By: J.M.S. Careless

From: Polyphony Summer 1984 pp. 15-18
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

*This article is an abridged version of one that appears in "Gathering Place: Peoples and Neighbourhoods of Toronto," by the same author, entitled "The Emergence of Cabbagetown in Victorian Toronto" (Multicultural History Society, 1984).

Like many another urban neighbourhood, Cabbagetown has gone through various transitions since it first took shape in the late nineteenth century. Set at the eastern end of the original City of Toronto and extending to the Don River, this locale was scarcely occupied before 1850, for the main thrusts of expansion had moved westward along the harbourfront or northward around Yonge Street, the central route inland. Hence the easternmost city territory for a considerable time had stayed as little more than a fringe of humble cottages and vegetable plots. But that changed with the growth of a railway and industrial Toronto from the mid-nineteenth century.

The area increasingly became a populous residential district for urban workers, bordering a new rail and factory complex at the Don end of the harbour, which offered jobs, soot and smells together. Thus Victorian Cabbagetown characteristically developed as a domain of small, cheap houses on minor streets. It had little in common with the handsome estates of Rosedale rising beyond Bloor Street on its north, or with the big mansions on Sherbourne and Jarvis Streets to its west. And the poor, the working-class and lesser members of the middle class who filled this unadorned preserve stemmed overwhelmingly from the flow of Anglo-Celtic immigration of the Victorian age. Consequently the community that had consolidated there by the late century was all but homogeneously English-speaking, pre-eminently Protestant (though with a sizeable Catholic Irish minority), and highly British and Orange in feeling and tradition.

This is the historic Cabbagetown to be examined here. Yet one may go on, briefly, to note later transitions. Around the First World War, as still newer areas arose in the enlarging city, aspiring residents began moving from the district. Poorer elements crowded into its houses, sometimes two or more families in each. These flimsily constructed, largely rented homes readily leaked and deteriorated; and landlords found decreasing value in keeping them up. The grim years of the 1930s deepened the decline, but it no less marked a process of neighbourhood decay continually repeated across urban America. Cabbagetown's life-quality, cohesion and morale went downhill together. In due course Hugh Garner in the preface to his novel Cabbagetown, first published in 1950, would thus describe the locality he had earlier lived in for some three years as "a sociological phenomenon, the largest Anglo-Saxon slum in North America." That is the kind of sweeping verdict that catches the eye, yet also expresses literary licence. The same licence was exemplified when Garner went on to say that, "Following World War II most of Cabbagetown was bulldozed to the ground." Actually, most of the area's Victorian cityscape then stayed in being, despite several big clearance projects whereby the state and the developer erected high-rise towers of sinister proportions and other handy blocks for breeding social alienation.

Still, Cabbagetown went on changing from the 1950s, as an in flux of newer ethnic elements brought a very different diversity, and then as gentrifiers swept in, extensively and expensively remodelling its humble houses. Again these are typical processes in urban America. In any event, today it may be said that little beyond the physical layout remains of the old Cabbagetown community. It is now scarcely more than a heritage myth, hazily invoked by real estate agents busy merchandizing quaintness.

But Cabbagetown did exist: as a working, well-knit neighbourhood of Victorian Toronto. Its community life in that era is substantially conveyed in the reminiscences of the city journalist, J.V. McAree, who was born within it in 1876 to Ulster immigrant parents and grew up at the Cabbagetown Store he describes in his book of 1953 . The account undoubtedly displays nostalgia and later, selective memory; yet allowing for these, and with corroborating evidence, one may broadly deem its picture valid. This Cabbagetown was a place of small-town family and neighbourly focuses, of mutual aid and accepted, bonding obligations. It was equally a place of arduous work, often in adjacent industries; of stringency, layoffs, and all-too-frequent hardship; of contending constantly with dirt, cold and disease.

Quite probably popular tradition is right in attributing the name Cabbagetown to proliferating little fields, cabbage patches and squatters' shacks-which became residences for the expanding poorer elements of the city-associated as the term was also with poor Irish settlers of the day, both Protestant and Catholic, who traditionally raised the humble green vegetable. Yet it should be kept in mind that such a disparaging label for a local area of low esteem was more generic than specific. Urban places in nineteenth-century North America had their full quota of similar Shantytowns, Paddytowns, Corktowns and so on. Nevertheless, a loosely applied nickname of this sort could become an enduring badge of identity for a recognized neighbourhood community: and so it had become for "Cabbage Town'' (at first two words) by the time that title appeared in printed works on Toronto- thus far not noted before the earlier 1890s.

