Many thanks to Joanne Doucette, local historian and naturalist, for sharing this fascinating collection of quotations about High Park's early years.
STOP THE VANDALISM
Visitors to High park [sic] are tearing up the ferns and wild flowers and carrying them away in great bunches to such an extent that, it is safe to say, a cartload is removed every Saturday. This is vandalism of a most reprehensible nature. The flowers and ferns will not live a day after being plucked, and more than that, they belong to a city park. People who go to look upon them have as much right to enjoy them as those who take nature’s beauties away. The authorities should stop the practice, if the people themselves have not shame enough o see the wrong they are doing.
Source: Toronto Star, Monday, June 8, 1894
SAVED HIGH PARK
A Bonfire Spreads at Howard Lake and Threatens the Woods.
Some small boys with fire-crackers set fire to the grass near Howard Lake yesterday afternoon, and the strong wind which was blowing at the time caused the flames to spread rapidly. It was feared that the woods in the vicinity would be destroyed, but hard work on the part of those living in the vicinity prevented any serious damage.
Source: Toronto Star, November 2, 1896
Army of Crows in High Park
The crows are congregating by thousands in High Park for the winter. For the past week they have been assembling, large flocks arriving from every direction, until there are now said to be in the neighborhood of 5,000 of these coal black, noisy birds, using the park as a review ground and sleeping quarters.
Every morning at daybreak the mighty army breaks up into four or five sections and goes upon a foraging expedition and just as regularly at four o’clock in the evening the army reunites. Then for an hour a deafening, screeching, public meeting is held, at which each and every member of the brigade endeavors to address the chair at once. Then away to roost.
Source: Toronto Star, Nov. 5, 1897
Source: Globe Saturday, April 17, 1880
Source: Toronto Star, April 18, 1898
On turning westward into Dundas Street proper we were soon in the midst of a magnificent pine forest which remained long undisturbed. The whole width of the allowance for road was here for a number of miles completely cleared. The highway thus well defined was seen border on the right and left with a series of towering columns, the outermost ranges of an innumerable multitude of similar tall shafts set at various distances from each other and circumscribing the view in an irregular manner on both sides, all helping to bear up aloft a matted awning of deep green through which here and there glimpses of azure could be caught, looking bright and cheery.
The yellow pine predominated, a tree remarkable for the straightness and tallness of its stems and for the height at which its branches begin.
No fence on either hand intervened between the road and the forest; the rider at his pleasure could rein his horse aside at any point and take a canter in amongst the columns, the underwood being very slight. Everywhere at the proper season the ground was sprinkled with wild flowers--with the wild lupin and the wild columbine--and everywhere at all times the air was more or less fragrant with resinous exhalations.
...a beaten track branched off westerly which soon led the equestrian into the midst of beautiful oak woods, the trees constituting it of no great magnitude, but as is often the case on sandy plains, of a gnarled, contorted aspect, each presenting a good study for the sketcher. This track also conducted to the Humber, descending to the valley of that stream where its waters, now become shallow but rapid, passed over sheets of shale. Here the surroundings of the bridleroad and foot-path were likewise picturesque, exhibiting rock plentifully amidst and beneath the foliage and herbage.
Source: Scadding, Henry. Toronto of Old. Edited by Frederick H. Armstrong. Toronto & Oxford: Dundurn Press, 1987, 272-273.
Source: David Boyle, Roland B. Orr, editors. Annual Archæological Report, Ontario Archaeological Museum, Toronto, 1889, p. 74. NOTE: The editors were wrong. Native peoples were quite capable of producing petroglyphs. It’s amazing that one was found here. [JD]
Surely you have not forgotten the toll-gate at Sunnyside that stood just west of Roncesvalles, on the south side just by the big oak tree? Every horse-drawn vehicle of the early days, the days of my boyhood in the 80’s and 90’s, coming into town from the Lake Shore Road or leaving town from the west via that old thoroughfare, was required to pay toll, and the gate was there to stop traffic till he did, though I cannot remember that this gate was ever actually closed. The toll-keeper’s cottage was close beside the gate. Cottage, oak tree, field, road, railway track, the very ground of the site, are gone now, being replaced by the Sunnyside Bridge over the railway track and the new railway grade, now one of the busiest highway intersections in Canada.
