Vintage photographs from the first years of the Toronto Zoo

August 15th was the anniversary of the opening of the Toronto Zoo, or the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo as it was first called. The Metropolitan was dropped from the name when the “Megacity” was created in 1998. To mark the date, I have selected some photos from the archives to see what it was like when it first opened.

1975 - May - Entrance, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Entrance

Prior to the opening of the new zoo in 1974, the Riverdale Farm was the zoo. The Riverdale Park Zoo was very small and had animals in small enclosures. A larger zoo was proposed in the 60s which would increase the size from 3 hectares (7.4 acres) to 287 hectares (710 acres). Animals were moved to the new site upon completion and the old zoo was converted into the Riverdale Farm, which opened in 1978.

1955 - Riverdale Park; Zoo, bear (brown).
1955 – Riverdale Park; Zoo, bear (brown).

The Toronto Zoo also had a “monorail” that opened in 1976. The Canadian Domain Ride took a path into the Zoo’s Canadian Domain area, located in the Rouge Valley. After an accident in 1994 where 27 people were hurt, 8 seriously, the train was discontinued. The tracks became overgrown and the infrastructure weakened. A new life was breathed into the monorail when a fundraising drive raised $1.15 million to restore it. Now, Magnovate, a company that works with maglev trains in Edmonton, is close to signing a deal to build one of its systems over a five kilometre stretch.

1976 - Train driver Patricia Farrell provided a vivid commentary - even about animals that haven't arrived; like the grizzly bears
1976 – Train driver Patricia Farrell provided a vivid commentary – even about animals that haven’t arrived; like the grizzly bears
1976 - The electrically powered train travels along a concrete guideway winding through part of 410-acre Rouge River valley.
1976 – The electrically powered train travels along a concrete guideway winding through part of 410-acre Rouge River valley.

The zoo is a topic of much debate. On one side you have animals out of their habitat being staged for our enjoyment. Unable to live their natural lives. On the other side, animals of the world face a growing threat and the protection and research that goes on at the Toronto Zoo has saved many species from extinction.

1974 - Mr. Pooh; the 5-year-old polar bear at the Riverdale Zoo was reluctant to leave for his new home in the Metro Zoo yesterday.
1974 – Mr. Pooh; the 5-year-old polar bear at the Riverdale Zoo was reluctant to leave for his new home in the Metro Zoo yesterday.

The zoo also participates in many captive breeding and re-introduction programs, is a great education resource for conservation efforts with 1.2 million visitors each year, helps in restoring habitats for native species around the world, partakes in conservation studies of endangered plants and habitats and an international seed exchange, has an Invasive Species Management Program that works on research, education and management initiatives to help prevent and control the spread of invasive species.

The Toronto Zoo will turn 50 in 2024.

1973 - The africa pavilion in the background; some youngsters race across the site of the new zoo
1973 – The africa pavilion in the background; some youngsters race across the site of the new zoo
1974 - 'My enthusiasm for Metro Toronto Zoo has not faded; says former director Gunter Voss; in letter below.
1974 – ‘My enthusiasm for Metro Toronto Zoo has not faded; says former director Gunter Voss; in letter below.
1974 - Bingo the antelope; gets a handout from animal keeper Janice LaTrobe. Part of her job now is releasing caged animals into the natural habitat
1974 – Bingo the antelope; gets a handout from animal keeper Janice LaTrobe. Part of her job now is releasing caged animals into the natural habitat
1974 - Canada - Ontario - Toronto - Zoos - Metro Toronto Zoo
1974 – Zebra
1974 - Giraffe
1974 – Giraffe
1974 - mother; Pjasina; lay down with three of the four in a holding pen. She is one of the first Siberian tigers ever to give birth in Canada
1974 – mother; Pjasina; lay down with three of the four in a holding pen. She is one of the first Siberian tigers ever to give birth in Canada
1974 - One of the daring pranks young visitors to the zoo have been guilty of is jumping down or walking around a four-foot deep moat into the rhinoceros enclosure.
1974 – One of the daring pranks young visitors have been guilty of is jumping down or walking around a four-foot deep moat into the rhinoceros enclosure.
1974 - Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey with 4-year-old Jennifer Grant and her sister Catherine, 6, in crowd of up to 10,000 children and their parents enjoying a sneak preview
1974 – Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey with 4-year-old Jennifer Grant and her sister Catherine, 6, in crowd of up to 10,000 children and their parents enjoying a sneak preview.
1974 - This is the first winter in a cold climate for many of the animals at Metro's zoo
1974 – This is the first winter in a cold climate for many of the animals.
1975 - African rainforest pavilion, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – African rainforest pavilion
1975 - Giving the folks a show - Mias - a 350-pound orang-outang at Metro zoo - hangs on to some bars and appears to be doing a little jib.
1975 – Giving the folks a show – Mias – a 350-pound orang-outang – hangs on to some bars and appears to be doing a little jib.
1975 - Looking after visiting pets - Lydia Chornewich - 18 - works for the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo - in the pet park - run by the Ontario Humane Society - Reader wishes other places provided same service
1975 – Looking after visiting pets – Lydia Chornewich – 18 – works in the pet park – run by the Ontario Humane Society – Reader wishes other places provided same service
1975 - May - Alligator, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Alligator
1975 - May - Antelope, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Antelope
1975 - May - Camel, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Camel
1975 - May - Children, group, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Children, group
1975 - May - Chinese leopard, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Chinese leopard
1975 - May - Elephants, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Elephants
1975 - May - Flamingo, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Flamingo
1975 - May - Gibbons, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Gibbons
1975 - May - Hippopotami, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Hippopotami
1975 - May - Llama, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Llama
1975 - May - Mountain goats, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Mountain goats
1975 - May - Pavilion, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Pavilion
1975 - May - Polar bear, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Polar bear
1975 - May - Tiger, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Tiger
1975 - May - Water buffalo, Metro Toronto Zoo
1975 – May – Water buffalo
1976 - Canada - Ontario - Toronto - Zoos - Metro Toronto Zoo - Animals - Monkeys
1976 – Monkeys
1976 - Canadian Animal Domain at Metro Zoo is scheduled to open July 1 and will include this herd of 30 bison.
1976 – Canadian Animal Domain is scheduled to open July 1 and will include this herd of 30 bison.
1976 - Mayor David Crombie, his sons, Jonathan, 10, and Robin, 11, and friends, Glenda Reid, 11, and David Ross, 8. Crombie's son want him to take over the zoo.
1976 – Mayor David Crombie, his sons, Jonathan, 10, and Robin, 11, and friends, Glenda Reid, 11, and David Ross, 8. Crombie’s son want him to take over the zoo.
1976 - The $2 million worth of animals at the Metro Zoo seem to be enjoying the wintry weather.
1976 – The $2 million worth of animals seem to be enjoying the wintry weather.

 

 

 

 

Joel Levy
About Joel Levy 1285 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography