Quotes from the Past – Toronto’s High Park Through HistoryTimeline

Many thanks to Joanne Doucette, local historian and naturalist, for sharing this fascinating collection of quotations about High Park's early years.

Letter by Peter Russell (1733-1808) to John Gray, Montreal – description of the High Park area and Toronto

Peter Russell held the position of Administrator of Upper Canada 1798–1799

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...

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


Grenadier Pond Sold

Globe Saturday, April 17


Murder of Andrew Young

Globe Report: … "It appears that shortly before noon, [Sunday, 23rd July, 1882] Andrew Young, son of Andrew N. Young of Roncesvalles Avenue accompanied by a younger brother, an adopted son of Mr. Shouell, of Parkdale, and a coloured man named [Joseph] Hutchinson, were out boating on Grenadier Pond. They walked up the bank close to the house of Mr. Ellis and began to make a raft…"

The Ellis property was on the west side of the Pond and their home, called Herne Hill was designed for John Ellis Sr. by John Howard. John Ellis Sr. was a publisher and his son John Ellis Jr. was a pupil of Howard’s at Upper Canada College. Ellis ran down the slope from his home and shouted at the boys to get off the pond and off his property. The boys did not want to go and Ellis called out to the Park Constable, Mr. Albert who lived across the Pond in the old tenant farm cottage. Albert, hired by the City of Toronto as a civilian constable, was under strict orders from Howard to keep the local boys off his estate and out of the pond. Albert ran down the east side of Grenadier Pond and caught up with one of the boys, Andrew Young, at the Ice House located at the southwest corner of the Pond. In the heat of the moment, Albert caught him by the scruff of his neck and shot the young teenager.

John Howard’s diary noted Mrs. Albert asked if he would be bondsman for her husband, but he refused – he did note in his diary that he sent his housekeeper to town to buy clothes for one of the Albert daughters.

Howard advertised for another caretaker. Thomas Wise moved into the farmhouse with his wife and two children. Mrs. Albert refused to leave.

John Howard's diary noted Albert’s little boy died at the “Boys Home: (Sunnyside)" and that he received a letter from another, John Albert, asking that his family be allowed to stay at the farmhouse. Mrs. Albert asked Howard to sign a petition – he would not sign his name on the same piece of paper where the signature of John Ellis appeared. Albert’s action was more than the jurors and the citizens could bear, despite his other good qualities and he was hung for the murder of Andrew Young.

Source: Colborne Lodge


First Nations Trail still visible in High Park

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.

Globe, Saturday, June 11


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.

Plate from Catherine Parr Traill, Studies of Plant Life in Canada. Toronto, William Brigg, 1906 (Public Domain)

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.

Globe, Saturday, June 11


Ad promoting real estate and describing High Park’s health benefits

John Wilson Bengough, ed., Grip, Vol. 21-22, Toronto: Bengough Bros., 1883, p. 1869


Protecting High Park

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


Indian Tombstone

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]



Plate from Catherine Parr Traill, Studies of Plant Life in Canada. Toronto, William Brigg, 1906 (Public Domain)

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.

Toronto Star, Monday, June 8



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.

Toronto Star, November 2


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.

Toronto Star, November 5


To Tramp Sandhills

Toronto Star, April 18


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…

Madge Merton in Toronto Star, October 6


Save the Oaks

Article written by Ernest Hemingway for the Toronto Star (under a pseudonym).

Hemingway's 1923 passport photo. At this time, he lived in Paris with his wife Hadley, and worked as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star Weekly. Wikipedia.

In 1923, before he became a novelist of great acclaim, Ernest Hemingway toiled among the ink-stained wretches of the old cliché at the Toronto Daily Star. On one assignment in the fall of that year, writing under the pseudonym Peter Jackson (a ruse, it's said, to earn some extra cash), he wrote of the malady then attacking the fabled oaks of High Park, blaming not only fungus but the oil-laden air of the traffic-choked city – thus proving that in Toronto, the story never really changes. Only the name in the byline.

The Star Weekly Thu., July 31, 2008


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.

Sunnyside station, Toronto. 1915

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.

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


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.

Plate from Catherine Parr Traill, Studies of Plant Life in Canada. Toronto, William Brigg, 1906 (Public Domain)

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.

Scadding, Henry. Toronto of Old. Edited by Frederick H. Armstrong. Toronto & Oxford: Dundurn Press, 1987, 272-273









Trees + Shrubs



Wetland Plants

Invasive Plants