Cabbagetown grew with renewed immigration to Toronto in later Victorian times. The strongly Catholic Irish influx had dwindled away in the mid-fifties and was not to soar again.1 But a migrant stream from Britain grew once more in the later sixties; and while it did not reach anything like previous flood proportions for a now far larger city, it went on, with varied fluctuations, across the rest of the period. Notably this newer intake derived largely from England, with fewer Irish and Scots among it.2 And those it brought were no longer country dwellers or semi-rural cottagers, but inhabitants of an urbanized industrialized Britain. Consequently they were generally adapted to city occupations, industrial and store employment, and many would move into developing Cabbagetown as a well-suited residential quarter. Along with Canadian-born inhabitants-chiefly the offspring of earlier Anglo-Celtic arrivals-they consolidated a now maturing neighbourhood; and quite naturally reinforced its British composition and character. At least to the turn of the twentieth century, there were scant non-British, non-English-speaking traces in the neighbourhood, for the smaller wave of continental European migration to the city that rose in the new century came after Cabbagetown had essentially been occupied. In any case, the later Victorian British inflow fitted into context in that district continuing its motherland ties, imperialist loyalty and Anglo Saxonism. Furthermore, its Protestant predominance was sustained besides.

Anglican churches in particular arose in the area beyond Little Trinity: St. Peter's in 1866, All Saints in 1874, St. Simon's in 1888 and St. Bartholemew' s by 1889. The formation of parishes in itself illustrated the progressive filling in and structuring of Cabbagetown. Less numerous were major Methodist and Presbyterian churches, such as Berkeley Street Methodist (1871), or St. Enoch's Presbyterian (1891); while the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart (1888) then remained a minor focus in contrast to the strongly Catholic convergence around long established St. Paul' s in Cork Town below Queen Street, with its big charitable House of Providence nearby (1858). Moreover, this district version of Toronto the Good, the city of churches, was decidedly evangelical in its dominant tone. Independent chapels of ardent fundamentalist faith, missions, earnest prayer meetings and outdoor revival gatherings also featured the majority Protestant community and further evidenced its outlook.

The population growth that had built up this very identifiable neighbourhood by the 1890s may be substantiated from the census records for St. David's Ward from the 1870s. In 1871 (allowing for the western section of St. David' s of that date, which did not form part of Cabbagetown) the population of the latter locale might reasonably be estimated at around 7,000 in a city of some 56,000.3 In 1881 St. David's, now nearly co-terminous with Cabbagetown, held 11,000 in round numbers within a city of 96,000.4 And in 1891, when even more coincident, it had over 22,000 inhabitants in a Toronto of 181,000.5 The most obvious fact is the veritable doubling of population in the Cabbagetown area over the eighties-a basic product of climbing industrialization and in-migration during the decade. Thereafter, the district's own demographic record is submerged within the new and different civic ward system implemented in 1892. For by the early nineties the Cabbagetown locale had clearly been taken up and its community had acquired firm outlines, whether or not out-migration or more crowding-in would subsequently affect its numbers. We have seen when and how it became settled during the Victorian era. It now remains instead to examine the society and life of this emergent neighbourhood.

One major aspect of Cabbagetown society was its religious patterning, at a time when Toronto's church ties were pervasive -whatever the class-and taken pretty seriously. Census statistics for the seventies to nineties affirm the area's notably Protestant complexion, yet tell more. The figures for extended St. David's in 1871 show about 7,400 inhabitants belonging to the chief Protestant denominations and some 3,000 Catholics.6 And though this ward then still reached west to Jarvis Street and so included others besides Cabbagetowners, there is no cause to think that the religious ratio would have been greatly different if we had just the Cabbagetown section to go on. At the very least, one may judge that the traditionally large Protestant majority ascribed to it was apparent by that date. The census returns of 1881, for a St. David's reduced much more to our area, may be considered in more detail. They report 2,410 Catholics, 3,937 Anglicans, 2,095 Methodists and 1,449 Presbyterians, which (with 632 Baptists added) give a main Protestant majority of 8,113, even without other small sects.7 Finally, the 1891 returns in a St. David's, which by then virtually coincided with Cabbagetown, show 3,992 Catholics, 7,166 Anglicans, 5,081 Methodists, 4,200 Presbyterians and 1,088 Baptists-or a main Protestant majority of 17,535 in a far more populous location community.8 Three points stand out: the Catholic element had grown by less than a third over the eighties; the Anglicans had nearly doubled and remained much the largest single denomination; while the Methodists and Presbyterians had more than doubled.

