High Park in Toronto
High Park is a municipal park in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It spans , and is a mixed recreational and natural park, with sporting facilities, cultural facilities, educational facilities, gardens, playgrounds and a zoo. One third of the park remains in a natural state, with a rare oak savannah ecology. High Park was opened to the public in 1876 and is based on a bequest of land from John George Howard to the City of Toronto. It is the largest park entirely within the city. (Rouge Park is the city's largest park, but the park extends into Markham, Ontario).
High Park is located to the west of downtown, north of Humber Bay. It stretches south from Bloor Street West to The Queensway, just north of Lake Ontario. It is bounded on the west by Ellis Park Road and Grenadier Pond and on the east by Parkside Drive.
The landscape in the park is hilly, with two deep ravines extending the full north-south distance of the park.
The eastern ravine starts at the north-east corner at Bloor and Keele Streets as a forested area around a spring-fed pond. The ravine has a small stream winding south to small ponds just north of The Queensway. South of the forested area are the grassy, developed areas for picnicking, the adventure playground, and the zoo. The ponds, which also hold back storm water, drain into pipes and into Lake Ontario.
The eastern ravine lies over a buried river. In 2003, city workers found strong evidence of the pre-glacial Laurentian River System when capping two artesian wells at the pond at the north-east corner of the Park. The wells began spewing a plume of water, sand, shale and gravel 15 metres into the air. With this discovery, geologists finally pinpointed the southern terminus of this ancient river system whose southerly flow begins near Georgian Bay. The watercourse, flowing below the surface in pure bedrock, has remained undisturbed for thousands of years.
Central plain and savannah
The central section is a large plain encompassing most of the northern boundary, slowly narrowing to a point overlooking the lake, which is the location of Colborne Lodge. While most of the plain is developed for picnicking, gardens and sports fields, it has a stretch of open habitat called oak savannah, of which there are few other examples in Ontario. The towering black oak trees found throughout High Park are a characteristic of this habitat. The savannah is under the special care of the City and volunteer conservationists. and fishing derbies and casting contests have been held there.
Initiatives have been made to improve the Pond's health and environment. Grenadier Pond receives some of its water from Wendigo Creek, Wendigo Pond and underground streams feeding it from the north. The northern end of the Pond was naturalized, building a wetland to filter the waters the Pond receives from the stream. The southern and south-western shore of the Pond was also naturalized, removing the manicured lawn and concrete bank to improve the Pond's health and discourage Canada geese. Signs now ask people not to feed the waterfowl. Grenadier Pond is home to multiple species of bird and marsh wildlife.
Wendigo Creek, Wendigo Pond and Wendigo Way are likely named after the wendigo, mythical cannibalistic creatures of Algonquian mythology. Algonquins did not have a settlement in the park, but are believed to have used it for hunting and fishing and cultivating corn on the sandy uplands of the park.
On the hill to the east of Grenadier Pond, extending up to Colborne Lodge Road, is a landscaped ornamental garden area. There is a 'rock garden' extending from the top of the hill near Grenadier Cafe, extending south-west nearly to the Pond shore. Along Colborne Lodge Road, is a hanging garden and ornamental garden with fountains, the 'sunken gardens.' It was here that Howard designed and built Colborne Lodge, a Regency-style cottage in 1837 to complement its natural surroundings There were several conditions to the conveyance, including that the Howards continue to live at their residence, no alcohol ever be served in the park, and that the City hold the park "for the free use, benefit and enjoyment of the Citizens of Toronto for ever and to be called and designated at all times thereafter High Park". The city council voted 13 to 2 to accept the Howard's conditions. The two dissenters felt the park was too far away from the city to be of any use to its citizens. At the time, direct access to the Howard property was only by boat, the Great Western Railway line to the south or a toll road. Soon afterwards the "Road to High Park" was built from the Lake Road to the park lands, today's Spring Road and Centre Road. Howard received a lifetime pension from the City in exchange for the property.
In 1876 a 120 acre portion of the Howard's property formed the original park, along with 176 acre bought from Percival Ridout east of the Howard farm. The remaining southern 40 acre of Howard's property, including Colborne Lodge, passed to the city after John Howard's death in 1890.
The Howards are buried in High Park, under a stone monument that is fronted by a portion of ornate fencing from St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England, across the street from Colborne Lodge. The zoo is open year-round from 7:00 a.m. to dusk.
- Map of High Park in (PDF)
- City of Toronto's High Park website
- High Park Nature Centre
- High Park Community Advisory Council