My earliest Cabbagetown memories are of the large house I was born in on busy Sherbourne Street. We had the whole second floor of this once stately home except for the back room which was occupied by someone called the Chinaman. We didn't see much of him and I don't remember him at all, but I assume he was Chinese. We had access to the large backyard since we knew the people living on the main floor. My fondest memory of this place is of the large front facing upstairs veranda which was entirely ours. Many relatives and family friends would drop by on warm summer nights and my brother would drag out his huge record player and spin everybody's 78's. These records would run the gamut from Hank Williams to Rosemary Clooney, with The Weavers' Goodnight Irene getting several spins per night. There were other kids living in this place to play with and I have nothng but fond memories of this time.
I don't know why we left that happy place, but we did, and landed in the cramped upstairs flat of 117 River Street. An old Scottish couple named Scott owned the place and they had a Scottish terrier called Scottie. I thought that was kind of cool at the time, but as I look back it seems a bit on the goofy side now. There was no backyard, veranda or kids, and no noise was the house rule. Because we had to be so quiet, very few visitors dropped by and my brother's record player was never played above a whisper. Having nothing else to do I spent my time there sitting at our kitchen window and watching the dock workers across the lane at Dominion Silk Mills. One truck would pull in and get emptied and then another backed in and was loaded, mighty exciting stuff for a young kid. Fortunately, we didn't live in this boring place too long.
From there we moved into a run down old house at 19 Belshaw Avenue. This was the first time we had a whole house to ourselves and we made full use of it with a cat and a dog. Not only did we have a porch and backyard, but the street was full of kids. I even had my own tree to climb, although I almost lost it in 1954 when Hurricane Hazel ripped through Toronto. My brother's record player once again roared to life and our friends started to fill the house like before. We spent the next four years here with the winds of change swirling around us and we waited to see what they'd bring.
We heard our parents discussing it. We heard it on the radio and saw it on TV. The broom of Urban Renewal was about to sweep accross our neighbourhood and wipe out all the drafty old houses and replace them with brand new homes and apartment buildings. Being so young, we didn't clearly understand the concept of the total destruction of a neighbourhood. It finally sunk in one day when my family was watching "You Are There" on TV and pictures of bombed out buildings in Europe flashed across the screen. My father told me that Cabbagetown would soon look like that. I now understood.
Not long after this, the bulldozers, steamshovels and pile drivers descended on Cabbagetown like a herd of cast iron Godzilla monsters. They began unceremonously gobbling up and crushing everything in their path while grinding out an incredible noise. The destruction was swift and sure. Our little dead end street was one of the last to go, so we sat there as if an island in a sea of devastation. First the townhouses seemed to pop up around our island and the larger families moved into them. I even remember that the Archer's, who lived across the street from us, were the first family to move into South Regent Park. It was written up in all the newspapers as if it were some major event. Then floor by floor, we we watched these giant brick and mortar buildings rising up to try and touch the clouds.
It only took a couple of years but suddenly Cabbagetown was full of brand new buildings and now called Regent Park South. The upper half of Cabbagetown above Dundas and stretching to Gerrard had been started earlier and was called North Regent Park. The architectural differences between North and South were about as extreme as they could be. The buildings in the north looked more like something out of the 1920's, whereas the south had a very modern looking design.Many of the tiny streets disappeared and the ones that remained had fancy names tacked on to the end of them. My street, Belshaw Avenue which was moved over a block, became Belshaw Place, Sackville St. became Sackville Green, St. David Street became St. David Walk, and so on. I guess the City figured fancy street names meant a fancy neighbourhood.
In 1958 we moved into the first of the five brand new 14 story buildings at 63 Belshaw Place and watched them tear down our old house and the remaining bits of Cabbagetown from our 10th floor window and turn it into parking lots, townhouses and apartment buildings that all looked the same. That closed the books on the first edition of Cabbagetown.
Although we now lived in Regent Park South, we still called it Cabbagetown as did those that lived in Regent Park North.