High Park – Colborne Lodge

Saturday November 22, 2014

Colborne Lodge was built by the founder of High Park and is tied to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.  It was the first hike of the season with snow on the ground.  At minus 2 it wasn’t very cold but proper winter hiking clothes, and boots with good treads were required.  You can park on West Drive in the north east corner of the park just south of Bloor street.  At 398 acres, High Park is the largest park in the City of Toronto.  John Howard created the park in 1873 with a grant of 120 acres.  Another 40 acres, including his home, passed to the city in 1890 upon his death.  The city purchased two other adjacent parcels of land to create the modern park.

Wendigo creek rises in this corner of the park and flows into Grenadier Pond.  Along the edge of the creek we walked through a patch of tall grasses known as Invasive Phragmites, or European Common Reed.  These grasses were about 12 feet tall and can grow to 15.  They choke out native plants and release toxins into the soil.  The heads of the reeds look fluffy at this time of year but are actually quite coarse.  In these reeds we disturbed an American Bittern.


Near where Wendigo creek empties into Grenadier Pond we saw these circles in the newly forming ice.  One possible explanation for the circles is rising water from springs below the pond.


John George Howard came from England with his wife Jemima in 1832.  He was Toronto’s official surveyor and was the first professional architect in Toronto.  He designed many of Toronto’s early buildings including banks, jails and the provincial lunatic asylum.  In 1836 he purchased a 160 acre property which included Grenadier Pond.  In 1837 John built a house named Colborne Lodge on the highest point of land on his property along the lake Ontario shoreline.  This was the same year as the Rebellion of Upper Canada.  By naming his home after Lieutenant Governor John Colborne, who was commander-In-Chief of all British armed forces in North America, Howard was making a bold statement about which side of the rebellion he stood on.  In 1855 they moved here full time and he began a series of expansions and modifications that would continue until the time of her passing in 1877.  The picture below shows the house as it appears today, virtually unchanged from the 1890 photo in the cover picture.


Built in the 1850’s the indoor washroom is the oldest in Toronto.  The idea of indoor washrooms was not immediately accepted because people saw them as unsanitary and likely to lead to cholera.  The outside of the washroom door was wall papered like the hallway and guests would not be told that it was there.  This is a picture of the oldest flush toilet in the city.


The shower was gravity fed from a heated tank on the second floor.


Jemima was one of the first recorded cases of breast cancer in Toronto.  She retired to the second story  bedroom where she was kept sedated with medication, mostly consisting of heroin.  Several times she wandered off and was lost in the park for up to a day at a time.  Early on, she was almost transferred to the provincial lunatic asylum, but she stayed in this room from 1874 until her death at the age of 75.   A night table is set up in the room with some typical medicine bottles from the 1870’s.


The house contains almost all original furniture, much of it made by John himself.  When his wife got sick he made a commode for her and disguised it as an elegant chest of drawers.


In 1874 John began to build a double tomb to memorialize his wife’s grave and eventually his own.  He built a 10 tonne monument and topped it with a Maltese Cross.  He purchased a piece of the 1701 wrought iron fence that had surrounded St. Paul’s Cathedral in London until a road widening made it obsolete.  Paying $25 to use the trans-Atlantic cable, he secured the purchase only to have the ship sink in the  St. Lawrence River.  John then paid for divers to salvage the gates from the shipwreck.  The tomb is visible from Jemima’s bedroom window and it was John’s way of showing her that although she would be leaving first, they would be together for eternity.  She died Sept. 1, 1877 and he followed on Feb. 3, 1890 at the age of 86.  John left provision that the servants be allowed to remain in the house for as long as they lived.  Their respect for the Howard family is shown in the fact that they maintained the property until the First World War.  The Howard family tomb and it’s 300 year old gates is pictured below.


James Rogers Armstrong opened a dry goods store in York in 1828.  By the 1840’s he had established a foundry named J. R. Armstrong and Company specializing in stoves.  In 1856 he retired at the age of 69 and left his foundry under the management of his son, James Rogers Armstrong.  The stove in the Howard house is a model known as The Royal and was manufactured by Armstrong in 1874.  This can be seen in front of the oven door when the picture below is enlarged.


Bees stop flying when the temperature goes below 10 degrees C.  The queen bee huddles in the centre of the nest and the worker bees crowd in around her to keep her warm.  The bees rotate through the nest during the winter so that no bee gets too cold.  They consume their honey for energy to allow themselves to shiver and produce heat.  The nest in the picture below had fallen out of the tree and you can see bees still inside.  These ones likely won’t be making it through the winter because the nest is badly broken open.


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