As previously discussed, Andrew Downs’ Zoological Gardens housed an aquarium, a natural history museum, and they were teaming with varied bird life; but, they were also home to many species of mammals. Black bears, beavers, coyotes, and wild cats were residents here, living in small enclosures within the original five acres of the zoo. As Downs expanded his estate towards the city’s watershed, large roaming grounds were set aside for moose, caribou, and deer; transforming the gardens into a semi-conservation area (albeit enclosed). Seals lived in the freshwater pond near the Glass House, where a fountain provided ornamentation and refreshment. A natural pond, the small body of water is still present today, although it is more shallow than it used to be.
Although the pond was fenced in, I’ve read tale that the seals were so taken by the smell of the nearby ocean, that they found a way to escape the freshwater pool. On several occasions they began a retreat for the North West Arm, wriggling their bodies along Dutch Village Road. The animals never returned to the sea; they were always discovered, and brought back to the gardens. I can imagine Andrew Downs making his way to them and bringing them home…
Another major attraction at the zoo was a polar bear, shipped by steam boat from Labrador. Actually, the only intact enclosure that remains on the grounds is the stone wall from the bear pit, mostly grown over at this time.
From the opening viewed above, water rushed through from the pond on the other side of the structure, creating a cascade that cooled the polar bear. A small trickle of water still makes its way down the rock wall today. This area of the grounds is naturally damp, as the many brooks that crisscross through the property converge here before running to the ocean. There used to be an additional small pond in the polar bear enclosure, but it is now gone. The polar bear has been described by visitors to the zoo as particularly ferocious, and after several years, the animal was shipped to Pisa, Italy. There, King Victor Emmanuel II welcomed the bear into his own zoological grounds amid his Garden of Acclimatization.