The process that, in consequence, produced a still more Protestant Cabbagetown can surely be linked to the relative decline of Catholic Irish immigration since the 1850s and to the continued flow of English and Scots into Toronto, even though natural increase of native-born and movement from the countryside to city jobs additionally affected the neighbourhood society. Here we need a closer look at the ethnic origins and birthplaces of its members, and for that must focus on the 1881 ward census. The ethnic figures for the St. David's Ward of 1871 are risky to apply specifically to Cabbagetown, while the 1891 Census did what censuses too often do, change category units, rendering it of little value for a relevant comparison on nationalities.9 At any rate, statistics for 1881-in the midst of the area's principal growth period-showed, for St. David's, 4,562 residents of English origin, 1,305 of Scottish and 4,548 of Irish stock. 10 The last-named group, of course, comprised both Protestant and Catholic elements. Since in that day Toronto's Catholics were overwhelmingly Irish-derived, it seems meaningful to subtract the contemporary Catholic component given for St. David's in 1881 from the Irish ethnic total, which leaves a remainder of 2,138. Almost certainly, this, to a great extent, represented the Protestant Irishmen of the ward. In other words, probably almost half the Irish residents in Cabbagetown of the eighties were of Orange rather than Green affinity. Beyond these main ethnic groups, only about 260 each of French or German origin were then reported for the area, 6 "Russian-Polish," 10 Swiss, 5 Scandinavians and 18 ''Africans.''11 There were no Italians, Jews, Dutch or Chinese listed. An Anglo-Celtic bailiwick indeed, if not either an English or Irish entity.

As for birthplaces, the English element in 1881 contained the largest number of homeland-born, 1,924, or over 42 per cent.12 The Irish correspondingly displayed nearly 34 per cent of overseas origin, the Scots about 32 per cent. Totalling these segments against the area majority of Canadian birth (but Anglo-Celtic stock) gives to the neighbourhood of 1881 a non-native component of around 40 per cent, still a high proportion when one considers that this comes just after the migration lull around the close of the seventies when hard times ruled Toronto. And since the city' s British intake swelled again over the eighties into the nineties, it is altogether probable that Cabbagetown did maintain its large immigrant ingredient throughout the rest of the period. It remained, in short, both an Anglo-conformist stronghold and a home of migrants from the United Kingdom. That it held only 379 of United States birth in 1881 indicates that any American component was very limited. 13 Yet it did play host to another small and rather different group of newcomers: French Canadians-about 250 by 1881-who had been brought there to work in a local tannery. 14 They formed the nucleus of the Sacred Heart Catholic congregation, but hardly affected the ethnic nature of the community.

Inherently linked both with the politics and the dominant sentiments of this society was the Orange Order. A recent work on the Order in Canada, by Cecil Houston and William Smyth, demonstrates that its membership was widespread across later Victorian Toronto, with lowest density in the upper class residential tracts of Jarvis Street and Rosedale, but highest density in Cabbagetown. No doubt the numerous Ulster Irish in that neighbourhood had much to do with the case. Yet Houston and Smyth confirm that the Order drew widely on English and Scottish stocks also, and it had strong followings in all three major Toronto Protestant churches-Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian, especially the first two-which were also the largest in Cabbagetown. Smaller Protestant denominations like Baptists or Lutherans were much less evident in Orangeism; as they were again in Cabbagetown. At the same time, the Order crossed class lines and kept a substantial middle-class component, even if the bulk of its members came from the lower classes.

Orange lodges pervaded the district, but a main meeting-place for their members was the eastern Orange Hall on Queen Street. Here was a forum for their views on public issues, and a headquarters for political transactions. The Orange vote in Toronto mattered municipally, provincially and federally. Orangemen were perennial among civic politicians and plentiful in city employment, whether at City Hall, the works department or in the police force, for all of which Cabbagetown residents offered a goodly quota. It is unnecessary, however, to view this as some dark conspiratorial net, a King Billy underground. Orange ties, for better or worse, operated pretty openly; and it would have been hard to impugn the respectability of the Order' s stands on British loyalty and Protestant freedom to majority Toronto then.

