Category Archives: High Park

Japanese Cherry Trees – High Park

Saturday, April 22, 2017

April 19, 2017, marked the first official day of the cherry tree blooms in High Park. Photographers converge on the park for a week to ten days each spring to see the blossoms.  Heavy rain can wash the petals away leaving a window of opportunity to see the flowers that can last for only a couple of days some years.  Since the climate in Toronto is close to the limit that the trees can endure, there are occasional years where the trees never blossom at all.  There are several large parking lots in High Park but unless you come early you won’t get a spot in any of them during this time.  To ensure that we had a place to park that was hassle free we parked in the free parking just east of Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion and walked north to the park.  Several cherry trees are in bloom near Grenadier Pond.


The Japanese Cherry Tree blossom is known as Sakura to the Japanese who have adopted it as their national flower, a position it shares with the chrysanthemum.  Many of the ornamental varieties of cherry trees do not produce fruit and are grown for the beauty of their blossoms.


The trees are related to almonds, peaches, plums and apricots as well as being distant cousins to apples, pears and roses.  Signs throughout the park remind people to stay off of the cherry trees when taking pictures so that no branches will be broken.


Somei-Yoshino cherry trees are the earliest to bloom and High Park has many of these that were donated in 1959 by citizens of the city of Tokyo.  Another 34 trees were donated in 2001.  There are over 2,000 ornamental cherry trees in several locations around the city.  Exhibition Place, York University and The University of Toronto all have cherry tree plantings.  The blossoms are host to countless insects who are busy pollinating the trees.  Two different species of bees are seen in the picture below.


The squirrels in the park have become quite used to people and behave as if they expect to get a peanut or some other treat.


The woodlands are blue with the flowers of scilla which are an early spring perennial.


Downey woodpeckers were especially common throughout the park but a bird watcher could collect many different species for their lists by sitting still for a few minutes.



The High Park website provides a map to show where the main cherry tree locations are.


If you want to avoid the crowds at High Park you may choose to look for the 30 Japanese Cherry Trees on Toronto Islands.

There are three previous stories that cover other aspects of High Park.  Colborne Lodge, High Park Zoo and the Eastern Ravine.

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High Park – Eastern Ravine

Saturday Jan. 17, 2015

There are plenty of nice days for hiking in the winter and this was one of them.  It was minus 8 with a wind chill of minus 16 and absolutely free of bugs.  In recovery mode from a head cold I was likely over-dressed which isn’t a good thing as you don’t want to sweat.  Sweating in the cold air can actually leave you feeling even colder.  Today I accessed the park from the Keele subway station.  Two visits to the park in November had explored the west side and then the middle sections.  The first ending at Colborne Lodge and then the second taking in The Zoo. This time the target was the area known as the east ravine. This 176 acre section of High Park had belonged to Percival Rideout until it was sold to the city and added to the park in 1876.

Prior to any ice ages, the Laurentian River drained much of Ontario through what has become the St. Lawrence River.  Ice age debris has buried the ancient river channel and much of it now lies under the Great Lakes.  As the cover picture of the 1890 map of the river system shows, it was believed to have passed through the Toronto area.  In 2003 a 15 meter geyser led to the discovery that the preglacial river system still flows 50 meters below the surface under bedrock. High Park sits above the southern terminus where the Laurentian River system is blocked from entry into Lake Ontario.

Following the last ice age the lake was larger than today, reaching to the area of Davenport road.  This lake was known as Lake Iroquois and it left large sand and gravel deposits along it’s shore.  The area of High Park sits on extensive sand banks.  In one place there is a sink hole ten feet deep where the sand is being washed away.


There is a large oak forest on the eastern ravine of the park.  This hollow red oak tree is capable of concealing various kinds of wildlife including the specimen hiding inside it in this picture.


Toronto Urban Forestry maintains 4.1 million trees in the city including about 3.5 million in our parks.  Every year they plant about 100,000 trees to replace diseased or unsafe trees that are removed.  Red oak number 26827 is tagged in the picture below.  It stands, along with others in the same number sequence, along one of the sand rills behind Colborne Lodge.


A rear view of Colborne Lodge and the carriage house.


Crown galls are caused by a bacterial infection and can attack thousands of different species of plants. They cause galls to form, often near the soil line of the plant.  The red oak featured in the picture below has a gall larger than a beach ball.


Spring Creek flows down the eastern ravine and has been dammed near Colborne Lodge, perhaps to create a swimming pool.


Spring Creek empties into Lower Duck Pond where it is fed into the lake by means of pipes and a detour through Grenadier Pond.  The picture below looks from the south end of Lower Duck Pond back into the park.  The willow tree in the middle of the picture will become a harbinger of spring in a few weeks when the branches start to take on a green colour.


