Colborne Lodge is located at 11 Colborne Lodge Dr, in the southern portion of Toronto’s High Park.
The Parklands Purchase
In 1836, John George Howard purchased a 165-acre piece of land on the east bank of the Humber River for £500. Overlooking the sunny shores of Lake Ontario, he named it High Park since the parklands are set on a higher elevation.
When John was ready to build Colborne Lodge, Sir Francis Bond Head rode with him to the spot, which was a distance from the water. His Excellency told him not to do so but to have a view of the road. John said to Sir Francis Bond Head, “If you’ll throw a stick where the house should be built, we’ll place it there.”
Designed by architect John George Howard, construction began on his own residence, Colborne Lodge, in 1836. The Regency-style home is set east of Grenadier Pond and complements the natural surroundings. Mr and Mrs Howard moved into Colborne Lodge in late 1837 and named it after their friend and benefactor, Sir John Colborne, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.
Initially one-storey, the unpretentious stucco dwelling was mainly heated by fireplaces. Its three-part chimney is visible on the historic structure’s exterior and is an interesting architectural element. Just outside the west side front door and to its rear was an English garden filled with flowers, hollyhocks, fruit trees and other plants that were then considered out of style. A romantic path called “The Lovers’ Walk” also passed by the lodge.
In time, John added a second level to the home. There were also a few outbuildings at Colborne Lodge. This included a barn/coach house behind the lodge used to store two antique carriages and a sleigh the couple had purchased.
On the south side of the property near the lake, visitors would reach the gates and walk up a shady and delightful road. They would then pass through a private gate and gradually ascend until reaching the elevated lawn and lodge.
During the Howards’ time at Colborne Lodge, the railway line and then trolley cars divided the picturesque property from the lake.
John Howard devoted himself to improving his High Park property throughout the years – surveying the parklands, creating roads, making drains, and clearing brush. In the mid-1870s, the City of Toronto gave him the title of Forest Ranger for all he did.
The Howards’ Artwork
Colborne Lodge and its grounds were filled with the occupants’ artwork. Serpent dragons carved from tree branches and roots were painted with sparkling eyes and blazing mouths, then wound throughout the posts of the wide veranda. Other wood carvings, including a life-sized swan, were dotted about the property.
Inside the house was a pleasant reception room with well-made furniture from a bygone time. In the back of the home is a gallery with over 125 pieces of art with works by both John and Jemima. Several portraits of Jemima hung about the walls that John highly revered. Others were John’s designs for the university, churches, the jail, the courthouse, the asylum, and more built under Mr Howard’s supervision. While his artwork was more of those created by a skilled architect, they still had great charm.
Howards’ Burial Monument
In 1875, as Jemima’s health deteriorated, John designed and then built their eventual tomb and monument. It’s located just northwest of the lodge, at the summit of a ravine. The cairn is made of unhewn granite boulders and honours Jemima’s Scottish heritage. It supports a double marble pedestal finished with a Maltese cross since John was a Masonic Templar.
The iron fencing at the monument has an intriguing history. It comes from St Paul’s Cathedral in London, England and dates back to the early 1700s. The fencing was torn down from the church over a century later. When a gentleman in Canada heard about it, he purchased some of the fence for sentiment’s sake and, in 1834, shipped it to Toronto. When the ship was a short distance from the mouth of the St Lawrence River, it was wrecked upon the rocks and the fencing sunk with the ship. A portion of the mangled fence was recovered from the water depths. When Mr Howard learned of it, he had it sent to Toronto, repaired and later added curiosity to the burial plot.
After a half-century of marriage, Jemima Howard passed away in 1877. John, who was said to be a genial character with a welcoming smile, died 13 years later in 1890.
Colborne Lodge Museum
Today a City-operated museum, the home is a rare North American example of a Regency-style cottage. Colborne Lodge is decorated in mid-19th-century style and features pieces of the Howards’ original art, architectural drawings, and inventions. It gives visitors a glimpse into Toronto’s past – from how the Howards’ lived in the 1800s to the quaint charm of the dwelling they constructed to the magnificent natural surroundings they cared for.
The barn, known as the Coach House, is used for programming purposes. The carriages are stored offsite.
Colborne Lodge is currently undergoing a restoration and is expected to reopen in the Spring of 2022.
About John George Howard
Born in London in 1803 to a distinguished family, John went to boarding school at the age of 9. When he was 15, he was sent off to sea and learned navigation, practical geometry and marine surveying. His time at sea was limited to two years as he experienced constant seasickness. Back on shore, John Howard put those skills to use at various architectural offices in England for land surveying, engineering and architecture.
