Friday, August 20, 2010

Heritage: The Howards of High Park

A stop along Grenadier Pond during the Heritage Toronto walk "The Howards of High Park" was interrupted by the passage of the tour train on 15-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On this blog, probably the second most common local geographic reference (after the Humber River) is High Park. The 399-acre park not far from my residence is so large that even today there are likely corners I have not visited. I have grown to appreciate High Park, but I knew little about its history. That was rectified by Heritage Toronto's walk, "The Howards of High Park," last Sunday.

Catherine Raven of the Colbourne Lodge museum introduced the Heritage Toronto walk on the Howards of High Park on 15-August-2010

John Howard, a local architect, had set his sights on the property that is now High Park not long after he arrived from England in 1832. He first leased land in what is now Swansea, and then purchased the land when it came on the market in 1836. He built Colbourne Lodge as a one-storey cottage the next year, as it was effectively a legal requirement to build on one's land within a year, even though he didn't regularly occupy it until his retirement in 1857. By 1890 when he died, it had taken on its present two-storey appearance with an art gallery to its rear. Particularly intriguing to me was the fact that he installed indoor plumbing, one of the first buildings in North America to have it. The window he added to his bathroom was pointed out prominently during the tour.

One of the first bathroom windows in North America was found at Colbourne Lodge in High Park, Toronto, Ontario on 15-August-2010

John Howard and his wife Jemima did not long wait to share their property with the city. In 1873, about 300 acres became High Park, one of the first urban parks in North America. The Howards kept about 100 acres, but interacted with community in the park. People were invited to come down to the gardens at Colbourne Lodge, where on one day in 1883, Howard counted 10,993 bulbs.

The Heritage Toronto walk gathered at the tomb of the Howards in High Park on 15-August-2010

The single most impressive portion of the walk was probably the Howards' tomb. Constructed in 1874 and 1875, the stone cairn pays tribute to Jemima's Scottish ancestry, and the Maltese Cross at the top to John's association with the Masons. The most amazing thing is that Howard had the fence from St. Paul's Cathedral in London, one of the earliest cast iron fences made between 1710 and 1714, shipped to Toronto to surround the tomb. It may be the single most interesting artifact in High Park, certainly the oldest.

The cast iron fence around the tomb had been cast by 1714 and had served at St. Paul's Cathedral in London before coming to Toronto, seen 15-August-2010

When John Howard died in 1890, the final portion of his property became part of High Park, under strict terms ensuring that it would never charge admission or allow alcohol, amongst other things. It is thanks to the generosity of an immigrant architect that today we can enjoy this urban treasure.

1 comment:

Glitch said...

It has been pointed out that the original acre measurements taken from the Heritage Toronto pamphlet are not correct. The figures in this article now match measurements from the City of Toronto web site that appear to be accurate. The source of the apparent error in the pamphlet will be investigated.