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Sports & Play

Toronto Parks: High Park

Posted by Staff / August 8, 2012

High Park TorontoToronto's High Park is somewhat analogous to New York City's Central Park, but built to scale. The celebrated 136-year-old greenspace is one of Toronto's largest and oldest parks, occupying 400 acres that include extensive hiking trails, a museum, a zoo and one of the city's most beloved playgrounds. It's easy to feel like you might be lost in High Park, a welcome experience when you're otherwise surrounded by concrete and following a grid.

The park was named by John Howard, who purchased the plot of land for a thousand dollars back in 1836. Howard farmed sheep on the area until he handed the land over to the City of Toronto. When the deal was made, Howard stipulated that the space would always be used as a park and that it would forever be known as "High Park." Unfortunately, depending on your perspective, that wasn't Howard's last condition: he also banned alcohol from ever being served in the park.

It can be presumed that this rule has been bent often enough by surreptitious picnickers, and when the Queensway was constructed the southern portion of the park was paved over, but otherwise Howard's conditions have been honoured. In contrast to Toronto's ever-changing urban landscapes, High Park is a living tribute to the city's natural history. And boy does it draw a crowd. Pay a visit in the springtime when the Cherry Blossoms are in bloom, and you're likely to see thousands of photographers capturing the scene for posterity.

High Park TorontoThe Howard residence still sits in the park, but today serves as the Colborne Lodge Museum. The museum has held onto many of the original furnishings and artwork from the 1880s and hosts regular tours. It's also rumoured to have ghosts, and is a stop on Toronto's haunted walks.

High Park has six tennis courts, three baseball diamonds, an outdoor rink and a swimming pool. It's easy to miss these though, as it also boasts some of the longest hiking trails in the city, and some of the most challenging thanks to the park's many hills. Cyclists are permitted but expected to keep to the paved trails (you've been warned). On-leash dog walking is permitted everywhere in the park, and an off-leash area can be found near the City-owned Grenadier Café. The Grenadier, as well as another snack bar, keeps park visitors hydrated, but as mentioned there is no alcohol served, making High Park one of the last "dry" areas of town.

High Park TorontoGrenadier Pond is famous city-wide for its fishing derbies. There's a little mystique to the 35 acre pond, rumoured to be 'bottomless' since its depth can't be accurately measured due to its muddy floor. That's not the only myth circulating the pond - lore has it British Grenadiers fell through its thin ice while crossing the pond to defend the city in the War of 1812. As you may have guessed the pond and café get their name from the military base that stood on the plot in the 1800s.

The Spring Creek and West Ravine nature trails are handy for giving you the impression you've left the city. If squirrels and birds aren't enough wildlife for you, there's a zoo onsite to get your fix, at least for now. After city council cut the zoo's funding earlier this year, the neighbourhood stepped up. The community has raised enough money to keep the zoo open for another year with costs of $225,000. The Honey Family Foundation also kicked in an additional $50,000. For now the zoo will remain open, but it's out of the city's hands.

High Park TorontoThe park also has two well-loved playgrounds. In the southeast is Jamie Bell Adventure Playground, put together by volunteers in '99. As many will remember the play structure was burned to the ground earlier in the year in an act of arson. As of this month though, volunteers have rebuilt the pirate ship playground with the help celebrity renovator Mike Holmes, who lead a team in the four-day rebuild.

The crowning jewel in Toronto, "city of parks," High Park has plenty to offer everyone. Clearly this just scratches the surface of what you can make of a day at High Park.

PARK PERKS

  • 7 public washrooms
  • 18 designated picnic areas for pre-booking.
  • A zoo!
  • Garden plots for planting vegetables and flowers available for $53.50/year.
  • Eight monuments and sculptures (including "The Hippie")
  • Trackless train rides running from May 1st until Labour Day. Fare: Adults (16+) $4.50, children and seniors $3.50.

Writing by Matt Stephen

Photos (in order) by Kiril Strax, ~EvidencE, PataGata, and Hamish Grant.

Discussion

22 Comments

Bonnie / August 8, 2012 at 01:50 pm
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This isn't a balanced view of a once-great park. For one thing, the fishermen have taken over Grenadier pond, leaving fishing line in their wake that kills ducks and geese. Park authorities have done nothing other than put up signs. It hasn't helped, naturally. You mention on-leash dog walking. Who are you kidding? Dogs run free all over the park, the leash laws are not enforced, so if you don't want a big dog literally running into you, or after you, don't go to High Park. Litter abounds on the park trails and in the water. And don't get me started on the zoo. How well are the animals cared for in that decrepid facility? Are they even being cared for at all! I can't go to that zoo, it's just too depressing. The animals deserve a better fate than to be condemned to those tiny spaces, without any care and attention from qualified personnel. The animals are doomed to a life of misery: small enclosures, no enrichment activities. That zoo is utter hell.
James / August 8, 2012 at 02:34 pm
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Quick note - it's a castle playground, not a pirate ship playground. (But, can you imagine??)

