Thirty Feet Across, if it was an Inch


An excerpt from Freewheeling; Seven Venturesome Tales of Boys and Their Bikes

Hillside Gardens Adventure

Thirty Feet Across, if it Was an Inch

My friends and I hung around the waters of High Park and Swansea way more than we ought to have. There’s something about water that’s just a constant draw to kids ... maybe not every kid, but certainly for me and my gang. There’s a mystery of what lays below the boundary layer between air and water. The ever changing surface texture and the inverted reflections of the trees along the shore and the simple fact that is was largely away from the prying eyes of adults, or more specifically, parents.

One particular day, a few of us; Pantsy, Jimmy Ears, Bobby Byrd and myself were riding our bikes along the top of Hillside Gardens, in High Park, above Grenadier Pond. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, in late August as I recall, for the Canadian National Exhibition was in full swing and we had all been there the day before.

As it so happens, you’re not supposed to be riding your bike along the top of Hillside Gardens, in High Park – all the signs say so. All the gardeners yell it at you as you ride by. Certainly the police officers on foot patrol take great pains to say so. So, it’s not like we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to be riding our bikes at Hillside Gardens. Yet there we were.

The gardens, lawns, pathways and waterways of Hillside Gardens are situated on the eastern side of the valley of Grenadier’s Pond and are quite extensive. The gardens are beautiful – breathtakingly so – and well worth a visit at any time of year. It is especially beautiful in the summer and that of course is only one of the parks many attractions. Another attraction is the rock and pond waterfalls that cascade invitingly (too invitingly it turned out) down the hill just above the boat rental house.

As an aside, it so happens that the gardens are only a stone’s throw from the High Park Zoo, which is yet another attraction for kids who are looking for some release from the boredom of their neighbourhood. One winter, a few years later, when I was in high school, Ears, Peter Renzoni and I were doing some ski training on the steep hill that bottomed out at the zoo. We had about twelve bamboo slalom poles that we’d carry back and forth between this hill and our high school about a mile distant. None of us drove so we had to heft them back in our arms. One evening, after training, we didn’t feel like walking home with the poles, so we hopped the fence and put the poles behind the mountain goat shelter, inside the chain link fence, intending to retrieve them next afternoon. When we returned the next day, all that was left was a bunch of bamboo splinters! The goats had trampled them, chewed them and generally dragged them all over the enclosure. The poles were now useless, but I digress.

At the bottom of the hill, between the gardens and Grenadier Pond is a large ornamental Maple Leaf (grown entirely of some sort of dark and light purple plants) which seems to pop up on any Google search of Hillside Gardens, High Park. It must be thirty feet across if it’s an inch. All beautiful and loving cared for by the full-time, professional gardeners who attend the entire garden area.

It was a hot morning. Oh God it was hot. Awful, really. Hot and humid. We had just spent a couple of hours riding around the dirt trails of the park and we needed relief, and that's where the rock gardens and ornamental waterfalls (cascading invitingly) come into the story.

We were kids after all, maybe only twelve or thirteen years old and quite frankly, not particularly bright, and what kid wouldn’t want to go into the invitingly cool waters of the ornamental waterfalls? None, I say! So, of course, we got off our bikes and climbed into one of the numerous pools that graced the waterway.

They didn’t have fences up then, for the gardens were relatively new. Either they hadn’t gotten to it yet or they didn’t think anyone would climb into the pools. Really, they might as well have put up a sign that read, “Swim Here.”

So, there were are, the four of us, walking around in one of the upper pools, just wading mind you, nothing mischievous, when a gardener yells at us, “Get out of that water, or I’ll set the cops on you!” Being obedient kids, we did exactly what he asked. We scurried a few meters down stream, over a little cascade of water, into the next – lower, pool. We were out of, “that water,” but that didn’t seem to satisfy the cranky old bugger. Now he starts yelling about this pool! Dutifully, we clamber down into the next lower pool. Still not satisfied, was this gardener. He badgered us all the way down the hill, brandishing a rake, to where the water finally disappears under a service road, before draining into Grenadier Pond.

Ok, we’re finally out. He seems satisfied. We walk back up the hill to where we left our bikes on the northern side of the stream, while he walks back, up the southern side, rake in hand, to his wheelbarrow.

Now, the thing about Hillside Gardens is, as I’ve mentioned, that it offers more than one amusement for stupid kids on bikes. The next most popular thing to do is ride along the hilly and winding cement walkways that thread their way along the hillside. I guess the reason they don’t want bikes doing that is – well, it’s hilly and twisty and maybe a bit dangerous for pedestrians, what with bicycles speeding past them at breakneck speed. What greater way to hurt yourself or someone else?

We’re now more near the southern end of the garden, far away from the water features. Another gardener starts yelling about not riding on the paths. We make our way past the red-faced gardener and around a corner and out of earshot. We head back towards the water features.