Toronto Zoo - History


Location in Toronto

In 1888, the Riverdale Zoo opened in Toronto, as a typical example of a zoo during this time, with animals displayed as curiosities in dark cages and cramped enclosures.

In 1963 a private citizen's brief to build a new zoo was introduced by Mr. Hugh Crothers to the Chairman of the Council of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, William Allen. Mr. Allen asked Mr. Crothers to head up a committee to investigate the feasibility of a new zoo. By 1966 a group of 11 people became the The Metro Toronto Zoological Society with Mr. Crothers as the first Chairman.

Original plans were to have to park located at the Don Mills, Ontario area, but the site was later used to create the E.T. Seton Park. In 1966, Mr. Crothers and the 10 other citizens met at City Hall to form the Metropolitan Toronto Zoological Society. In 1967, the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto approved the Rouge Park site in Scarborough for a new zoo. The following year, a feasibility study on the new zoo was produced by architect Raymond Moriyama. In 1969 a master plan was created by Johnson Sustronk Weinstein and Associates which was approved by the Zoological Society. Construction of the new zoo began in 1970. On August 15, 1974 the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo was open to the public. The zoo increased from 3 hectares (7.4 acres) to 287 hectares (710 acres), and is now one of the largest zoos in the world. The Zoo introduced some designs to enhance the public's viewing experience and the animals' living comfort. Animals were displayed in naturalized environments and grouped according to their zoogeographic region. The old zoo was converted into an urban farm called Riverdale Farm, which opened in 1978.

In 1976, the Zoo opened the Canadian Domain Ride, a monorail that traveled into the Zoo's Canadian Domain area, located in the Rouge Valley. The ride ceased operations in July 1994 after an accident. The monorail has since been dismantled. The current Zoomobile uses 5 (4 car set) Chance Coach Sunliner tram.

Between 1980 and 1984 several new exhibits were added to the Zoo, including Gaur, a children's zoo (Littlefootland) which does not exist anymore, and a new indoor habitat for African Elephants, Snow Leopards and the Indian Rhinoceros Pavilion. As well as, the official opening of the Zoomobile.

In 1985, Qing Qing and Quan Quan – a pair of giant pandas, on loan for three months from the Peoples' Republic of China were displayed at the Zoo. The Zoo broke all previous attendance records, as thousands of visitors came to see these rare animals. Over the years, the Zoo has presented other rare or unusual animals, including: golden monkeys (1986), koalas (1988, 1996 and again in 2002), and white lions (1995, and again in 2012).

In 1987, the zoo opened the Maya Temple exhibit and Wolf Woods exhibit. In 1988, the zoo completed new reptile exhibits in the Australasia Pavilion and the Primate Wing in the Americas Pavilion. Caracal lynx exhibit opened in 1989, the year after the Spotted-neck otter exhibit opened.

In 1993, the Red Panda exhibit re-opened and the Malayan Woods Pavilion opened. The sumatran tigers arrived in 1994. Naked mole-rats went on exhibit in 1996. Komodo dragons become a feature exhibit in 1997.

In 1998, with the amalgamation of the Metro Municipalities, the Zoo was officially renamed the Toronto Zoo. That same year, the Zoo opened the Africa Savannah exhibits, the largest expansion in its history. In 2001, the Zoo added eyelash vipers to its collection and opened the Gorilla Rainforest, the world’s largest indoor habitat for Lowland Gorillas. The zoo's 'Splash Island', an educationally-themed water play area, opened in 2002. This was followed by an open-air amphitheatre in 2003 and the 'Kid's Zoo' in 2004 featuring exhibits geared to guests 10 and under.

The SARS crisis in 2003 had a devastating effect on the tourism industry in Toronto, however the Zoo fared well with local residents supporting the zoo by visiting often. The Zoo’s attendance has recovered well with many record-breaking annual attendance numbers since then.

In November 2006, the Toronto Zoo temporarily closed the Australasia Pavilion for redevelopment. The pavilion underwent two years of construction, resulting in new exhibits including a Great Barrier Reef area (where the former Edge of Night exhibit used to be). The Great Barrier Reef exhibit consists of a large seven-metre-long community tank featuring sharks, damsel, and angel fish. There is also a lion fish, as well as enlarged seahorse tanks. Coral and moon jelly fish have also been added to the collection – both firsts for the Toronto Zoo. This pavilion reopened on May 16, 2008.

In May 2007, Dinosaurs Alive opened, which featured 18 animated dinosaur models and life-size skeleton replicas. It featured the largest T-Rex in North America. This exhibit was enjoyed by over 600,000 visitors and was included with zoo admission. The exhibit closed in October 2007.

On August 21, 2007, the polar bear, llama, Dall's Sheep and Mara exhibits were closed for the construction of the new 10-acre (4.0 ha) Tundra Trek area. This project was the first phase of the North Zoo Site Redevelopment Project. Tundra Trek features new exhibits for the popular polar bear, reindeer, arctic fox, arctic wolf and snowy owl. Coming back to take up residence in the new polar bear exhibit were 3 orphaned polar bears initially raised at the Zoo and named by the community: Aurora, Nakita and Inukshuk. The Tundra Trek opened on August 1, 2009.

On May 16, 2008, Stingray Bay opened for the first time. This interactive exhibit allows the public to touch, feel, and feed live stingrays. The stingrays are supported in 20-inch (510 mm) deep, 1,450-square-foot (135 m2), 60,500-litre (13,300 imp gal; 16,000 US gal) salt water habitat with waterfall and state-of-the-art life support system. Stingray Bay is a separate exhibit from the zoo, charging an additional admission fee. It has opened at the zoo 3 times, in 2008 from May 16 to October 13, in 2009 from May 15 to October 12, with the addition of nurse and bamboo sharks, and in 2010 from May 22 to October 11, with the addition of horseshoe crabs. The exhibit will again open in 2011 on May 21, and bonnethead sharks will be the feature animal until the exhibit closes October 10, 2011.

In September 2008, the Toronto Zoo Board approved a motion to dissolve the Toronto Zoo Foundation and bring fundraising and development in-house. All parties agreed to the transfer of existing donor funds to the Toronto Community Foundation.

On August 15, 2009, the Toronto Zoo celebrated its 35 year anniversary. During that weekend the public got to learn about some of the zoos oldest residents, including; Marg the demoiselle crane and Monty the West African dwarf crocodile.

On September 9, 2009 the south side of the African Rainforest Pavilion was closed for construction. During construction, one of the mandrills scheduled to move into the new area died, and the rest were moved to another zoo. The pavilion opened in early 2011, with new exhibits for pygmy hippos, red river hogs, nile softshell turtle, and lemurs instead of the mandrills, as well as a variety of exhibits for fish and reptiles.

The Dr. Scholfield Memorial/Asian Gardens opened the first phase in June 2010, and includes a statue erected in Dr. Scholfield's honor.

On May 21, 2011 the black-footed penguin exhibit (formerly the South African cape fur seal exhibit) opened to the public. This exhibit once was the old South African cape fur seal exhibit and it was closed in 2010 and modified to house black-footed penguins.

In April 2012 the zoo lost its accreditation in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for sending its three elephants to PAWS, an animal sanctuary in California that is not AZA accredited. The zoo had been looking for a new accredited home for its elephants since October 2011, but when no home was found the Toronto city council voted to send the elephants to California. The zoo may re-apply for AZA accreditation in March 2013.

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