Colborne Lodge – The Historic Home in Toronto’s Beautiful High Park

1922 - Visitors at Colborne Lodge, also called the Howard House, in High Park
1922 – Visitors at Colborne Lodge, also called the Howard House, in High Park (Toronto Public Library R-1695)

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.”

Colborne Lodge

Designed by architect John George Howard, construction began on his own residence, Colborne Lodge, in 1836. The Regency-style home is set to the 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.

1900 - Art gallery at Colborne Lodge - many of the art pieces were created by John and Jemima Howard
1900 – Art gallery at Colborne Lodge – many of the art pieces were created by John and Jemima Howard (Toronto Public Library R-1650)

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.

1903 - Jemima and John Howard burial monument at High Park - the cairn, which honours Jemima's Scottish heritage, supports a double marble pedestal finished with a Maltese cross since John was a Masonic Templar
1903 – Jemima and John Howard burial monument at High Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1587, Series 409, Item 16)

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 the 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.

2020 - Colborne Lodge at 11 Colborne Lodge Drive in High Park
2020 – Colborne Lodge at 11 Colborne Lodge Drive in High Park

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.

Circa 1879 - John George Howard designed and lived in Colborne Lodge
Circa 1879 – John George Howard designed and lived in Colborne Lodge (Toronto Public Library C2-28B)

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 architect 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.

1903 - A couple on the grounds of Colborne Lodge in High Park
1903 – A couple on the grounds of Colborne Lodge in High Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1587, Series 409, Item 15)

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.

Haunted Tales

It’s rumoured that Mrs Howard’s apparition has been seen bringing vegetables she harvested from her garden into Colborne Lodge. The shadowy ghost of a woman has also been seen looking out from a second-floor window. 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