In December 1913 a set of gates was constructed on the entrance off of Parkside drive in honour of John George Howard for donating the property.  Ironically, they are constructed on the Percival Rideout property that the city acquired in 1876 and not on the former Howard property .  The metal work in this 102 year old structure is highly ornate.  The city had just received electricity from Niagara falls a couple of years earlier and this must have looked quite special with it’s central light and two corner post lamps lit.


This large oak branch is lying on the ground with it’s leaves still intact.  As discussed in the post Winding Lane Bird Sanctuary the tree will extract chlorophyll from the leaves and store it in the wooden parts of the tree for the winter.  It then forms a scab and a new bud for the next spring. This process causes the tree to eject the old leaf.  As this branch fell prior to that happening, the leaves will remain on the branch until they rot enough to be blown off by wind, rain or snow.


The tree branch broke off early in the season when the acorns were just beginning to form.  For scale a baby acorn is placed beside a 1974 5 cent piece.


High Park has plenty left to discover in future visits.  For a gallery of additional photos please visit our Facebook page at

High Park – Zoo

Saturday Nov. 29, 2014

It was zero degrees and quite nice when the sun was out.  We parked in the parking lot near the Grenadier restaurant where there is plenty of free parking.   High Park is too big to be explored in a single session so we returned to pick up from where we left off at Colborne Lodge last week.  John George Howard had donated 120 acres of his land to the city for High Park in 1873. His remaining 45 acre estate, including Colborne Lodge, had been added to the park in 1890 when he died.  The city has acquired two other parcels of land to bring the park up to almost 400 acres.  We went down the hill past the area known as the dream site.  Here there is an outdoor theatre.

Along the way we found a place where a group of cardinals were feeding.  In most bird species the males are brightly coloured while the females have more earth colours. This helps the female hide in the nest to protect the eggs.  This was a rare group of cardinals that actually sat still long enough to get their picture taken.  The female has a little red on her wings and tail feathers as well as a red beak and crest.


The male cardinal is bright red all over except a little black around his beak.  Male cardinals will use themselves as a distraction to keep you from finding the female during nesting season.  The male will attract your attention and then deliberately lead you away from the nest.


We found a random tree in the park that has been sparsely decorated for Christmas.


In 1967 the Toronto International Sculpture Symposium was held in the park.  It was located not far from the swimming pool and ice rink.  Of the 10 permanent sculptures there are still 5 remaining.  One of these is known as Three Discs and was created by Menashe Kadishman who is a world famous Israeli artist.  This is the only one of his sculptures in Canada.  Standing beside it the height appears to be between 25 and 30 feet.


In 1893 a zoo was added to the public attractions at High Park making it one of the oldest continually running public zoo’s in North America.  Originally the zoo area contained pens for deer.  Over the years the zoo has contained specimens of animals from all over the world. Today it is home to emu, highland cattle, sheep and peacocks as well as the animals pictured below.  Admission is free making it a great place to visit often.

The zoo still houses a form of deer, this northern species is commonly called reindeer. Reindeer are also known as caribou and are featured on the back of the Canadian 25 cent coin. They are unique among the deer family in that they are the only ones where both the male and female grow antlers.  The male antlers, like the ones below, tend to be grander and more complex.  The female antlers are thinner and simpler.  The male in the picture below had an injury on his forehead that is currently healing.  The medication has caused his fur and parts of his antlers to turn purple.


The Yak is native to the Himalayas.  It is designed for cold weather, being able to easily withstand -40 C.  It’s lungs are large and it’s blood is designed for high elevations.  This is the smelliest animal in the zoo, another feature that makes it suitable for the Himalayas.


In the early 1800’s it was estimated that there were 60 million bison in North America.  By 1900 that number had dropped to as low as 1,000 animals.  Preservation efforts have restored their numbers to about 350,000.  American Bison are often called Buffalo but are in fact only distantly related to the buffalo. High Park has had bison for over 100 years, meaning that they have been part of the conservation effort from the earliest days.  The cover picture shows the bison as they appeared in 1926.  This little female bison was born this spring and can live for 25-30 years.  It’s possible that she is one of a long line of bison born in High Park and descended from the bison in the cover photo.


The archive photo below shows a buffalo pen at the zoo in 1908.

High Park zoo. - [1908?]

When we got back to the car we found a 1974 Monte Carlo in the parking lot.  These cars were one of my favorites back when they were new because I always like the exaggerated folds on the side panels.  In 1973 the US federal government had mandated a 5 mph front bumper and extended it to include the rear bumper for 1974. This car features both and the tail lights are date coded 74.  The idea was that a car should be able to withstand a 5 mph impact without damage to the lights, engine or safety equipment.


Much of High Park remains unexplored, awaiting future expeditions.

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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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