1875 Howard: Map of High Park

In 1836, John George Howard purchased for $1,000 a sprawling 160-acre property to the west of Toronto, extending from Bloor Street down to Lake Ontario. Howard was a successful English emigrĂ© and one of the first professional architects in Upper Canada. He was also an engineer and land surveyor. Naming the property “High Park” due to its elevation, Howard then designed and built Colborne Lodge, a Regency-style cottage, as his residence in the south end of the park in 1837 (Sir John Colborne was Howard’s patron and served as Lieut. Governor of Upper Canada).

It is my pleasure to present the following cartographic plan of High Park and surrounding area—drawn by John Howard himself with ink and watercolour on linen. The map dates to somewhere between 1875 and 1890. It illustrates elevations, drainage, names of buildings, property owners, the subdivision of adjoining properties, and other physical features.

Click the image to view a full-size version. 

High Park, John G. Howard, circa 1875 (presumed)
Credit: City of Toronto, Museum Services, 1970.222.19G

Over 700 drawings of Howard’s have been preserved. Howard was also known for his design of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum.

Writing to city officials in 1873, Howard declared he ‘always had a great wish that the park should belong to the city of Toronto as they will require such a place in a few years...”

He then conveyed 120 acres of the property to the City in that year with the proviso that it was ‘for the free use, benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of the City of Toronto forever: and to be called and designated at all times thereafter ‘High Park’’. Some of the other stipulations in the deed included: permitting Howard and his wife Jemima to continue to reside at Colborne Lodge; prohibiting the sale of alcohol in the park; a restriction on the harvesting of timber; and leaving the estate in as natural a state as possible. A minority of city councillors felt that the park was too far away from the core to be of utility, but in the end the City accepted Howard’s gift, granting him a lifetime pension in the amount of $1,200 per annum in exchange. The park was opened to the public in 1876.

The remaining 40 acres of Howard’s were granted to the City upon his death in 1890; in 1876 and 1930 the City also acquired properties to the east (172 acres from Percival Ridout) and west (71 acres from the Chapman estate, formerly Ellis) of the original lands. Later, two more acres were added via the amalgamation of the Village of Swansea; 18 acres were removed for the construction of the Queensway.

High Park continues to serve as the jewel in Toronto’s municipal parklands, a calming sanctuary from our frenetic metropolis.

For more on the early history of High Park and on John Howard, try David Wencer’s Historicist article, John Howard’s Enduring Monument: High Park's transition from private property to public space.

Bonus map
This plan from 1894 shows High Park in the context of Swansea, with a number of proposed electric railways providing easier access.

Diagram showing electric railways connecting Toronto and Swansea | Projected and Constructed
by J. Ellis, 1894.

Image courtesy Toronto Public Library: MsX.12

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