High Park

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This article is about the municipal park in Toronto. For other uses, see High Park (disambiguation).
High Park
Cherry blossoms in High Park in the spring
High Park is located in Toronto
High Park
Location of High Park in Toronto
Type Urban park
Location 1873 Bloor Street West,
Toronto, Ontario,
Coordinates 43°38′49″N 79°27′47″W / 43.646821°N 79.462996°W / 43.646821; -79.462996Coordinates: 43°38′49″N 79°27′47″W / 43.646821°N 79.462996°W / 43.646821; -79.462996
Area 398 acres (161 ha)[1]
Created 1876 (1876)
Owned by City of Toronto
Operated by Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation
Public transit access High Park and Keele stations
Website High Park

High Park is a municipal park in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.[2] It spans 161 hectares (400 acres), 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.[3][4]


The landscape in the park is hilly, with two deep ravines extending the full north-south distance of the park.

Eastern ravine[edit]

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 50 metres (160 ft) below the surface in pure bedrock, has remained undisturbed for thousands of years.[5][6]

Central plain and savannah[edit]

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.[4][7] Forested areas of High Park are maintained to mimic natural conditions, with downed trees left to decay. Regular controlled burns are done to mimic forest fires and their beneficial effects for oaks. Non-native plants outside the ornamental gardens are weeded out by volunteers.[4] There is, however, no shortage of non-native trees including Colorado Spruce, Scots Pine and Northern Catalpa.

Grenadier Pond[edit]

Grenadier Pond from the southern shore

Grenadier Pond is a large body of water 14.2 hectares (35 acres);[8] located on the western edge of the park. It is named after the local Town of York garrison of the 1800s and their use of the pond for fishing. There are two local myths circulating about the pond. One is that British Grenadiers fell through its thin ice when crossing to defend the city in the War of 1812. Other myths include that the pond is 'bottomless', that is, its depth cannot be measured due to the amount of mud. Fishing remains a popular pastime. Largemouth bass, black crappie, yellow perch, pumpkinseed, bluegill, brown bullhead and carp sport fish are present in the pond.[9] Fish caught in the pond are safe to eat,[9] 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 (a small creek that began near Dundas Street West and Law Street and ran down to a sandbar to Lake Ontario[10]) to 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. The pond exits out to Lake Ontario via pipes near Sir Casimir Gzowski Park, replacing the natural sandbar that existed for Wendigo Creek.

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.[11]

Some homes on the west side of the park have steps leading down to the pond.


Landscaped gardens in High 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.'[12] At the bottom of the hill, nearly at the shore line is a large maple leaf-shaped flower bed, visible from the top of the hill. A grove of cherry trees exists along a roadway from near Grenadier Cafe to the pond, with spectacular blooms in late April to early May. The area was a tobogganing area in the early 1900s. Toboggan runs were constructed from the top of the hill extending down to the pond's ice surface. Wedding photography is no longer permitted in the hillside gardens area.[12]

North of Colborne Lodge is the High Park Children's Garden. It offers programs for schools in the fall and spring, and day camps during the summer for children to learn about growing plants and Toronto parks.[12] The Children's Garden and Colborne Lodge hold an annual 'Harvest Festival' in the fall. It includes craft activities, pumpkin-decorating, gardening displays, traditional games, and rides on horse-drawn wagons.

North-east of the Grenadier Cafe is a large area for allotment gardens. To the east is the Park's greenhouse. Surrounding the High Park Forest School are several examples of outdoor sculpture. The sculptures were commissioned and placed around 1970. Many of the sculptures are placed within the forested area.


A map from the late 1800s created sometime after the establishment of High Park. The park is indicated at the left.

