What it was like Exploring , through Fascinating High Park in 1935




Have you ever wondered what it was like to visit High  Park in the past? How different was the landscape, the wildlife, the people, and the activities? All you need is a newspaper article from the year you want to explore and some curiosity.

In this blog post, you can use a 1936 newspaper article to explore the same park in 2023.

No.  4 Through Fascinating High Park, and the story of John Howard                                     By CATHERINE M. HEATON.

Date:  Oct 10 1936

High Park is familiar to nearly everybody in Toronto.  But how few have walked from end to end, exploring the points of interest!  With this intention we met at the wooded northeast corner, where Bloor Street crosses Parkside Drive.  Two foot paths lay before us, and we were lured by the upper one curving through the reddening woods.  Soon the path forked, and taking the centre prong we strolled up the hill, past wild raspberry canes, and the dainty, white many-flowered asters.

We came to a paved road.  On the other side, children hovered around the open-air class rooms of the Forest Fresh Air School, which , from May 1st to October 31st, is attended by delicate and under-fed youngsters from the public schools.  We sauntered down the shady winding road, and crossed the first little bridge at the right.  Here, just the other day, the flowers were a blaze, but now the asters are going off, and the torch of the goldenrod is dim.

We took the path between pines and birches leading up the hill, and then chose a southward trail near a clump of sumach.  Soon we turned west, across the fields to the back of the zoo, where we had an interesting view of the animals in their large, shady enclosures.  We looked down on the deer being petted by some children on the valley road; we watched the buffalo and the yak family; and turning a corner, tried to stroke a beautiful barbary sheep, decked with strange fringes around its front legs and down the middle of its chest.  My dog, Robin, whose friendliness belied his Scotch ancestry, rubbed noses with a wild boar, and in the last spacious pen on the wooded hill-side, a mouflon paraded, magnificent with curling horns.  These animals are seldom seen from the road below.

Now we turned south along the hill-top path, which led down a ski trail to the road.  We crossed a little bridge, paused to look at the elk, wild turkeys and peacocks, went over another small bridge and were once more in woods.  From here a path led up to the Howard house.

This charming, grey stucco house on the hill overlooking the lake stand in an old-fashioned garden.  It is open to the public every afternoon from two to five, and is maintained with all its furniture by the Canadian Women’s Historical Society, as a memorial to John Howard and his wife, and as an example of Victorian home.  It will be a hundred years old next year.  The caretaker, Mr. Hills, was the son of the coachman, and born in the house.

John Howard has left a bigger mark upon the city map than any other man, and in justice to him, before we go further, we must tell the story of his interesting life.  He was born in 1803, near London, England, a direct descendant of Lord William Howard; and at he age of fifteen he was sent to sea “as a boy before the mast.”  He suffered from perpetual sea-sickness, and deciding upon a land career, he joined a firm of contracting architects in London, two years later.  After some time, he became a partner, and married.  But there came a slump in building activities, comparable to the “Depression” of recent years, and, in the Spring of 1832, Howard, influenced by the Canada Company, set out with his wife to retrieve their fortunes in Ontario.  His story of the voyage reads like one of Conrad’s tales.

After putting their luggage aboard and enquiring the hour of departure, they went ashore.  The ship sailed before schedule:  but they hired a boat, and after great difficulty, overtook the vessel.  A mutiny of the crew was quelled by the first mate:  and one night in the St. Lawrence, when the captain and mates were all dead drunk, the ship was only saved from smashing on the rocks by a change of wind.  Quebec, the port of landing, was in the throes of a cholera plague:  and when the Howards finally reached York, they had been eleven weeks and three days (line of missing text in original at this point) Spring, Sir John Colborne accrued his appointment as drawing master at Upper Canada College.  Soon he received building commissions, and two years later, was made city surveyor.  In 1836, for five hundred pounds, he bought one hundred and sixty-five acres of rolling timber land, which he called “High Park,” and a year later, his new house completed, he and his wife moved in, naming their home “Colborne Lodge,” after their first benefactor.

When Howard was seventy, he decided to leave the estate to the city, as he had no children.  The city accepted the easy terms, and later bought more land, so that now High Park has over four hundred acres.  Three years after, Howard was made Forest Ranger, and until his death, at the age of eighty-seven, he supervised the improving the park, preserving its natural beauty.  One school in Toronto pays annual tribute to his memory.  Mr. Sharpe’s class in the Normal-Model School holds an oral and written contest on the life of John Howard on his birthday, February third.  Afterwards a wreath is placed upon his tomb in High Park.

We walked to the crest of the hill and looked down upon Grenadiers’ Pond, now silvery with cloud reflections.  Tradition says that it was named during the war of 1812 when some British Grenadiers were drowned there.

Back at the house again, we paused to look at a screech owl’s hole in a maple tree, then examined the lantern John Howard made, and lighted every night as a beacon for lake boats.  We passed the cannon which he fired off every morning and evening, and went down the woodland path to the road.  Soon we came to a limpid, little lake, surrounded by dogwood and willows.  Here any Autumn evening at sunset you may see wild duck dropping down to rest on their way south.  We strolled on to Catfish Pond, the home of many native and exotic water fowl.  Inquisitive ducks and geese swam towards us, and graceful, rosy flamingoes waded nearby, daintily choosing their steps.  We hated to leave, but the hour was late, and threatening rain clouds drove us home.


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