From the Horticultural Society of 1834 to The Hort of today, the passage of time has not changed our basic goal— to Beautify Toronto (the moto of the Toronto Hort). High water marks include the development of The Horticultural Gardens—known today as Allan Gardens, the encouragement of gardening in schools and the evolution of our community garden projects. After one hundred and fifty four years, in 1988 the Toronto Horticultural Society decided to merge with the newly founded Parkdale Horticultural Society. While we are now one entity, to maintain the historical integrity and history of each group, we are now known as The Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto.
The Toronto Horticultural Society was founded on May 1st, 1834, a fact reported in the English publication The Gardener’s Magazine and Register of Rural and Domestic Improvement, 1834, by its highly regarded Editor, John Claudius Loudon. Loudon went on to comment. “…Mr. Knight, Dr. Lindley, Dr. Hooker, ourselves, and others are constituted foreign honorary members, and Mr. Charlwood, Messrs. Skirving of Liverpool, Mr. Austin of Glasgow, Mr. Saunders of Guernsey, Mr. Gorrie and all the secretaries of all horticultural societies whatever, corresponding members. Such a Society is likely to do an immense deal of good in a comparatively new country, and we would recommend the secretaries to have their eye on the agricultural exhibitions of the British seedsmen, with a view of procuring from them seeds of improved varieties of grain and other cultivated plants…”
The Toronto Horticultural Society went on to become an integral part of Toronto society, holding to its motto “Beautify Toronto.” Several Mayors and government officials served as President. Patrons have included Governor Generals and Lieutenant Governors and the original owner of Casa Loma, Sir Henry Pellat. In 1931, the Society was purported to be the largest in the world. As the first horticultural society in Upper Canada, it led the way for the over 280 that exist today under the umbrella of the Ontario Horticultural Association (1906) as well as many garden clubs across the Province.
Gardens not only provide for our sustenance but also for our soul. From our earliest beginnings the Society, members both professional and amateur developed horticultural skills and practises suitable for our particular corner of the world. As compelling as was the need to develop fruit and vegetables suitable for our climate, those early citizens also recognized the value of helping to grow our sense of well being through the establishment of the Horticultural Gardens in 1858. The Society hired a head gardener and assistants, and constructed a rustic pavilion which was opened in September of 1860 by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). The City of Toronto leased an additional five acres to the Society late in 1863. The rustic pavilion was replaced with a glass pavilion in 1879 financed by a $20,000 mortgage taken out by the Horticultural Society. By 1888, the THS found itself in severe financial difficulties and burdened with a mortgage and debts amounting to $34,000. The Society was severely hampered by the arrangement with the City which only allowed them to levy admission charges after 8:00 pm. Therefore, despite programming the Horticulture Pavilion with every imaginable evening entertainment to meet the financial obligation of the mortgage, in 1888, the Society felt it prudent to hand over the Gardens to the City. In 1901, the name was changed to Allan Gardens in recognition of former Mayor, George William Allan, who donated the first five acres to the Toronto Horticultural Society and led the organization for 25 years as its President.
There is an ebb and flow in all societies and in 1988 the Toronto Horticultural Society decided to merge with the newly established Parkdale Horticultural Society. Our double-barrelled name honours both societies. In September of 2007, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Parkdale root and on Friday, May 1st, 2009, the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto celebrated the 175th anniversary of the Toronto Horticultural Society.