In 1836, John George Howard purchased a 160-acre (65 ha) property in the County of York, to the west of Toronto, for a sheep farm, at the cost of $1,000.[13] It was here that Howard designed and built Colborne Lodge, a Regency-style cottage in 1837 to complement its natural surroundings[14][15] as the residence for himself and his wife Jemima Frances Meikle. The Howards named their property 'High Park' as it was situated on the highest point of land along the Humber Bay shoreline. After a successful career as architect, engineer and land surveyor to the City of Toronto, Howard retired here in 1855.[13]

In 1873, Howard and his wife agreed to convey their country property to the City of Toronto.[14] 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".[16] 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.[17]

Curling in High Park. An 1836 watercolour by John George Howard, the original owner of High Park

In 1876, a 120-acre (49 ha) portion of the Howard's property formed the original park, along with 176 acres (71 ha) bought from Percival Ridout east of the Howard farm. The remaining southern 40 acres (16 ha) of Howard's property, including Colborne Lodge, passed to the city after John Howard's death in 1890.[14] 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.[16] Today, Colborne Lodge is a museum containing many of the original Howard furnishings and a collection of Howard's watercolours of early Toronto. The museum is open year-round.[15]

The western section of High Park, including Grenadier Pond was privately owned by the Ellis family (headed by John Ellis),[18] after which Ellis Avenue is named after. The Ellis family sold the land to the Chapman family (Wilma Chapman), which used Grenadier Pond for ice-making under the brand name of the Grenadier Ice Company from the 1880s.[18] After the development of artificial ice-making and modern refrigerators, ice-making from Grenadier Pond ceased around 1920 (consolidated their operations to their Lake Simcoe location under Alfred H. Chapman, Toronto architect who inherited the family business after his father's death)[18] The Grenadier Ice Company was located south of Grenadier Pond, east of Ellis Avenue. In 1930, the Chapmans sold 71.8 acres (29.1 ha), including the pond, to the City for $150,000.[19]

18 acres (7.3 ha) of High Park was later given to Metro Transportation when The Queensway was built in the early 1950s. This was in contravention of stipulations by original High Park owner John Howard that the lands be used for parkland only. Metro officials searched for descendants of Howard to obtain their consent.[20]

In 1993, the High Park Citizens' Advisory Committee was founded as a volunteer group to aid the City of Toronto in the stewardship of the park. The group was renamed the High Park Community Advisory Council in 2003. The group and its offshoots have developed various programs and initiatives for the park, including the Volunteer Stewardship Program, which is involved in preserving and protecting the environment of the park.[21] The group is active in promoting the natural plant species in the park, and volunteers regularly remove invasive non-native species.

According to the Taiaiako'n Historical Preservation Society, there are ancient indigenous peoples burial mounds in the park.[22] In May 2011, one such location was occupied by the Society. The site, a small hill known as "Snake Mound" on the west bank of Lower Duck Pond, had been eroded by illegal BMX bike use. The society in co-operation with the City of Toronto cordoned off the location and worked to restore the site, fixing the erosion, and removing the bike ramps present.[23]

In 2012, Toronto City Council, in a round of cuts to city services, voted to discontinue supporting the High Park Zoo and seek alternative funding. The zoo cost over $100,000 annually to operate and was operated by the city's Park and Recreations Department. An organization "Friends of the High Park Zoo" was formed to fund-raise and seek other sponsors for the zoo. In April 2012, the organization was successful in finding a sponsor (the Honey Family Foundation) while the organization develops a permanent source of funding. The sponsor will match public donations for the next three years.[24]


The park includes several attractions, including the High Park Trackless Train ride that circles the entire park, a set of baseball diamonds, tennis courts, several playgrounds, hillside gardens, a zoo (not a petting zoo) and Colborne Lodge historical museum. The park is also home to the High Park Nature Centre, a non-profit organization run by High Park Initiatives (the park's charitable organization). The Nature Centre offers nature appreciation and park stewardship programs to local schools, community groups and families throughout the year. There are 18 designated group picnic sites that can be reserved through the City of Toronto.[4]

Children's playgrounds[edit]

Playground prior to fire
New 2012 castle
Jamie Bell Adventure Playground

There are two main children's playgrounds in High Park. There is a playground in the northwest quadrant with a wading pool, picnic areas and snack bar. In the south-east corner of the park, an 'adventure playground' for children was assembled by volunteers in 1999. The playground is named after Jamie Bell, a volunteer who initially pioneered the idea.[2] In March 2012, a portion of the wooden play structures was burned down in an act of arson. The castle was rebuilt on the weekend of July 7–8, 2012 by volunteers. Another small play area is in the ravine just north of Grenadier Pond.

