Throughout the many years I’ve lived in Toronto, I have yet to visit the largest park the city has to offer: High Park. Featuring many hiking trails, sports facilities, diverse vegetation, a dog park, a zoo, playgrounds for the kids, picnic areas, greenhouses, and various events throughout the year, the park’s 400 acres offer a sense of nature and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. To help me with my first experience to High Park, I met up with two employees from the High Park Nature Centre, as well as 14 students attending one of the park’s learning day care camps. From these fine people I would learn that the park is a unique place in terms of its natural resources and that over a third of it remains in a natural state, which contains an amazing concentration of rare ecosystems such as the Black Oak Savannah. The nature centre staff turned it over to the kids who amazed me with their knowledge of the history of the park.
The park got its name in 1836 when a city surveyor, John G. Howard, purchased a 150-acre lot and named the property “High Park.” Here he built Colborne Lodge for his family. The Howards eventually deeded over their property to the city of Toronto with some conditions — they were to receive annual pensions as well as continue to live there until their deaths.
The walk started at Colborne lodge and would take us into the flats of the park and then back into the forest trails and end at High Park Nature Centre. Along the walk we would see the variety the park has to offer, as well as the commitment from the staff and the volunteers to maintain its natural state. The park has a planting program where the staff and volunteers collect seeds from native plants. Seeds are then propagated in the park’s greenhouses and later planted in appropriate areas. The city’s strategy to improve the health of High Park’s aquatic system is aimed at restoring water quality and improving the wildlife habitat, therefore the large pond at the park (the biggest in all of Toronto) is off limits to boats and swimmers.