High Park in Toronto’s west end is the jewel in the crown of the city’s park system, containing stands of black oak trees that precede the birth of the city. Much of the land where the park is located today was the property of John G. Howard, who arrived in Canada in 1832. A successful surveyor and engineer, in 1836 he purchased 165 acres to the west of the city. At the time, the land was isolated from the downtown area, with forests between his estate and the city. He erected a house at the south end of the land, near the lake. In 1873, he offered the property to the City of Toronto to create a public park, in exchange for a pension from the city. The arrangement stipulated that Howard and his wife could remain in their home in the park and retain ownership of 45 acres of it. John Ross Robertson stated in his book, Landmarks of Toronto, it was, “. . . the most munificent gift ever made by a private individual to the public of Upper Canada.”

Throughout the 1870s and early 1880s Howard devoted much time and expense to improving his beloved parkland. On his death in 1890, ownership of the land and the house reverted to the city. He  was buried in the park, a short distance to the west of the house, where his  wife Jemima had already been interred.

The home of John G. Howard was named Colborne Lodge, after Sir John Colborne (1778-1863), Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada between the years 1828 and 1836. Colborne was John G. Howard’s benefactor. A hero of the Battle of Waterloo, in the war against Napoleon, Colborne was greatly admired in Upper Canada by the upper classes, but it has been said that his autocratic ways contributed to the unrest that eventually led to the 1837 rebellion. It was he who established Upper Canada College, where Howard was a teaching master for many years. 

Colborne Lodge, designed by Howard, was built on a hill overlooking Lake Ontario, to the east of Grenadier Pond. In those years, nothing had been built on the land between the house and the lake, so it commanded a superb view across the water. The cottage was designed in the Regency style.

The term Regency refers to the styles that were popular during the early half of the 19th century. It began during the years 1811 to 1820, when Britain was under the regency of George, Prince of Wales, who later became King George IV. Regency architecture was extravagant and whimsical, much favoured by the extravagant king-in-waiting who constructed the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Regency was highly popular between the years 1820-1860. It originated with ex-colonial officials and military officers. When these men returned to England from warmer climates, they attempted to replicate the homes they had possessed during their privileged lifestyles abroad. Thus, designs from the Far East and Middle East were favoured, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton an excellent example as it resembled an Indian palace. Symmetry was important in Regency designs, and those who built in this style sought locations with an excellent view of their surroundings. The location chosen for Colborne Lodge, on a hill overlooking the lake, was typical.

In its simplest version, Regency-style homes resembled cottages, with large verandas sweeping around their exteriors. The verandas were accessed by French doors, as was evident at Colborne Lodge. In their grandest form, the homes appeared similar to the great mansions of the aristocracy in colonial lands, often referred to as Romantic Classicism. Dundurn Castle in Hamilton is an excellent example. 

In the 19th century, life in Colborne Lodge was rustic, yet reflected a certain degree of refinement. It possessed an indoor washroom and bathtub, reputed to be the first ever installed in Toronto. At one time there were railings around the spacious veranda, shaped liked exotic serpents, with large eyes and fierce mouths, as seen in Asian art. Howard placed a large lantern on the hill in front of his home, ornamented in the Greek Revival style with hints of the Far East. The lantern guided visitors on moonless night to his house.

Since it was a lengthy trip to the markets in the city, the Howards attempted to be as self-sufficient as possible. They grew most of their vegetables and had fruits trees. They also maintained an herb garden, flower garden and bee hives. On the property was a carriage house and a stable.

Today, the house and gardens of Colborne Lodge are managed by Heritage Toronto. Tours of the home are offered throughout the year by guides who enthusiastically and expertly interpret the lifestyle of the Howards when they resided there. Visitors are able to enter the parlour, dining room, kitchen and bedrooms, all of which are furnished as they would have been in the Howards’ days. The greenhouse and summer kitchen are included in the tour. 