Dog walking areas[edit]

Dogs are welcome in the park. There are many "off-leash" paths and areas located mostly in the southern area of the park that are clearly marked with signage.

Grenadier Cafe[edit]

Grenadier Cafe

A 300-seat restaurant and outdoor patio area is located in the centre of the park at the intersection of West Road and Colborne Lodge Road. The restaurant opened in May 1958 as a dining room and coffee shop, known as The Grenadier.[25] The outdoor patio area was added later. Due to the condition in the Howards' conveyance forbidding the consumption of alcohol in the park, High Park is the last "dry" area of the City of Toronto, and the Cafe restaurant and banquet hall is not licensed to serve alcohol. The restaurant is owned by the City of Toronto, and privately operated under contract by the Grenadier Group.

An outdoor organic produce market operates during the weekends. Twice a year, plant sales are held at the Cafe of plants native to the park to raise money for conservation activities. The plants are native to High Park and Ontario and cultivation of the plants is encouraged to preserve the species. The Cafe is also used for community meetings.

High Park Nature Centre[edit]

The High Park Nature Centre, located on Parkside Drive, north of Howard Park Avenue, serves as an educational centre for visitors to the park. It has programs for elementary and secondary schools and summer day camps. The Centre organizes nature walks in the park. It is operated by High Park Initiatives, a registered non-profit organization.[26]

High Park - Production Greenhouses

Since 1956, High Park Production Greenhouses have produced millions of annuals and perennials for Toronto's large Park system. The nine interconnected greenhouses provide a view into the way the plants are grown and distributed across the city.

High Park Trackless Trains[edit]

Trains run daily in the summer months from 10:30 am (weather permitting). Stops are scheduled at the Bloor Street entrance (stop 4), the Black Oak Cafe (stop 5), Grenadier Pond (stop 7), the zoo and children's castle (stop 1).

High Park Pool[edit]

A municipal swimming bath complex is open during the summertime, with a water slide, a splash pad and a shallow wading area. As of 2008, there is no admittance fee for its use. The pool is supervised by lifeguards.[27]

High Park Zoo[edit]

White Deer Buck rests at High Park Zoo

The practice of keeping animals in the park originated in 1890, with the keeping of deer.[14] Today, the zoo - in a ravine along Deer Pen Road - keeps American bison, emu, llamas, peacocks, fallow deer, wallaby, capybara, Highland cattle, yaks, Barbary sheep, and Mouflon sheep.[28] The zoo is open year-round from 7:00 a.m. to dusk.[29] The zoo animals are cared for by Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division staff.

Shakespeare in the park[edit]

During the summer, the Canadian Stage Company company puts on a selected Shakespearean play in the park's amphitheatre in an annual event called "Dream in High Park", popular with Torontonians. The 2015 plays are Julius Caesar and The Comedy of Errors.[30] The amphitheatre is on the hill side directly to the east of the Grenadier Cafe.[31]

Cherry blossom[edit]

Cherry Trees are also known as Cherry blossom. In 1959, the first Japanese Somei-Yoshino Cherry Tree was planted in High Park from the citizens of Tokyo. Another 34 cherry trees were donated to High Park in 2001 from the Sakura project.

Sports fields[edit]

In the central area of the park, there are two soccer fields and three baseball diamonds available for organized play. One of the baseball diamonds is home to the High Park Braves baseball organization, providing "Little League" organized baseball programs for children. The smallest diamond is for T-Ball play and the larger field behind the little league diamond is for older players.[27]

There are several tennis courts in two separate locations. There are concrete courts along Colborne Lodge Road, to the north of the Pool, operated by the High Park Tennis Club.[32] Along Parkside Drive, between Howard Park Avenue and Bloor Street, is a set of tennis courts and a club house, operated by the Howard Park Tennis Club.[33]

View of Grenadier Pond looking south, showing skaters on ice


There are unpaved dirt trails throughout High Park that are for hikers and walkers only. Cycling is prohibited (by law) on unpaved trails and roads in the park to prevent erosion and disturbance. Several of the former roadways within the park have been closed to automotive traffic, but are still accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.[27]