Cabbagetowners marched on the Orange celebration day, July 12, but almost as virtuously as in a temperance or trades union parade. Granted there long were fights and uproars in Toronto associated with the Glorious Twelfth or Hibernian St. Patrick's Day, still, violence chiefly occurred in more turbulent and crowded areas of the city. For our neighbourhood, Orangeism broadly implied order rather than disorder.

Furthermore, it has well been pointed out that Toronto's denser residential districts really contained religious admixtures, and there were no great separate, terraced confines of either Protestants or Catholics as in Belfast, mass citadels for religious warfare. In Cabbagetown, assuredly, Protestants had many Catholic street neighbours; the converse was equally true in adjacent, prevalently Catholic Cork Town south of Queen Street and on below King Street. There was not the same tight territorial basis for major sectarian combat. Sparring there might be, as when an Orange band trumpetted and coat-trailed into a largely Catholic street; yet this local version of "chicken" was a fairly minor fringe sport. The Cabbagetown community then was not an ethno-religious enclave-for all its Orange display-or a politically sequestered compound.

1. For example, in the migration ebb of the later fifties, Irish landings at Quebec fell from a low 4,100 in 1855 to a minute 410 by 1861, while English entries led with 6,700 and 7,700 at the same respective dates (Round numbers: see "Government of Canada. Report of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration" , 1960-61
(Ottawa, 1961), p. 28). Of course Irish landings rose somewhat in the renewed phases of British migration to Canada over the late sixties through eighties, which had their own lulls interspersed. But the Irish proportion of the whole intake did not regain preponderance.

2. Immigrant arrivals just for Toronto, as available over the later Victorian years, make the pattern evident. For instance, the numbers listed of English, Irish and Scots entrants to the city (in that order) were, for 1869: 7,275, 811 and 1,548; for 1874: 7,694, 1,530 and 1,995; for 1878 (example of a depressed year): 2,706, 646 and 979; and for 1880 (time of partial recovery): 3,982, 2,288 and 1,225. (See Ontario Archives, "Immigrants' Arrivals to Toronto, Statistical Returns, 1868-1881,'' XLVl, handwritten, n.d.).

3. "Census of Canada". 1871 I, p. 114. The total figure for the St. David's of that year was 11,229. In view of the much older and denser development of the western, non-Cabbagetown section of this ward at that date, to assign its larger but newer Cabbagetown portion, around 60 per cent of the count seems safely conservative
for 1871.

4. "Census of Canada". 1881 1, p. 73.

5. "Census of Canada", 1891 1, p. 174.

6. "Census", 1871, pp. 114-15. If anything, the Protestant ratio for Cabbagetown alone might have been a bit higher, since the older western section of St. David's in 1871 likely held more Catholics, as is strongly suggested by the denominational charts compiled for the settled city of 1851-61 in D.S. O'Shea, "The Irish Immigrant
Adjustment to Toronto: 1840-1865" unpublished graduate research paper, University of Toronto, 1972, appendices. In any event, it is unwise to use the 1871 Census figures for St. David's to convey much more than the general but sizeable Protestant
ascendancy in our locale that was attained by that time. Closer applications concerning specific church numbers run into too many uncertainties of linkage between the total ward figures and the Cabbagetown community itself. The same is true regarding statistics of birthplaces and national origins: the 1871 Census is not a sufficiently indicative key to them, since the fit between the St. David's of the day and its Cabbagetown content was still too loose before 1873.

7. "Census", 1881,1, pp. 174-75.

8. "Census", 1891, 1, pp. 282-83.

9. As for ethnic patterns later than 1881, it could be noted that the Census of 1901 did at least present origins by wards, and here it may be somewhat illustrative to mark the wide Ward II that from 1892 included most of Cabbagetown. For what it is worth, the 1901 statistics for this successor ward enumerate (rounded) 15,000
of English ancestry, 11,800 Irish and 5,800 Scottish-and specifically, 1,153 ''Germans,'' 299 Jewish, 61 ''African'' and 42 Italian, among other small components. But the 1881 Census affords the closest analysis.

10. "Census", 1881, pp. 276-77.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid, pp. 374-75.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., p. 277.

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