Toronto

High Park

They say that timing is everything. There’s that damn “they” again. I wish they’d keep their mouths shut. If they are right—if timing is everything—then I’ve got plenty of nothing.

My intent with this post was to prove that you don’t have to leave the city to take in the fall colours. I read that some parts of the Province of Ontario, the province I live in, had already reached peak autumn hues. And some of the leaves on the few trees outside my window had already started to turn yellow.

High Park's still green October leaves
High Park’s still green October leaves

Because I didn’t have another half-day clear on my calendar for a while, I decided last week that I’d better head out to Toronto’s High Park before all of the leaves hit the ground. It turns out, that I jumped the gun. Most leaves were still green and firmly affixed to their trees. You’ll see some reds and yellows in the accompanying photos, but they were the exception.

Rather than waste a good walk in High Park, I wrote this post anyway. If autumn had already fallen on the park, its title would have been more enigmatic, High Fall, rather than the unimaginative title it got, High Park.

I know that’s disappointing, but work with me here. Imagine more reds, oranges, and yellows in the pictures on this page. It isn’t hard to do. Oh, wait. It’s “imagine there’s no country, no religion too …” that isn’t hard to do. Never mind.

A touch of autumn colour in High Park
A touch of autumn colour in High Park

High? Park

You might be wondering how High Park got it’s name. Good question. I had to look it up.

It has nothing to do with marijuana or hallucinogens, at least that’s what the story is now. Who knows what the truth is?

High Park, which covers 160 hectares (400 acres), was bequeathed to the City of Toronto by John George Howard, who used the land as a sheep farm. Story has it that Howard named it High Park because it occupied the highest point on Humber Bay, a bay on Lake Ontario where the Humber River flows into the lake.

A country road? No. A road in High Park.
A country road? No. A road in High Park.

To call High Park a downtown park would exaggerate its closeness to the centre of the city. However, the northern end of the park is only a 20-minute subway ride from Bloor & Yonge streets, which is at the intersection of two of Toronto’s subway lines and home to the city’s busiest subway station.

High Park’s 400 acres provides enough space to house a number of recreational facilities and attractions, while still allowing for large, forested areas.

Recreation facilities include playgrounds, a baseball diamond, open fields, a pool, a splash pad, and tennis courts. I snapped a picture of the tennis courts not because they were particularly interesting (if you’ve seen one tennis court, you’ve seen them all as far as I’m concerned), but because behind them was the only example of a tree that had turned bright red by the time of my visit.

High Park tennis courts, with a lone red autumn tree in the background.
High Park tennis courts, with a lone red autumn tree in the background.

There are also allotment gardens for city folk who want to grow food or flowers, but lack their own adequate yards.

A Walk in the Park

I’m a city person through and through. I don’t mind nature as long as I can sleep in a comfortable bed at night, take a nice, warm shower in the morning, and use a real, flush toilet and wash-up with hot, running water afterwards whenever I need to. High Park, along with other Toronto parks and ravines that will likely end up as subjects of future posts, provide those small doses of nature that, I won’t say I need, but, rather, I enjoy.

Finally. A red leaf in High Park.
Finally. A red leaf in High Park.

Walking along some of the trails through the woods of High Park, you won’t see many physical manifestations of civilization other than the trail you are on and the other strollers you pass.

If you are a more adventurous walker than I am (which wouldn’t be a stretch; this blog is called CommonPlace, not WildPlace), you might be able to abandon even those markers of humanity if you leave the trails. Although, I don’t know how the city’s Parks & Recreation department feels about people tramping through what’s supposed to be untrammelled nature.

That having been said, I don’t think there is any point in the park where you can escape the at least slight hum, or is that a rumbling, of urban traffic.

Away from civilization in High Park
Away from civilization in High Park

Some parts of High Park are designated as off-leash areas for dogs. (People are allowed off-leash everywhere in the park, but if you are walking other people around on leashes I don’t want to know about it. Then again, the way some people behave in public, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.)

On my recent walk, I encountered two flocks of about a half dozen dogs in each. One flock was leading its human companion, the other flock was trailing its companion.

In both cases, the dogs were docile and seemed to be fully enjoying a beautiful day in the park. One of the dogs came up to me and accepted some pats. I’m not much of an animal person. The only reason I proffered pats is that the dog was friendly. It not only appeared to be willing to accept pats, but earnestly expecting them.

Seating for Shakespeare in the park
Seating for Shakespeare in the park

Shakespeare in the Park

High Park also hosts a summer program that was originally know as The Dream in High Park. It is a staging of Shakespeare put on by Canadian Stage theatre company, commonly known as CanStage. I don’t know when, but at some point the official name of the program changed to Shakespeare in High Park.

This makes sense because CanStage doesn’t perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream every year. That was the play staged in the program’s inaugural year. The program name stuck. Despite the current official name, you’ll still hear many Torontonians, including me, refer to it as The Dream in High Park even in the years when CanStage puts on another of Shakespeare’s plays, or sometimes two in rotation, which is most years.

High Park Zoo

High Park is also home to a small, and I do mean small, zoo. This is an old-style zoo with pens that are somewhat more confined than those found in most modern zoos, such as Toronto’s primary zoo, the Toronto Zoo.