In 1827, he married artist, Jemima Frances Meikle. The couple heard glowing reports about Canada, and since work was sparse in London, they decided to make Canada their new home.
In 1832, they set sail from England to Canada. The trip was filled with a series of gripping events, including being left on shore, John nearly falling overboard, a mutiny and a storm destroying a part of the ship’s sails. The most harrowing of all was near wreckage on the rocks. The captain and many of the crew were drunk, and fortunately, a change in wind direction steered the ship clear of the rocks. Cholera was also beginning its rage in Lower and Upper Canada.
After 11 weeks and three days, John and Jemima arrived in York in September 1832. The town was just a small village with about 2,000 residents. Its roads were appallingly muddy, and the buildings were scattered. John hunted quail and partridge on Yonge St.
One evening at a party, John’s sketches were laid across Sir John Colborne’s table. The following day, John Howard received a letter requesting that he participate in a competition for a drawing-master position at Upper Canada College. Through Sir John Colborne’s influence, he was appointed to the post with a salary of £100 per year and held it for 23 years. Many leading businesspeople hired Mr Howard for his surveying and architectural skills. In 1837, Toronto’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, appointed John Howard as the City’s first Surveyor.
High Park History
In 1873, High Park founders John and Jemima Howard deeded 120 acres of the park to the City of Toronto. In the agreement, the park was to remain “for the free use, benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of Toronto and it be called High Park.” Also in the agreement, the Howards would retain 45 acres on which Colborne Lodge resides until their deaths.
In 1876, John Howard purchased an additional 170 acres to the east from the Rideout family on behalf of the City. In 1893, the animal enclosures or what we know today as High Park Zoo, was established. In 1930, so that all of Grenadier Pond was within the park’s boundaries, the City purchased an additional 60+ acres that were part of the Ellis estate. The park today is nearly 400 acres.
To this day, Torontonians and visitors alike benefit from the Howards’ generous gift. Not only is it a gem in Toronto’s park system, but it’s also one of the City’s largest public parks. Along with hosting various events, tours and workshops, beautiful High Park features Colborne Lodge, trails, Grenadier Pond, High Park Zoo, picnic and recreation areas, playgrounds, sports facilities, a dog park and much more.
It’s rumoured that the shadowy ghost of a woman, perhaps Mrs Howard, has also been seen looking out from a second-floor window towards the burial monument. Click for more haunted tales.
Did You Know?
- The trails within and around High Park that led to Lake Simcoe were used for centuries by Indigenous Peoples.
- From downtown Yonge St, Colborne Lodge and High Park are a 6.5 km or 4-mile trip and about an hour by horse.
- John Howard was the architect behind many of Toronto’s early structures and plans, including public buildings, places of business, residences, putting down the City’s first wooden plank sidewalks, harbour surveying, preparing plans for The Esplanade and for St James Cemetery. Of churches he designed, only one remains St John’s Anglican Church in York Mills, constructed in 1843.
- The name Sunnyside is thought to have been coined by John Howard back in the mid-1800s.
- Safeguarding the lodge is a brass cannon that Mr Howard used to honour the Queen on her birthday.
- The two carriages once in the barn had their own history. The larger coach was built in London in the early 1800s for a Mrs Trollope to convey her when she gave Shakespearean readings throughout England. The smaller one had running-gear on that was given from King George IV to Sir Peregrine Maitland when he moved to Canada in 1818. The chariot went through a few hands before John Howard purchased it for $40.
- Colborne Lodge was also called the Howard House.
- Once Torontonians heard of John and Jemima Howard’s generous gift, theirs became an honoured household name.
- John George Howard donated his artwork and carriages to the City, while his rare and valuable book collection went to the Toronto Public Library. He also presented all of his surveying equipment to Upper Canada College.
- High Park was also known as Howard Park, hence the street’s name on the park’s east side, off of Parkside Dr.
- In 1973, Colborne Lodge was one of the 490 buildings on Heritage Toronto’s initial induction list.
Colborne Lodge Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 11 Colborne Lodge Dr
- City of Toronto: Colborne Lodge
- Heritage Toronto plaque
- Ontario Heritage Trust plaque
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 27, 1883, pg 6
- The Story of Colborne Lodge by the Publishers of Ryrie Bros Limited Diamond Hall Toronto (1905)
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson (1894), pgs 204-211
- Haunted Toronto by John Robert Colombo (1996), The Ghost of Colborne Lodge
- Toronto Ghosts: Colborne Lodge
- The Canadian Encyclopedia: Cholera in Canada
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library