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The Low Down on High Park

An excerpt from the soon to be released Day Hikes of Ontario Vol. II

You can find Vol. I on iBooks along with the Family Camping Guide

Goodness, there are so may ways to enjoy High Park that I really don’t know where to begin, so I'll just dive right in starting with the large swimming pool near the centre of the park. There’s the soccer and baseball facilities nearby. There’s picnic shelters, scores of picnic tables, BBQ pits and the Grenadier Restaurant. If you enjoy wandering curved paths through lush gardens and beautifully kept lawns, you’d do well at Hillside Gardens. There’s a trackless train that takes you on a tour around the park. You can visit or take part in the allotment gardens, enjoy a Shakespeare play at the outdoor amphitheatre or visit the duck ponds. Then there’s the zoo, or as the parks people have taken to calling it, the “Animal Display Area.” You can take your dog to the largest off leash dog park I’ve ever seen or grab your tennis racquet and take advantage of the public courts near the pool, but there’s also a public club on the eastern side of the park, that you can join. You can visit Sculpture Hill and see some of the art installations that were constructed for Canada’s 100th anniversary back in 1967 or just sit under a large chestnut tree or shady elm and take in your surroundings while you read a book or listen to your iPod. Finally, and for me, the most important, there are (depending upon what exactly you’re measuring) about 16km of hiking/strolling/cycling trails.

There are a lot of trails; some are dirt, some are chipped wood, others crushed gravel and still others are paved, so there’s sure to be something for everyone. For the most part they appear to be mixed use with some exceptions which are plainly posted. Some of them are on closed roads, like Spring Road or Cherry Hill (while they’re closed, the trackless train does use them). Another thing you need to know is that they’re not all particularly well-marked, so you should grab a map (or print out this one as a rough guide) and make plans. And still a third thing you need to know, is that while the Parks department looks after the marked trails, at least to some degree, new trails seem to get formed all the time by regular users. One year a trail might cross over between two established route, but the next year it may be completely overgrown and forgotten. The park is in a constant state of flux.

So, while I’ll outline my last walk in the park, there’s lots more to see and do.

My July 2017 Hike – 5.2km

I got off the subway at the High Park station and exited out onto High Park Avenue. I turned right and walked south, across Bloor Street, into the park (A). I veered towards the right and followed West Rd. south past the food concession, kids playground and washrooms at (B). If you brought along a water bottle, this might be a good spot to fill up, for oddly, water fountains seem few and far between. There is also a stop for the High Park Trackless Train along this section. This train runs around the park and stops at various locations where you can board or disembark. Adult fare is $4.50 as of this writing and I believe you have one stopover privilege.

I walked along the west side of West Rd, past all this hubbub to a point where a nature trail emerges onto the sidewalk from the right (⭐️). I took this trail down the hill to the west. I turned left at the first intersection, then left again in a few metres at the next intersection. At this point I was heading mostly south, traversing the hill, about half way between the top and bottom. While there are a few intersections, just keep going mostly south and follow the trail all the way to (D) where it emerges onto the banks of Grenadier Pond.

The road leading up the hill on your left, is Cherry Road. In the spring, there is an explosion of cherry blossoms in this area, both going up the hill and going southward along the shore of the pond. It’s a well attended event and the High Park website even has a page devoted exclusively to this phenomenon. Unless things have changed recently, there is also another trackless train stop right at the bottom of the hill.

Carry on along the shore of the pond. The well tended lawns and pathways to your left is Hillside Gardens. You’ll often see wedding parties, photographers and special events taking place in this area. At about 1.2km you’ll come to a pier out into the pond (E). This is a great spot for photos and observing the geese and ducks that come around almost constantly looking for a hand out. The signs caution us not to feed the birds as it is often unhealthy for them.

Right behind the pier, a little up the hill, is a large Maple Leaf, about 20m in width, planted entirely from green and purple plants.

As an aside, if you want to read a funny story about Hillside Gardens and the trouble my friends and I got into as kids, read Freewheeling.

As you near the southern end of Hillside Gardens, the road starts back up the hill on your left, but you’re not going up there, follow the right fork, back down towards the pond. The path takes you almost down to The Queensway, where you turn left at the fork and make your way over to Colborne Lodge Road.

If you’d like to take in a bit of history, stop into the Colborne Lodge (F) and learn how High Park was once a farm, owned by architect John Howard. Just across the road from the lodge is the burial site of the Howard’s.