The last time I visited Colborne Lodge, it was approaching Halloween. The house was surrounded by the rich colours of autumn—gold, red and orange. Chrysanthemums of varied hues and purple asters bloomed under the warm sunshine of early fall. I have rarely spent a more entertaining hour. The day I visited, a “haunted tour” was being offered in the evening. Throughout the year, other seasonal activities are available.

For information on visiting Colborne Lodge, Google:  Visit the Colborne Lodge – TORONTO.CityGuide.ca

                Tor. Ref. Library x64-130[1]

John G. Howard, photo from the collection of the Toronto Reference Library.

Tor. Ref.  dated 1900  pictures-r-1653[1]

View of Colborne Lodge gazing east from Colborne Lodge Drive in 1900, when the roadway was unpaved. Photo from the Toronto Reference Library.

photo 1900.  pictures-r-1650[1]

John G. Howard was an amateur painter who worked in watercolours. His paintings preserved images of early 19th-century Toronto. The above photo is of a display of his painting in the coach house at Colborne Lodge in 1900, ten years after Howard died. 

Chewett Block, 1834 -King_and_York_Streets_Toronto_1834[1]

This watercolour, painted by Howard, depicts the intersection of York and King Streets. The impressive three-storey office building on the right-hand side of the painting, is the Chewett Block, built in 1834, designed by Howard. The artist wished to preserve an image of the building, which contained six shops on the ground floor. However, Howard also created a dramatic sky-study with rich colours of blue and grey.  The Chewett Block has since been demolished.


View of King Street, gazing east in the 1830s. The yellow-brick building on the left is the Court House, designed by John G. Howard. It was located at today’s King and Toronto Streets. The red-brick  building on the right is the jail, constructed in 1827, and also designed by Howard. The building behind the jail, with the tall tower, is the old St. James Cathedral that burnt in 1849. Painting is by John G. Howard, and is from the City of Toronto Archives.


Howard’s painting of the view from the south end of his estate, near the lake, gazing northeast to Colborne Lodge on the crest of the hill. The location of the home was important, conforming to Regency ideals. This painting is on display in Colborne Lodge today (2014).


Colborne Lodge in 1912. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Fl. 1231, It. 0008. The large veranda, on two sides of the house and the French doors leading onto the veranda are visible. The veranda railings with their Oriental snake-head decorations have been removed.


                                              Colborne Lodge c. 1920.

                      Lantern, dated 1928  pictures-r-1659[1]

The lantern erected by Howard to guide visitors to Colborne Lodge on moonless nights. It was in the Greek Revival style, with a hint of the Far East. Photographed in 1928, from the collection of the Toronto Reference Library. 

dated 1922 - pictures-r-1674[1]

One of the serpents with the wide eyes and fierce mouth that decorated the railings around the veranda of Colborne Lodge. Such ornamentations reflected the Regency preference for designs from the exotic Far East. Photo was taken in 1922, and is from the collection of the Toronto Reference Library. The serpents no longer exist.


                         Colborne Lodge in the autumn of 2013.

DSCN9253   DSCN9254

                    The parlour as viewed by visitors today.


              The cozy dining room, the table set for afternoon tea.

DSCN9269   DSCN9268

Bathroom facilities in Colborne Lodge, reputed to be the first ever installed in Toronto.


Bedroom on the second floor, heated by a wood stove, with chamber pots tucked under the foot of the bed.


The kitchen, with its many gadgets and labour-saving devices required in an era without electricity.

dated 1920 - f1548_s0393_it16153-1[1]

              View of High Park from Colborne Lodge in January 1920.

dated Dec. 26, 1925 f1548_s0393_it20196[1]

Colborne Lodge on December 26, 1925. City of Toronto Archives, Series 393, Fl. 548, S. 0393, It. 20196

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.com/

To view previous blogs about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new


To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its buildings:


Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)




Related Posts

One thought on “Colborne Lodge in High Park

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *