Toronto Feature: Piper's Zoo

This text is from the free Toronto in Time app, which was created by The Canadian Encyclopedia and is available from the App Store and the Google Play store. Visit its companion website, which is linked below, to explore all the features of the app online.
This text is from the free Toronto in Time app, which was created by The Canadian Encyclopedia and is available from the App Store and the Google Play store. Visit its companion website, which is linked below, to explore all the features of the app online.


This content is from a series created in partnership with Museum Services of the City of Toronto and Heritage Toronto. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, and the Department of Canadian Heritage.

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The Queen's Hotel on Front Street, shown here in 1908, was neighbour to Piper 's zoo for a time in the 1880s (courtesy City of Toronto Archives/Fonds 1244, Item 333).

Toronto Feature: Piper's Zoo

"A Whale of a Tale at Toronto's First Zoo"

This text is from the free Toronto in Time app, which was created by The Canadian Encyclopedia and is available from the App Store and the Google Play store. Visit its companion website, which is linked below, to explore all the features of the app online.

The aroma of decomposing whale flesh is rare on downtown Toronto streets. It was not in 1881, when local businessman and politician Harry Piper brought a dead whale to Toronto. Piper owned Toronto's first zoo, then located at the northeast corner of York and Front streets. The whale was intended to be an additional attraction for the small zoo, which also featured many living animals, including bears, elephants and lions.

Piper used large quantities of ice to slow the whale's decay, though it was displayed for far too long. It proved a popular attraction, with many paying for the privilege to stand inside its jaws. In one stunt, Toronto men could have their picture taken inside the whale's mouth while being shaved by a local barber.

In 1885 the zoo moved, whale remains and all, to a site on the Exhibition Grounds. One can imagine the relief at the Queen's Hotel, which throughout the zoo's existence had been its next-door neighbour. The site is now occupied by the Royal York Hotel, which features a pub named after Harry Piper.