Explore 19th-century innovation and creativity, city building, science, technology and design as exemplified by John Howard at Colborne Lodge. The site was built in 1837 and is located at the south end of High Park. The park’s 165 acres were originally the property of the Howard family and included the Lodge and a variety of farm outbuildings. John and Jemima Howard gifted the property to the City of Toronto to be used as a public park.
The museum site consists of two buildings: an original Regency Picturesque stucco cottage and John Howard’s original Picture Gallery.
Colborne Lodge offers ongoing events and exhibits, popular kids programs, school trips as well as a unique glimpse of Toronto history. Drop in to Colborne Lodge to view the many original furnishings and artifacts, and some of John Howard’s own watercolours depicting images of early Toronto.
Admission & Hours
Please note: the interior of Colborne Lodge can be seen by guided tour only. Please refer to the open hours below or call for more information.
Seniors (65 +): $7
Youth (13-18 years): $7
Children (4-12 years): $5
Groups of 10 or more receive a 15% discount on general admission. Pre-booking recommended.
Hours of Operation
Wednesday, January 2 to Friday January 4
Noon – 4 p.m.
January – April
Saturday to Sunday: Noon – 5 p.m.
Tuesday to Sunday: Noon – 5 p.m.
May – August
Tuesday to Sunday: Noon – 5 p.m.
Saturday to Sunday: Noon – 5 p.m.
October – December
Tuesday to Sunday: Noon – 4 p.m.
Mondays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Good Friday
On-Site Services and Accessibility
- Public washrooms (no changing facilities)
- Outdoor picnic tables
- Museum Gift Shop
- Special needs: partial accessibility
Location & Directions
From the west: Take The Queensway eastbound to Colborne Lodge Drive at the south entrance to High Park, turn north (left). Colborne Lodge is about 200 m up the hill immediately on the right-hand side of the road. Or, you can access the Lodge by going eastbound on Bloor Street West to the north entrance to High Park.
From the east: Take Lake Shore Boulevard West westbound to Colborne Lodge Drive. Turn north (right) and follow roadway into High Park. The Lodge is at the top of the hill on the right-hand side of the road approximately 200 m from the entrance to the park.
There is limited free parking on site.
Take the Bloor/Danforth subway line to High Park station and walk south through High Park (approximately a 30 minute walk). Or, take the 501 streetcar (Humber/Long Branch) to Colborne Lodge Drive and walk a short distance up the road to the Lodge. For specific TTC route and schedule information call 416-393-4636 (INFO) or visit the TTC website.
John Howard emigrated from England with his wife Jemima in 1832. Due to his training, he quickly found work first as an architect, then as a city surveyor and engineer. He built Colborne Lodge in 1837 and named the residence after Sir John Colborne, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. The house was originally one storey, but Howard later expanded it by adding an upper level. In 1873, Howard and his wife deeded their 165-acre country property to the City of Toronto. This deed included an agreement that the park remain ‘for the free use, benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of Toronto and it be called High Park’. Additional land was purchased by the City in 1876 and 1930, expanding the park to the current 399 acres. The Howards are buried under a stone monument that is fronted by a portion of fencing from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and is set close to Grenadier Pond. Colborne Lodge is now one of 10 historic sites operated by the City of Toronto.
Colborne Lodge is a rare North American example of a Regency picturesque building with a wide veranda opening to the garden and the park. The front door is on the west side of the building. At the heart of the structure is a tall three-part chimney that provided heat for the house. The interior remains decorated in a mid-19th-century style. More common in Britain, this style of architecture was used for buildings in natural settings and was designed to complement, not dominate, the natural surroundings.
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
Colborne Lodge is a Regency style Picturesque villa that was constructed by the City’s first architect, John Howard, and his wife Jemima Francis Howard in 1837. The property is located at the south end of High Park in the west of Toronto, on land that was once part of the 165-acre Howard estate. The heritage site includes the Lodge and a recreated coach house, as well as the Howards’ memorial tomb. In 1873 John Howard signed a deed that conveyed 120 acres of the 165-acre estate to the City for use as a public park; this land was transferred three years later in 1876. Colborne Lodge was acquired by the City of Toronto after Howard’s death in 1890, along with the remaining 45 acres of the Howard property.
The Lodge and all associated structures are owned by the City of Toronto and operated by the City’s Cultural Services, while the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division maintain the site grounds.
Statement of Heritage Value
- Colborne Lodge is located at Colborne Lodge Drive at the south end of High Park in Municipal Ward 13. Colborne Lodge is listed in the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties and was adopted as a heritage site due to its architectural, historic, and contextual importance by the City Council on June 20, 1973.
- Colborne Lodge is located within a ravine system that is protected under the Ravine and Natural Feature Protection by-law that applies to the conservation of major valleys and ravines under the jurisdiction of the TRCA. (City of Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 658, Ravine and Natural Feature Protection).
- Colborne Lodge is associated with John G. Howard and his wife Jemima Francis (née Meikle). The couple immigrated to Canada in 1832, where John was employed as Toronto’s first professional architect as well as a city engineer, surveyor, and a geometrical drawing master at Upper Canada College.
- Colborne Lodge is one of the last surviving examples of an Upper Canadian country estate, and one of the only examples of an early Picturesque villa in the province. The house was designed by John Howard himself and embodies the principles of the Picturesque aesthetic that had a significant impact on late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century British architecture. The Howards completed several major alterations to the building after its construction, and the Lodge has retained many of its original features and artefacts.
- Colborne Lodge and High Park have produced archaeological evidence of human habitation that stretches from pre-contact times to the modern period. A series of archaeological excavations at the Lodge have uncovered a number of nineteenth century features that are associated with the Howard occupancy.