A catch gate was also maintained further out on the Lake Shore, opposite the second entrance gate to High Park, the Howard Park stop for street cars to-day. This gate and a shelter hut for the gate-keeper stood under the shade of the gnarled old Balm of Gilead trees, the trees that, doubtless, Etienne Brule saw when he, first of white men, paddled down the Humber and out into Humber Bay, and which the City of Toronto, in its incorporated wisdom (/), permitted to be cut down when the boulevard was planned. They are replaced now with a spindley row of Lombardy poplars.
Source: S.H. Howard quoted in Edwin C. Guillet, M.A. Toronto From Trading Post to Great City. Toronto: The Ontario Publishing Co., Limited, 1934, 103-102
The picturesque old Indian Road winds by. A ravine, glorified now with shaded green foliage and masses of crimson, lies beyond. The scrubby, partly cleared land, with clumps of red-leaved huckleberry, scarlet sumach, glints of golden rod and the blue of stray harebells, stretches to the west. Over all is the sky – so much of it and such a sky, all unstained with the city’s smoke and dust. The wind blows fresh and clear. It is clean wind out there, unsoiled by the many human beings which consume the oxygen here. To the north is a scattered house or two and more woods and ravines…
Source: Madge Merton in Toronto Star, October 6, 1900
Source: Report at the Canadian Institute’s Fortieth Annual Meeting, May 4th, 1889, in Proceedings of the Canadian Institute, Toronto, Being a Continuation of "The Canadian Journal of Science, Literature and History”, Volumes 6-7, 1888-1889, p. 46
[First Nations Trail still visible in High Park, 1881)
Another Interesting Relic of the Past is to be seen in this portion of the property is a broad grass-covered Indian trail, once a portion of the thoroughfare trod by the aborigines in their journeying between Humber Bay and Lake Simcoe. It would, indeed, make one think that Canada is growing rapidly to look upon this narrow trail, and reflect that it once acted as great a part in the trade and commerce of what is now Ontario as almost any of our railroads to now.
Source: Globe, Saturday, June 11, 1881
[Describing High Park from near Colborne Lodge]
On reaching the high ground one of the loveliest of pastoral landscapes meets the eye. Away to the northward lies a great undulating grassy plain, as if a giant mantle of emerald velvet had been carelessly dropped upon a high plateau, and in the distance the narrow paths of bright yellow sand look like threads of gold, while the whole scene is dotted over with shade trees standing singly or in clumps, and clothed in the richest and brightest of summer foliage. Leaving the roadway and riding to the crest of a great grassy ridge the prospect to the south and eastward is even more singularly attractive. Here the visitor sees spread out beneath him a woodland scene in which are deftly blended every shade of green from the pure pale tints of the opening leaves and the silver-tinted tremulous leaves of the poplar, through all the varying shades of the hard woods down to the blackish green of the spruces. To the eastward, away in the background, the vision is bounded where the sungilt spires of the city break the hazy horizon, while to the southward, as if between the tree-tops and the sky, hands the sheen of the misty, ripples lake, like a broad belt of silver and blue.
Source: Globe, Saturday, June 11, 1881
Letter by Peter Russell (1733-1808) to John Gray, Montreal – description of the High Park area and Toronto:
About 6 miles to the West of this [the Don River] lies the River Humber--navigable for two miles to the Falls--This River is about 100 yards across--and confined between abrupt and Steep Banks from twp to three hundred feet high formed of Sand Hills covered with tall Pines, Hemlock and Cedar, the ridges of which are so narrow in many places as scarcely to admit a foot path--and these Hills, which assume a variety of whimsical Shapes, cover nearly two miles of the Country to the east of this River--The land gradually grows better--and increases in goodness of Soil and Timber until you come to the Town from which it slopes away to fine Meadows...
Source: Firth, Edith G., editor. The Town of York 1793-1815. A Collection of Documents of Early Toronto. Toronto: The Champlain Society/University of Toronto Press, 18
Ad promoting real estate and describing High Park’s health benefits
Source: John Wilson Bengough, ed., Grip, Vol. 21-22, Toronto: Bengough Bros., 1883, p. 1869
Save the Oaks
Article written by Ernest Hemingway for the Toronto Star (under a pseudonym) in 1923.
Flower drawings: Plates from Catherine Parr Traill, Studies of Plant Life in Canada. Toronto, William Brigg, 1906 (Public Domain)
PHOTOS: Most of our site's photos were contributed by local photographers and taken in High Park. Please do not copy or reproduce them without permission. To contribute photos (low resolution), contact email@example.com