Unlike Bonnie, though, I think this park is amazing.
vampchick21 replying to a comment from Bonnie / August 8, 2012 at 02:57 pm
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I bet you're great fun at parties!
could_be_better / August 8, 2012 at 03:27 pm
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It's a great park with lots of potential, but its infrastructure is showing its age and its more used areas are often littered and tattered. Like many of Toronto's parks, it's suffering from years of casual neglect by the city…while Central Park is beautifully maintained.
Pk replying to a comment from Bonnie / August 8, 2012 at 03:33 pm
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But Bonnie, what about Feline AIDS?
b / August 8, 2012 at 04:20 pm
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haha! debbie downer!...
Aaron / August 8, 2012 at 04:40 pm
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"but as mentioned there is no alcohol served"

You know you're in Toronto when...
W. K. Lis / August 8, 2012 at 04:43 pm
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It should be remembered that John Howard only owed a portion of today's High Park. The city purchased the other portions of the park from other landowners to create the park. The other portions are not covered by Howard's anti-alcohol ban. I think the current restaurant is within Howard's farm, but if they ever have to rebuild the restaurant, they could build it within the other landowner's land to get around the ban.
Aaron replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / August 8, 2012 at 04:50 pm
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What do think will happen first: restaurant rebuild, legal alcohol in parks, DRL, or manned mission to Pluto?

I'll go with Pluto.
foo / August 8, 2012 at 06:45 pm
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Unfortunately, High Park is no Central Park - not even close. It can be though - wouldn't that be nice.
stopitman replying to a comment from foo / August 8, 2012 at 07:11 pm
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High Park is a scaled down version of Central Park, as the article mentions, but it is also considerably more natural, in that the natural landscape has been preserved more readily. This is not the case with Central Park, or Hyde or Kensington Parks in London, for that matter. I think High Park maintains a good balance between being natural (i.e. not unnatural tree species, grass everywhere, or landscaping rocks) and being accessible.

Another neat thing about the park is that there's that underground river system under the park the city accidentally found that flows from Georgian Bay and has been untouched for thousands of years.
biggy replying to a comment from foo / August 8, 2012 at 09:00 pm
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I would rather a wilder / natural park you can go anywhere to 70% closed off Central Park. And yes I have been to both.
the lemur replying to a comment from foo / August 8, 2012 at 10:23 pm
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High Park may be less than half the size of Central Park, but it's also less landscaped and doesn't have a major street running through the middle. No comparison.
frances replying to a comment from Bonnie / August 9, 2012 at 07:48 am
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there are actually two full-time veterinarians that work at the High Park Zoo. They are really amazing and knowledgable, and take really great care of the animals. You can see them around sometimes, feeding the animals and even walking the llamas around the park. But, like many city staff, they are over-worked and have access to little help and have just had their jobs cut by council.
j-rock / August 9, 2012 at 08:44 am
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The day Toronto stops comparing itself to New York is the day we finally grow up as a city.

I lived in High Park until recently, and I miss the neighbourhood,but the park in particular. It is one of best parts about living in the city. Whether you want to go on hike, take a walk, have a picnic, walk your dog, bike, rollerblade, play with your kids, go fishing, skating, play baseball or hockey - it has something for everyone.
Bruno / August 9, 2012 at 10:37 am
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Bonnie,

Maybe it would just be better if they covered it into concrete and make it more like Yonge and Dundas square.

Imagine people fishing and walking their dogs in a park. That's just crazy and inconsiderate.

Did you forget your meds by any chance?
Anne / August 9, 2012 at 08:24 pm
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I somewhat agree with Bonnie... re the 'off leash' dogs. Drives me crazy seeing the so called responsible owners allowing the dogs to run freely within the on-leash areas of the parks. They've scared the heck out of us when we are there; I've seen a couple knock down children (strangers) and I hate seeing them chase the wildlife especially when there are the young animals out and about. We've seen coyotes in the park and I have to warn people with small dogs to be careful about the coyotes, just in case. The off-leash area is the perfect spot to let the dogs run around like crazy, not the other areas. We go to High Park every weekend and I love it. It's also good to see that most people use the garbage bins too. The park is wonderful as an in-city getaway.
Barbi / August 9, 2012 at 10:18 pm
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I don't think Bonnie was attacking the staff themselves that work at the zoo. Her valid point is that it is the CITY is not putting in enough effort in all of these areas: not enforcing leash laws, not giving enough resources to hire enough staff for the zoo, and not enforcing stricter standards for fishing.

Certainly the current Ford administration isn't helping matters, but hey, it will be election time again before you know it and maybe our next mayor will give High Park the attention and resources it deserves.
info@pentagram666.com replying to a comment from Bonnie / August 16, 2012 at 09:34 am
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Agreed, Bonnie.
Paul / August 31, 2012 at 02:28 pm
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High Park is absolutely beautiful, a true gem in Toronto. But it could use more energetic and imaginative, innovative management. There used to be a paddleboat rental facility on Grenadier Pond up to the end of the 1980s. The pond could be a great place for a weekend paddle in summer, but bizarrely, the city not only removed the boat facility but banned boating! I can understand motorboats being banned, but at least paddleboats or canoes would surely be a wholesome, low-impact fun activity. Otherwise, it's a waste of a beautiful spot.
Adrian replying to a comment from b / February 10, 2013 at 04:42 am
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Who's Debbie Downer? You mean Bonnie?
Bruce / May 21, 2014 at 03:12 pm
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The north end of Grenadier Pond, in particular, is an important nesting ground for ducks, geese and swans. And there are beavers there as is evidenced by the many trees now sporting beaver teeth markings and fencing to keep the trees safe.
Permitting boating would disrupt this wonderful natural ecosystem and I am completely against that happening.

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