Winter activities[edit]

Ice hockey on Grenadier Pond, December 25, 1912
Children sledding in High Park, 1918

In the winter, an artificial ice rink is operated to the north of High Park Pool for skating and ice hockey.[27] Skating on Grenadier Pond is banned by the Toronto Parks Department,[34] but remains a favourite skating location for Torontonians in the west end of the city for skating and shinny.[35] In the past, the "old" City of Toronto flooded the surface from holes drilled in the ice and cleared areas for rinks.[36] The hiking paths are maintained for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Tobogganing used to be a popular pastime in the park. It is only done now at the hill at Howard Park Avenue and Parkside Drive. Several toboggan runs existed in the past in the hillside gardens area, and the "bowl" at the bottom of an old toboggan run still exists just east of Grenadier Pond, to the north-west of Grenadier Cafe, for a run that started at West Road, and ended at the bowl next to the pond. The run is no longer used and trees block the run.


A labyrinth, based on the Chartes pattern, is located north of the cafe, marked onto a concrete circle formerly used for a picnic shelter. It was installed in 2004.[37]

Another pond is to be found near the Jamie Bell playground. In the spring and summer, several species of ducks, including the wonderfully colourful wood ducks, can be seen in this pond. Great blue herons can sometimes be seen there, too.

Friends of the Park[edit]

The Volunteer Stewardship Program (VSP) is a volunteer group working with City of Toronto Urban Forestry and Horticulture staff, to protect and restore the remaining natural areas of High Park including large areas of Savannah with Black Oak trees and related flora and fauna. Spring, summer and fall activities include planting, collecting seeds, and removing invasive species from restoration sites. There are educational presentations and some greenhouse work in winter. The High Park Natural Environment Committee volunteer committee advises the city on environmental issues in the park. The groups have developed a web site highparknature.org with extensive information about High Park.

Surrounding neighbourhoods[edit]

Ornate gates at Howard Park & Keele (now Parkside), 1935. Since demolished, but similar gates are located at Parkside & High Park Avenue.

High Park also lends its name to two neighbourhood names used by the City of Toronto, "High Park-Swansea" and "High Park North" adjoining the Park. High Park-Swansea encompasses the area west of Roncesvalles Avenue, to Bloor Street on the north, and the Humber River on the west, which includes High Park itself. High Park North encompasses the area to the east of Runnymede Road, north of Bloor Street, north to Annette Street and Humberside Avenue, and east to the CNR/CPR rail way lines east of Dundas Street.

Residents to the north and east of the park normally call their neighbourhood High Park, while residents to the west their neighbourhood Swansea, which was once a village. High Park North is within the boundaries of the former town of West Toronto Junction.


High Park is accessible by TTC:

  • The High Park and Keele subway stations on the Bloor-Danforth subway line are to the north of the park.
  • The 506 streetcar line has a terminus at the east side of the park, at Parkside Drive and Howard Park Avenue.
  • The 80 Queensway bus operates from the Keele station, south along Parkside Drive, along the east side of the park.
  • To the south, the 501 streetcar stops at Colborne Lodge Road and The Queensway, just south of Colborne Lodge.
  • The 30B Lambton bus operates from Kipling and High Park stations into the park from Victoria Day to Labour Day.

Automobile access is allowed to most of the park, although several roads are closed to vehicular traffic. Parking lots exist at the Bell playground and zoo, at Colborne Lodge, at Grenadier Cafe, High Park pool and the north-western children's playground, as well as along some roads. On Sundays in summer, the roads are closed to traffic. Colborne Lodge Road does not allow through traffic from The Queensway beyond the parking lot for the lodge.

People can walk or bicycle to the park along roads and streets and enter from the neighbourhood. They can take the Martin Goodman Trail along Lake Ontario to points south of the park.

