High Park is one of the largest green spaces in downtown Toronto at just under 400 acres. In addition to a zoo, a river, a lake, and a Japanese cherry tree grove, the gently undulating terrain also has a historic homestead and the tombs of the owners. Toronto owes High Park’s existence to the Howards, former residents who died in the 1890s. An architect and city surveyor, John G. Howard, and his wife, Jemima, live on the property and have owned a sprawling sheep farm since 1890.
The Howards made a deal in 1873 that stipulated the land would become a public park upon their deaths in exchange for $300 in down payment and a $1,200 tax-free pension, payable as long as either Howard survived.
In the time that John G. died, Howard and his wife had been paid more than $20,000 by the city before the Howards died in 1890. The amount in today’s money is somewhere between half a million and one million dollars. Moreover, the deal stipulated that the Howards’ tomb, which lies just outside Colbourne Lodge where they previously lived, be painted and varnished frequently for the rest of the century. Additionally, High Park was to be named for the land.
A gravestone can be found near Colborne Lodge for John George Howard and Jemima Frances Howard. Originally sourced from St. Paul’s Cathedral, the iron fence surrounds the Howards’ final resting place. In their will, they request that their headstone’s gates remain locked. It was High Park where military training exercises took place during the first world war.
Known as “The Minnies,” the High Park Mineral Baths were located in a natural swimming hole north of Bloor. The background image shows a deep ravine being filled in by the construction of an extension to Boor St.
Known as the High Park Sanitarium, the spring-fed pools were administered by Dr. William J. McCormick, who believed in the therapeutic effects that a dip in the water would have. While the Bloor-Danforth line was being built, the natural pools were filled in.
Classes and exercises were held outside at the Forest School, and even naptime was held. The cots were used under the trees on summer afternoons when the weather was warm. Large open-sided pavilions were used for serving meals. On the north end of the park, at the Colborne lodge drive, you can still see the main building of the forest school.
A large body of water like Grenadier Pond in Toronto was cut from the surface when domestic freezers were not available. Simcoe Lake also provided ice in large quantities. Toboggan runs were easy to find at High Park thanks to the hills. Motorcyclist hill climbing competitions were also held on these tracks during the summer.
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