Cabbagetown museum gets new premises: leaves Farm in May

Eric Morse –

The Cabbagetown Regent Park Community Museum has a new home.

Museum president and founder Carol Moore Ede has announced that thanks to the generosity of a group of anonymous benefactors, the museum has acquired ownership of the property at 296 Gerrard St E., on the northwest corner of Gerrard and Parliament just north of the small parkette. The sale closed on Dec. 10.

For the past five and a half years, the museum has been housed in the Residence at Riverdale Farm, but the change in funding terms for the farm approved by city council last year that requires it to be self-sustaining has forced the Farm to take over the Residence as a revenue-generating space.

Built in 1876 as the east end of a residential row of Second Empire buildings along Gerrard St. E., the new museum building was converted to a commercial storefront as early as 1905, when it became the Gerrard Pharmacy. (More recently it housed a Mr Submarine.)

The three-storey property also includes the barbershop and cleaners along Parliament St. All three shopfronts are internally linked by doorways, and Moore-Ede notes that the tin ceiling within extends to the current shop windows, so the storefronts themselves are heritage.

Moore-Ede is enthusiastic about the site’s advantages. “The new location will be our own. It will be large enough to allow us to concentrate most of our activities in one building—exhibits, a resource centre, an education centre, a venue for students in museum studies, plenty of storage—currently much of the unexhibited material is in storage at St Peter’s Church on Carlton—and it’s an ideal location because it’s in the geographic centre of Regent Park, Cabbagetown and Cabbagetown South.”

“Our neighbourhood has a long and rich history,” said Cabbagetown Residents’ Association president Stephen de Blois. “We know that our members are interested in historical preservation and we welcome the addition of this new museum to Cabbagetown’s business strip. This represents a great opportunity to share the rich history of our neighbourhood from a conveniently located space.”

According to Moore-Ede, the plan is to have a capital campaign to renovate and restore the building as a museum. She hopes that the museum will be able to move in to at least one of the business shopfronts within a year, then expand laterally, and finally occupy the upper storeys, where the intent is to open a resource and research centre.

The noted architectural firm E.R.A. Architects Inc., whose portfolio includes The Distillery District, and the Crystal Ballroom of the King Edward Hotel, is to be involved with the redesign through one of its senior partners, Scott Weir, who sits on the museum’s steering committee.

Moore-Ede noted the current proposal to remove the small feeder lane that separates the parkette from the north side of Gerrard. She believes that doing so would be a huge community amenity, in that it would place a park right at the museum’s doorstep.

In current projects, the museum has just completed its Community Memories project for Canadian Heritage, founded on the 100th anniversary celebrations of Central Neighbourhood House, and has so far accumulated about 400 hours of video documenting the demolition and reconstruction of Regent Park. In the course of filming they have discovered many artifacts of the area’s history.

Moore-Ede recounts that in the course of acquiring the property, the museum discovered that the previous owner is fascinated by urban history. He once owned the space next door, which in the 1940s was occupied by Reliable Shoe Repair (seen next to the pharmacy in the 1942 archival photo), and discovered dozens of tiny wooden and metal forms for kids’ shoes, along with the original sewing machine. The museum was astonished to discover that one of their most active volunteers, Kay Horiszny, was the shoemaker’s daughter and grew up over the shop. The museum has already had a display case at the Residence site devoted to Reliable Shoe Repair.

The museum has to vacate its present space at the farm by May 2014. Moore-Ede anticipates that the first space in the Gerrard premises will open in about a year. In the meantime, the museum has been asked to animate the Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park.