Long before John Howard bought his 67 hectare property, the long established Ridout family owned 69 hectares of land on what is now the east of the park extending from Lakeshore Road to Bloor Street. While maintaining their homes on Front Street in the city, the family farm was built on the land now occupied by the Howard Park Tennis Club and [the former site of] the High Park Nature Centre. Ridout Street, on the east side of Parkside Drive just south of Bloor, was named in their memory.
Just north of the Ridout Farm was the swamp at today's Keele and Bloor Street intersection. The contours of the saucer-shaped depression where the swamp once sat can still be seen today.
In 1875, John Howard drew a map of High Park with three main tributary valleys connecting to the Spring Creek Ravine. The Jamie Bell Adventure Playground (The Castle) lies in one valley and the High Park Zoo in another valley. The ravine that lies behind [the former site of] the Nature Centre has been filled at Parkside but remains the most natural remaining example of a tributary valley in High Park.
The city purchased 172 acres to the east of the Howard property from the Ridout family in 1876.
Imagine a time before Parkside Drive existed... In contrast with the prairies and dry oak woodlands surrounding it, the ravine contains many moist and wet habitats. Wet meadows and marshes flourish at the bottom of the ravine. Deep and narrow, it traps the cooler air. It is coolest on the east-facing slopes because it is in shade for most of the afternoon. Just underneath the sandy soil of the park's uplands is a layer of clay that forces water to travel sideways - creating a supply of water where it seeps out along the lower slopes of the ravine. Due to the constant presence of water and the cooler temperatures, the forest and marshes are rich in plant life and alive with creatures...
This ravine is the remnants of a small tributary valley near the northeast corner of High Park (directly south of the [former] Nature Centre building). It is home to six different plant communities (basically, a group of specific plants and trees that live together for different reasons). The ravine's dominant plant community, the Red Oak-Red Maple Deciduous Forest, is found no where else in the park! Two other plant communities, the Red-osier Dogwood Thicket Swamp and the Bluejoint Meadow Marsh, are found in only one other place in High Park.
Trees & Shrubs: Black Cherry, Red Oak, Red Maple, White Birch, White Ash, Sassafras, Choke Cherry, Red-osier Dogwood, Nannyberry, Witch-Hazel
Herbaceous Plants: False Solomon's Seal, Wild Sarasparilla, Mayapple, White Trillium, Wild Geranium, Zig Zag Goldenrod
Invasive Plants: Garlic Mustard, Japanese Knotweed, Lily of the Valley, Manitoba Maple
Many Different Animals & Insects!: Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers, American Robins, Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Redback Salamander, Pill Bugs, Slugs, Millipedes & Worms
Explore the ravine but please be sure to watch out for poison ivy (there is a lot!). Most importantly, several rare plants are located in the ravine.
Please stay on the paths! Due to its moist soils, foot traffic & cycling on the ravine's wet bottoms & slopes can quickly lead to destruction of the plant's roots & ultimately, the death of the plant. Dogs must be walked on-leash.
Source: High Park Nature Centre, A Quick Guide to Walking in the Ravine brochure, April 27, 2008