Further north, up the hill (G), is the Children’s Garden and Kitchen. Created in order to educate children, youth and the community about sustainable eco practices in the city. Located in the school is kitchen where kids learn how easy it is to prepare food.

From the Children’s Garden, there are lots of hiking/walking options. On this particular hike, I took the eastbound trail (just north of the garden) down the ravine to the bottomland where it intersects with another trail. Turned left and headed north, across Deer Pen Rd, and up the hill past the greenhouses towards the amphitheatre at (I).

The amphitheatre venue is used for Shakespeare-in-the-Park type of events that are put on in the evenings, during the summer. Celebrating 35 years as Canada’s longest running outdoor venue. See Canadian Stage for information and tickets. I’ve been to numerous plays here over the years and they are always enchanting, especially under the stars. Bring snacks, a comfortable blanket/seat and some bug spray.

I took a bit of a detour from the amphitheatre over to the Grenadier Restaurant (J) to use the washroom, grab a coffee and sit on the patio, overlooking Hillside Gardens for about 15 minutes. I retraced my steps back to the amphitheatre and continued northwards, beyond the allotment gardens, all the way up to Sculpture Hill at (N).

There are some sculptures in this area, that were, as I recall, mostly installed back in 1967 (to help celebrate Canada’s Centennial) as part of an international competition that had 12 artists from around the world build/sculpt/create installations on and around Sculpture Hill. Sadly, many of these art pieces are gone or fallen into terrible disrepair, but you can still see a few of them … such as they are. I remember, as a youth, returning almost daily to observe the progress of the granite carving of The Hippie, by Canadian artist William Koochin, located at the NW end of the Forest School (M). At the SE corner of Colborne Lodge Rd. and Spring Rd. is the “Unfinished Sculpture.” As part of the competition noted above, Toronto sculptor, Irving Burman, had two blocks of granite delivered, but he suffered a major health event and was never able to get the sculpture completed. To this day, no one knows what he had in mind.

From the Forest School, I continued north along Colborne Lodge Road and back to Bloor Street and the High Park subway station.

Loose Ends

(C) Sports fields. Organized teams can book these fields for their games.

(H) Howard Park Streetcar Loop. Another way to get to High Park is to take the Carlton 506 streetcar to it’s terminus in High Park. You can also get to the park via the Queen 501 streetcar which stops at Parkside Drive at the southern end of the park. Both streetcars are fairly frequent.

(J) Grenadier Restaurant. With a large patio, plus indoor dining, this can be a very busy spot on weekends.

(K) Pool and tennis facilities

(L) Howard Park Tennis Club

Other attractions in the area

There are literally scores of things to do around the High Park neighbourhood, so I’ll only list a few.

  • Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion – 600m SE of Colborne Lodge Drive at south end of park, situated right on the shore of Lake Ontario. One of the nicest locations in Toronto.

  • Waterfront Trail .400m South of Colborne Lodge Drive at south end of park, right on the shore of Lake Ontario. The Waterfront Trail stretches from the St. Lawrence River in the east to the Detroit River and Lake Huron in the west some 2100km.

  • Bloor West Village (west from High Park, along Bloor). Great shopping, dining and entertainment area. It runs roughly from Ellis Avenue, just west of High Park, eastward to Jane Street, and includes my favorite library, the Runnymede Branch, designed by John M. Lyle. Lyle also designed Toronto’s Union Station.

  • West Beaches – 400m south of the Colborne Lodge entrance of High Park. Also known as Sunnyside Beach, it stretches from the Palise Royale dinner club,in the east, to the Humber River in the west, about 2km.

  • Martin Goodman Trail – 400m south of the Colborne Lodge entrance of High Park. Named for the President and Editor-In-Chief of the Toronto Star newspaper who died three years previously, the multi-use trail stretches across the front door of Toronto, along the lakeshore from Rouge River in the east to the Humber in the west - some 56km.

  • Roncevalles Village or “Roncy,” a few blocks west of Parkside Drive off Howard Park Avenue. Roncy is jam-packed with places to eat, view art, be entertained and just enjoy. It’s a great neighbourhood that has worked hard at rebuilding itself after a multi-year TTC project that saw Roncesvalles Ave. ripped up from sidewalk to sidewalk. If you like Polish and Ukrainian food this neighbourhood is the place to get it.

  • Humber River Recreation Trail - 2.5km west of the Bloor Street entrance to the park. The trail follows the river valley and stretches from just north of Lake Ontario, all the way to Steeles Avenue in the north, some 22km.

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