West Highland cattle in High Park Zoo
West Highland cattle in High Park Zoo
Bison at High Park Zoo
Bison at High Park Zoo

In addition, again unlike modern zoos that, wherever possible, use moats and small cliffs to separate people from the non-human animals, High Park zoo keeps the two separate with chain-link fences, topped with barbed wire where necessary. The only reason you don’t see the fence in front of the animals in the pictures here is that I put my iPhone right up against the fence so the lens looked through one of the holes between the links.

Considering the deficiencies of High Park Zoo and that the fact that Toronto does have a world-class zoo, one might ask why High Park Zoo still exists. The answer is that it barely does. The city cut off its funding a couple of years ago.

When I visited, at one end of the zoo, which straddles a short street inside the park, there was a machine that accepted credit card and coin donations. At the other end was a plain donations box.

Both locations had a petition asking the city to reinstate funding. Unless and until that happens, the zoo depends on donations because admission is free.

Free admissions is, ironically, probably one of the reasons why High Park Zoo still exists. The much bigger, more modern Toronto Zoo is in the suburbs. If it were much further north or east it would be out of the city. There is a bus that serves Toronto Zoo, but unlike High Park Zoo, it’s hard to get to Toronto Zoo without a car.

In addition, the admission price at the Toronto Zoo is somewhat high, particularly for people with limited incomes. Without High Park Zoo, many kids wouldn’t be able to visit a zoo at all.

The back end, and only one small part, of Grenadier Pond
The back end, and only one small part, of Grenadier Pond

Grenadier Pond

Grenadier Pond is a prominent feature of High Park. It’s larger than what I would normally think of as a pond—which is something that I could see fitting into a not overly large country estate—but nowhere near as large as what I would think of as a lake.

During my recent visit, people were fishing from the banks of Grenadier Pond. I have no idea whether they caught anything. Nor do I understand why they would want to when you can buy fish in stores and restaurants. But maybe that’s just me.

Boats are not allowed on Grenadier Pond.

Colborne Lodge

Colborne Lodge was John and Jemima Howard’s cottage. It’s now a museum in High Park that contains some of the Howards’ original furnishings. I’ve never gone inside (I know; I know; shame on me) so don’t expect a report on it here.

Multiculturalism

I don’t know if Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world. Because there can only be one most multicultural city, probably not, but it certainly ranks near the top of that chart.

After any major sporting event, no matter which country’s team wins, there will be a large contingent of people partying in Toronto. That includes people driving through Toronto’s downtown streets—or, rather, stopping and starting through them because of the large number of other people doing the same thing—honking their horns like maniacs in celebration.

Statue of Larysa Kosach in Toronto's High Park
Statue of Larysa Kosach in Toronto’s High Park

If you visit Toronto, expect the world. It’s all here.

What does that have to do with High Park? On my recent visit I stumbled on a statue of Larissa Kosach. Who was Larissa Kosach? I wouldn’t have known if there weren’t for an information plaque near the border of the fenced in area containing the statue.

Maybe my lack of knowledge is due to not being a student of literature. However, I suspect it is more due to my not being of Ukrainian descent.

Larissa Kosach lived from 1871 to 1913. She was a renown Ukrainian author who published under the pen name of Lesya Ukrainka.

Kosach was not born in Toronto. She did not live in Toronto. And I couldn’t find any reference to her ever even having even visited Toronto. There is an ocean and large chunks of two continents between Toronto and Ukraine. Yet you’ll find a statue of Kosach in Toronto’s High Park.

This is a testament to Toronto’s diverse cultural background. Ukrainians are not Toronto’s largest national group, not by a long shot. But we have a statue of one of their literary icons. If you wander around Toronto you’ll find tributes to many other cultures as well.

But back to High Park. If you’ve got time to spare in Toronto during the clement weather periods it’s well worth a visit. Because of its variety of features and natural areas, no matter what type of park you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it in High Park.

6 comments

    1. What are you waiting for? Winter? You probably don’t want to visit in winter. But we’d love to have you here any time. (He said, presumptuously speaking for all of Toronto.)

  1. Joel, thanks for the wonderful tour; it sparked some lovely memories. My nephew lived in Toronto for many years, and I had the pleasure of visiting there many times. I was immediately struck by how clean, peaceful and civilized it was compared to NYC. My wife, nephew and I walked through High Park at night, something we would be reluctant to do in any NYC park, and saw nothing but smiling, friendly faces. This was over 20 years ago; I hope it hasn’t changed.

    1. The last time I walked through High Park at night was the last time I attended one of the Shakespeare performances there, which was a couple of years ago. There were a lot of people there then because of the performance. I always feel safe when there are a lot of people around. I’m not sure I’d feel as safe if I was walking through the park at night and there weren’t many other people there. That having been said, I can’t recall seeing any reports in the media of crime in High Park.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it (both the post and Toronto). I hope you’ll come back (to the blog and to Toronto).

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope one day you’ll have a chance to bridge those mile and visit High Park (and the rest of Toronto) yourself.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.