Toronto's Central Park

Saturday, 29 September 1894 - Toronto, Canada

Today I visited High Park up in the hills just north of Humber Bay. This huge park is the legacy of John George Howard, the former official surveyor and civil engineer of Toronto. He was also an architect who designed many of the city’s early public buildings.

John George Howard
Howard was born John George Corby in Bengeo, Hertfordshire, England in 1803. When he immigrated to Canada in 1832 with his wife Jemima, he took the name Howard. He gave several stories of why he did this. As far as we can tell it was not to hide from the law, he just wanted to be Howard.

In 1836 Howard purchased 165 acres of land west of Toronto. He intended to farm it, then decided to subdivide it. The land was full of steep hills, wetlands and sandy soil, plus was a distance from town and a hard commute. Howard did build a cottage for him and his wife on the highest hill overlooking Lake Ontario. He named it Colburne Lodge after his first patron, Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne.

Colburne Lodge
In 1873 Howard deeded 120 acres of his land to the city, with the remaining 45 upon his death. The stipulation was that he be allowed to live out his life in his home, that he get a yearly pension of $1,200 and that the land become a park, free to the public and no alcohol allowed (this was to be a place families could come.) The city agreed and appointed Howard the park ranger. He spent his retirement puttering about planting flowers and clearing underbrush until his death in 1890.

Even though High Park is no longer far from the city, most of the park is still in a more or less wild state. It allows the city folks to get back to nature. Hiking and picnicking are popular. There is a 35 acre lake here called Grenadier Pond that is a popular fishing spot. In winter it’s used for skating, hockey and curling. 100 years from now, a third of the park will still be left natural. By then it will be expanded to 399 acres.

Grenadier Pond
John and Jemima Howard left no children. (Yes, I know about the three children he had with his mistress.) John built a cairn with a plaque surrounded by an iron fence to serve as his and Jemima’s gravestone near Colburne Lodge. Apparently his wife suffered from dementia, but Howard took care of her at home rather than having her committed to the asylum he had built. (So maybe we can forgive him the mistress.)

The Howard Memorial at High Park built by John Howard
I enjoyed hiking through the woods. At Colburne Lodge there is a magnificent view over the lake and the city. The lodge will eventually become a museum, but right now it is just sitting here ignored. I did see a couple sitting on the porch who moved apart and giggled when they saw me. I gave them the appropriate raised eyebrow, and worked hard not too smile. I suppose someday they will bring their kids and grandkids to visit John Howard’s gift to Toronto.

Colburne Lodge by John Howard

King Street in Toronto by John Howard
showing the City Hall and Jail he had designed

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