From spring to fall a "trackless train" — a tractor that tows several wagons decorated to look like a red and white train — is operated making a tour of the park every 30 minutes, stopping near Bloor Street, the north-western playground, west of the Grenadier Cafe, at Grenadier Pond, south of Colborne Lodge and at the Bell playground.[12]

Monuments and sculptures[edit]

"The Hippie"
  • Monument to John G. and Jemima Howard, benefactors of the park
  • Lesya Ukrainka monument, Mykhailo Chereshniovsky, 1975
  • Portuguese stone cross (padrão), 25th Anniversary of the Portuguese Community in Canada 1953 to 1978, 1978

In 1967, an area east of Colborne Lodge Road, south of Bloor Street, was the site of the Toronto International Sculpture Symposium[38] and had numerous sculptures installed. As of 2011, five of the original ten permanent pieces remain in High Park:

  • The Hippie, William Koochin, 1967
  • Midsummer Night's Dream, Wessel Couzijn, 1967
  • November Pyramid, Bernard Schottlander, 1967
  • The Temple, Hubert Dalwood, 1967
  • Three Discs, Menashe Kadishman, 1967


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Historic photos from around High Park, Toronto". WholeMap.com. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "High Park". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  3. ^ Toronto's High Park (PDF) (Map). City of Toronto. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  4. ^ a b c d "High Park - General Info". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  5. ^ Lakey, Jack (September 18, 2003). "The hidden Toronto A river runs under it: Surprise gusher reveals ancient stream Pre-Ice Age course flows in the bedrock". Toronto Star. p. A01. 
  6. ^ "Laurentian River System under High Park". Water Conserve. Reuters. 2003-09-19. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  7. ^ "Natural History of High Park". High Park Nature. 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  8. ^ Kidd et al., p. 4
  9. ^ a b "Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish" (PDF). Ontario Ministry of the Environment. p. 59. Retrieved October 21, 2011. 
  10. ^ http://highparknature.org/wiki/wiki.php?n=Explore.WendigoCreek
  11. ^ Kidd et al., p. 6
  12. ^ a b c d "High Park - Attractions & Features". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  13. ^ a b "Howard, John George". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  14. ^ a b c d "History of High Park". High Park Community Advisory Council. Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  15. ^ a b "Colborne Lodge". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  16. ^ a b "History of Colborne Lodge". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  17. ^ "City of Toronto, Arts Heritage & Culture - Virtual Collection - John Howard". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  18. ^ a b c http://torontoist.com/2015/01/historicist_the_grenadier_ice_company/
  19. ^ Wencer, David (January 8, 2011). "Historicist: The Grenadier Ice Company". Historicist. Retrieved January 24, 2015. 
  20. ^ "Award Expressway Contract Today for Queen St. Bridge Over Humber". The Globe and Mail. March 22, 1955. p. 1. 
  21. ^ "High Park News" (PDF). Vol 4, 2005. High Park Community Advisory Council. 2005. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  22. ^ "Taiaiako'n Historical Preservation Society". Retrieved May 19, 2011. 
  23. ^ Spurr, Ben (May 18, 2011). "Disputed grounds". NOW Toronto. Retrieved May 19, 2011. 
  24. ^ Hasham, Alyshah; Allen, Kate (April 9, 2012). "Embattled High Park Zoo saved by last-minute cash donation". Toronto Star. Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  25. ^ "Restaurant in High Park Opens May 15, Seats 300". The Globe and Mail. May 5, 1958. p. 5. 
  26. ^ "About". High Park Nature Centre. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  27. ^ a b c d "High Park - Programs and Activities". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  28. ^ "Zoo". High Park Community Advisory Council. Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  29. ^ "High Park Zoo". City of Toronto. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  30. ^ http://www.toronto.com/events/shakespeare-in-high-park/
  31. ^ "High Park Amphitheatre". Canadian Stage Company. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  32. ^ "Information". High Park Tennis Club. Archived from the original on 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  33. ^ "Location". Howard Park Tennis Club. Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  34. ^ "High Park". City of Toronto. 
  35. ^ "Letter from Paula Fletcher to Toronto Parks Department" (PDF). City of Toronto. 
  36. ^ "City parks chief wants skating on ponds, no matter what bureaucrats say" (PDF). 
  37. ^ "World-wide Labyrinth Locator". Labyrinth Society. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  38. ^ "170-ton sculpture is 'going home'". Windsor Star. November 6, 1979. p. 10. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 

External links[edit]