2020 - Colborne Lodge at 11 Colborne Lodge Drive in High Park
2020 – Colborne Lodge at 11 Colborne Lodge Drive in High Park
1922 - Visitors at Colborne Lodge, also called the Howard House, in High Park
1922 – Visitors at Colborne Lodge, also called the Howard House, in High Park (Toronto Public Library R-1695)
Circa 1860 - John George Howard donated High Park to the City of Toronto
Circa 1860 – John George Howard donated High Park to the City of Toronto (Toronto Public Library R-1674)
1903 - A couple on the grounds of Colborne Lodge in High Park
1903 – A couple on the grounds of Colborne Lodge in High Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1587, Series 409, Item 15)
1956 - Looking north towards Colborne Lodge during construction of the Gardiner Expressway
1956 – Looking north towards Colborne Lodge during construction of the Gardiner Expressway (Toronto Public Library R-1753)
2019 - Winter at Colborne Lodge in High Park
2019 – Winter at Colborne Lodge in High Park
1925 - A winter scene of Colborne Lodge, also known as the Howard House, in High Park
1925 – A winter scene of Colborne Lodge, also known as the Howard House, in High Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 20196)
2019 - Colborne Lodge - The Museum In High Park sign
2019 – Colborne Lodge – The Museum In High Park sign
2020 - The three-part chimney at Colborne Lodge
2020 – The three-part chimney at Colborne Lodge
1924 - Colborne Lodge looking northwest - notice the wooden lawn ornament made by John Howard on the left
1924 – Colborne Lodge looking northwest – notice the wooden lawn ornament made by John Howard on the left (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Sub Series 52, Item 1191)
1888 - A sketch of Colborne Lodge
1888 – A sketch of Colborne Lodge (Toronto Public Library R-1688)
1922 - The serpent/dragon on the veranda of Colborne Lodge - hand carved and painted by John Howard
1922 – The serpent/dragon on the veranda of Colborne Lodge – hand carved and painted by John Howard (Toronto Public Library R-1674)
1923 - A wooden swan and lawn ornament hand carved by John Howard at Colborne Lodge
1923 – A wooden swan and lawn ornament hand carved by John Howard at Colborne Lodge (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 18549a)
2020 - Looking northwest towards the cannon at Colborne Lodge
2020 – Looking northwest towards the cannon at Colborne Lodge
1929 - Looking northwest towards the cannon and Colborne Lodge in High Park
1929 – Looking northwest towards the cannon and Colborne Lodge in High Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 22333)
2019 - Colborne Lodge heritage plaque
2019 – Colborne Lodge heritage plaque
2020 - Looking southeast towards the barn and back of Colborne Lodge in High Park
2020 – Looking southeast towards the barn and back of Colborne Lodge in High Park
1928 - Looking southeast towards the barn at the rear of Colborne Lodge
1928 – Looking southeast towards the barn at the rear of Colborne Lodge (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 1, Item 875)
1908 - The larger of two carriages that the Howards owned - stored in the barn at Colborne Lodge, it was built in London in the early 1800s for Mrs Trollope to convey her when she gave Shakespearian readings throughout England
1908 – The larger of two carriages that the Howards owned – stored in the barn at Colborne Lodge, it was built in London in the early 1800s for Mrs Trollope to convey her when she gave Shakespearian readings throughout England (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 48)
1955 - Colborne Lodge in High Park, looking northwest
1955 – Colborne Lodge in High Park, looking northwest (Toronto Public Library R-1681)
1900 - Art gallery at Colborne Lodge - many of the art pieces were created by John and Jemima Howard
1900 – Art gallery at Colborne Lodge – many of the art pieces were created by John and Jemima Howard (Toronto Public Library R-1650)
1927 - The Howard's oven, cooking utensils and area in Colborne Lodge
1927 – The Howard’s oven, cooking utensils and area in Colborne Lodge (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 12153)
1927 - A stove with a dressing table in the background at Colborne Lodge
1927 – A stove with a dressing table in the background at Colborne Lodge (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 12152)
1870 - Artwork by John George Howard of High Park gate and Colborne Lodge, looking north
1870 – Artwork by John George Howard of High Park gate and Colborne Lodge, looking north (Toronto Public Library R-1691)
2022 - Looking south from Colborne Lodge towards the cannon and Lake Ontario
2022 – Looking south from Colborne Lodge towards the cannon and Lake Ontario
1972 - Looking south from Colborne Lodge towards the Sunnyside Pavillion and Lake Ontario
1972 – Looking south from Colborne Lodge towards the Sunnyside Pavillion and Lake Ontario (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, Series 78, Item 19)
1900 - A couple walking down the steps on the west side of Colborne Lodge in High Park
1900 – A couple walking down the steps on the west side of Colborne Lodge in High Park (Toronto Public Library R-1653)
1920 - Plants growing on the veranda of Colborne Lodge in High Park
1920 – Plants growing on the veranda of Colborne Lodge in High Park (Toronto Public Library R-1676)
1923 - The stable at Colborne Lodge - this building no longer exists
1923 – The stable at Colborne Lodge – this building no longer exists (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 18548)
2022 - The resting place of Jemima and John Howard in High Park
2022 – The resting place of Jemima and John Howard in High Park
1903 - Jemima and John Howard burial monument at High Park - the cairn, which honours Jemima's Scottish heritage, supports a double marble pedestal finished with a Maltese cross since John was a Masonic Templar
1903 – Jemima and John Howard burial monument at High Park – the cairn, which honours Jemima’s Scottish heritage, supports a double marble pedestal finished with a Maltese cross since John was a Masonic Templar (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1587, Series 409, Item 16)
2022 - Jemima and John Howard gravestone in High Park
2022 – Jemima and John Howard gravestone in High Park
Between 1893 to 1913 - Jemima and John Howard gravestone in High Park. Behind it is a cairn made of unhewn granite boulders
Between 1893 to 1913 – Jemima and John Howard gravestone in High Park. Behind it is a cairn made of unhewn granite boulders (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 10389)
2022 - The final resting place of John and Jemima Howard in High Park, overlooking Grenadier Pond
2022 – The final resting place of John and Jemima Howard in High Park, overlooking Grenadier Pond
2022 - The Howards' burial monument is located in High Park. 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
2022 – The Howards’ burial monument is located in High Park. 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
2022 - Enclosing the Howards' burial monument is fencing that was once around St Paul’s Cathedral in London, England. It dates back to the early 1700s, and this fence has an intriguing history of its own. The band wrapped around the fence spindle says "Saint Paul's Cathedral - For 160 years I did enclose - Oh! stranger look with reverence - Man Man! Unstable Man - It was thou who caused the severance"
2022 – Enclosing the Howards’ burial monument is fencing that was once around St Paul’s Cathedral in London, England. It dates back to the early 1700s, and this fence has an intriguing history of its own. The band wrapped around the fence spindle says “Saint Paul’s Cathedral – For 160 years I did enclose – Oh! stranger look with reverence – Man Man! Unstable Man – It was thou who caused the severance”
Circa 1900 - The Lovers' Walk in High Park
Circa 1900 – The Lovers’ Walk in High Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 315)
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