Named for the massive and famous park immediately to its south, High Park is a wildly diverse neighbourhood. Originally planned as a place to house the workers and owners from the industrial Junction area just to its north, High Park has developed its own unique mix over the years.
Today, the area offers a variety of almost everything: its cultural and ethnic mix; its housing ranging from large detached houses dating from the turn of the last century to a wide range of rental apartments built in the 1960s to more recent upscale condos and townhouses; its quiet tree-lined side-streets and bustling Bloor Street; its history and its embrace of modern Toronto.
Bordered on the south by Bloor Street, on the west by Runnymede Road, on the north by Annette Street, Quebec Avenue and Humberside Avenue, and on the east by the CNR/CPR railway tracks, High Park is very popular with families because of the available housing and the park. But the neighbourhood also has a mix of older people, younger professionals, students and immigrants — especially Russian, Polish, Chinese, Ukranian and Spanish.
High Park is rife with history, featuring two or three storey detached houses constructed in the late 1800s or early 1900s in Victorian, Edwardian or Tudor styles, featuring stained glass, ornate woodwork and large lots. But in the 1960s, with the construction of the Bloor-Danforth subway, the area became extremely popular with developers, and a large number of apartment buildings were put up near Bloor Street. In more recent years, as the area has become more popular, there has been a boom in more upscale condos and townhouse developments.
And, of course, dominating the neighbourhood is High Park itself, a 400-acre expanse with sports facilities, playgrounds, gardens and a zoo, dating from 1876. The presence of the park means the neighbourhood is popular not only with the residents, but with virtually everybody in Toronto, leading in turn to a boom in stores and restaurants. The result is a neighbourhood that offers something for everybody and does much of it with historic flair.
History and Social Profile
The history of High Park dates from the 1880s when the Grand Trunk, Toronto Grey and Bruce, and Northern railway lines established themselves in the area, quickly followed by Canadian Pacific establishing railyards in the neighbourhood. At the same time, politician, lawyer and newspaper publisher Daniel Webster Clendenan bought up much of the land and redeveloped it.
The railways sparked a business boom in the area, seeing the establishment of factories manufacturing everything from pianos and nails to soap and furniture and others businesses including meat processing plants, foundries and flour mills. The new businesses attracted many new Irish and English immigrants who saw an opportunity to escape the crowded conditions downtown. Later, immigrants from European countries, including Italy, Macedonia, Croatian and Poland arrived to work in the meat plants. Many of the workers and the owners settled in what is now the High Park neighbourhood, immediately south of The Junction.
The neighbourhood got a boost in 1915 when Bloor Street — which in that area was little more than a trestle bridge over a series of creeks at a time — was redeveloped. As north-south streets were renovated to intersect with Bloor, and the area became more accessible, it became newly popular with developers.
The same logic prevailed in 1960, when the Bloor-Danforth subway was constructed, connecting High Park to the rest of the city. The new spate of construction in the neighbourhood sparked controversy, with developers being accused of “block busting,” as older houses were demolished to make way for apartment buildings. Those buildings ensure that High Park today remains an area highly popular with renters. More recently, a number of upscale condo developments have been erected and more are planned as the area becomes increasingly popular with younger professionals seeking a neighbourhood with easy access to downtown but with other amenities.
The most notable of those amenities, of course, is High Park. Located on the south side of Bloor from the High Park neighbourhood, the park was opened to the public in 1876 on land bequeathed to the city by John George Howard, who is buried along with his wife in the park itself. The park is the largest entirely within the limits of the city of Toronto.
Howard had purchased the land in 1836 for use as a sheep farm and named it High Park. He constructed a home on the property called Colborne Lodge, which today functions as a museum. In 1873, the Howards gave most of their land to the City on condition that it be used “for the free use, benefit and enjoyment of the Citizens of Toronto for ever and to be called and designated at all times thereafter High Park.” The rest of their land also passed to the city upon their death.
The park lies on hilly terrain, with the 35-acre Grenadier Pond, and with two deep ravines running the entire north-south length of the park, one of which lies over part of the Laurentian River System which has flowed undisturbed since before the ice age.
The park contains several baseball diamonds, an ice rink, tobogganing hills, tennis courts, playgrounds, landscaped gardens, forests and the High Park Nature Centre, as well as dog-walking areas, a pool and a café. High Park is also the site of ancient aboriginal burial mounds, which the city is in the process of repairing after they were damaged by the area’s unofficial use as a track for BMX bikes.
The park also features the annual, hugely popular, run of performances known as Shakespeare in High Park, formerly called The Dream in High Park, performed in an outdoor amphitheatre.
The park also provides several examples of how the High Park community comes together to preserved the neighbourhood’s legacies. The park also holds a zoo, dating from about 1890, which today features American bison, emu, llamas, peacocks, fallow deer, wallaby, capybara, Highland cattle, yaks, Barbary sheep and Mouflon sheep. While the city has voted to discontinue funding for the zoo, a neighbourhood group called the Friends of High Park Zoo has managed to find a sponsor until at least 2015.
And when the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground — one of the playgrounds within the park — was destroyed by arson in 2012, the neighbourhood united to restore the popular children’s spot later that year with the help of TV personality and contractor Mike Holmes.
- Hugh’s Room
- Café Cranberries
- Westwood Grill
- Café Novo
- Latinada Tapas
- Hen House
- Runnymede Station
- High Park Station
- Keele Station
- Dundas West Station
Buses run along Runnymede, High Park Avenue, Keele, Dundas Street West and Annette Street.
- Annette Street Junior and Senior Public School, 265 Annette Street, 416-393-9040
- Keele Street Public School, 99 Mountview Avenue, 416-393-9035
- Runnymede Junior and Senior Public School, 357 Runnymede Road, 416-393-9055
- Humberside Collegiate Institute, 280 Quebec Avenue, 416-393-8122
- Western Technical-Commercial School, 125 Evelyn Crescent, 416-393-0500