toronto (Harbord Collegiate) and Yale University. He was Editor of “The Harbord Review” while at school, and a reporter at the Toronto News and The Star. He wrote a volume of poetry entitled “The Amber Army.” He served as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Stayner, Ontario, until his appointment to Wesley College in 1910. In 1920, he became Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba. Allison was active in journalism, syndicating a weekly book review feature in leading Canadian newspapers. He was Literary Columnist of the Winnipeg Telegram and  Montreal Daily Star, and Literary Editor of the Winnipeg Tribune. He was a founder of the Canadian Authors’ Association and one of the first educators to take advantage of the medium of radio, lecturing over CKY as early as 1924. He was the author of Bolshevism in English Literature (1921). He and wife Annie Josephine Cunard Dawson (?-?) had three children: Frederick Gerard AllisonGerald Carlisle Allison, and Mary Allison (1913-?, wife of Colin Ashdown). He died at his Winnipeg residence, 600 Gertrude Avenue, on 4 February 1941. A scrapbook of newspaper clippings is held in the Archives of Manitoba.

Leave a Reply