- Colborne Lodge is situated within a well-preserved natural landscape that contains the original 165-acre rural Howard estate. The Lodge was once a significant architectural feature on the Humber Bay shoreline and the site is now an important heritage resource in Toronto’s largest park.
Character Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage value of this site include:
- Colborne Lodge is associated with the private and public lives of John Howard (1803 -1890) and Jemima Francis Howard (1802 – 1877). John Howard was professionally trained as an architect, and immigrated to Upper Canada from England in 1832 in search of projects and professional advancement. His patron, Sir John Colborne, assisted him in obtaining his first position as drawing master at Upper Canada College. Howard became a City surveyor and engineer, and one of the most successful architects in the town, securing a number of major commissions in Toronto and across Upper Canada.
- In 1836 the Howards purchased Lot 37, Concession 1, a property near the mouth of the Humber River that ran north from Lake Ontario to Bloor Street. The site was located at the highest point on the Humber Bay shoreline, that prompted Jemima Howard to call it High Park. John Howard built a villa at the southern end of the park at a point overlooking the lake, and named it Colborne Lodge in honour of his patron Sir John Colborne. The estate included gardens and orchards, as well as a cottage to the north that was rented to a tenant farmer. The Howards used the Lodge as a summer house until John’s retirement in 1855, at which point they moved to the Humber Bay area and became full-time residents of High Park.
- John Howard was appointed to the honorary position of Forest Ranger in 1876, and in 1883 he was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy in recognition of his efforts to promote the appreciation of art in Canada. Jemima died in 1877 after a long illness and was buried under the tomb that John Howard had designed for them; Howard was also buried there upon his death in 1890. The majority of the Howard lands had been deeded in 1873 to the City for the creation of a public park in 1876; this comprised 120 acres of the original estate, and after Howard’s death the remaining 45 acres were acquired by the City along with Howard’s collection of paintings, and the house and its contents. The Lodge first opened as a public museum in 1927 under the management of the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Toronto (WCHS). In 1957 the Park Commission oversaw an extensive restoration project, and further restorations took place in the 1960s when site maintenance was transferred to the recently created Toronto Historical Board (THB). Colborne Lodge Museum reopened to summer visitors under the management of the THB in 1970.
- Documents relating to the history of Colborne Lodge and the Howard family include an on-site collection as well as materials held at the Provincial and City Archives, The University of Toronto Archives, and the Baldwin Room at the Toronto Reference Library. Relevant historic documents include John Howard’s personal papers, architectural drawings, diaries, correspondence, and inventories of objects and furnishings compiled after John’s death as well as documents relating to the extended Howard – Meikle family.
- The Museum’s artefact collection includes a significant amount of material associated with the Howard family, as well as period objects that are representative of the period and place. Site-specific artefacts include original furnishings and architectural features, and miscellaneous objects that were owned by relatives of the Howard family. The Howards were accomplished painters, and John Howard was one of the founders of the Toronto Society of Arts. Jemima’s watercolours are a significant resource in the Museum’s collection, and John produced an extensive collection of drawings and paintings, including watercolours of many historic city vistas and buildings that are now valuable examples of Toronto’s early appearance and architecture. Some artefacts are displayed on-site, while others are stored in the City’s collection management facilities.
- Colborne Lodge embodies the principles of the Picturesque aesthetic, and was one of the earliest examples of this type of architecture in North America. The Lodge’s siting and irregular-shaped plan are characteristic of the Picturesque style that focused on a building’s integration into the surrounding landscape, and the creation or enhancement of complementary natural views and vistas. The Lodge is rectangular with three prominent chimneys, a wide three-sided bay on the south wall of the parlour, and an attached three-sided veranda that is accessible by bay windows and supported by wooden columns. The villa’s plain exterior and stucco walls were also designed to achieve a Picturesque effect, and remain virtually unaltered from their original appearance.
- The majority of the building’s internal layout is original, although the rooms have been restored and interpreted based on relevant historic documents and comparisons to contemporary nineteenth-century houses. The parlour, library, dining room, and main entrance comprise the original core of the building, while the master bedroom and smaller east and west bedrooms were added to the cottage in 1843. The Howards made significant alterations to the Lodge after John’s retirement in 1855, including the construction of a summer kitchen and second-floor bedroom at the back of the house, and the extension of the cellar and the brickwork of the chimney downwards to create a full basement kitchen and servants’ quarters. John also designed an attached greenhouse and a bathroom with indoor plumbing that is one of the earliest of its kind in Upper Canada.
- The Colborne Lodge estate contained a number of outhouses and additional features including a coach house, and a well and barn that were removed in the first half of the twentieth century. The coach house was supported by a pole barn, and contained a gallery that was established by John Howard for his collection of watercolours and sketches; this gallery space was preserved when the majority of the historic building was reconstructed in 1927. The modern coach house is situated on the footprint of the original structure, and contains programming and storage space, as well as public washrooms that were added on to the north exterior wall in the 1990s.
- The Howard tomb was designed by John and erected in 1875. This monument is sited on a rise of land that offers pleasing views of the surrounding landscape, and is another expression of the Picturesque aesthetic. It was built out of granite boulders in the form of a Scottish cairn, and is topped with a double cement pedestal and a Maltese cross as a symbol of John’s association with the Order of Freemasonry. The memorial is located on consecrated ground, and is surrounded by a cast iron rod railing that was originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren for the enclosure of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The railing was mounted at the Cathedral for 160 years until it was purchased by John Howard in 1874. Much of railing was lost in a shipwreck in the St. Lawrence River, however one section was salvaged and transported to Toronto where it was installed around the tomb in High Park.
- There is evidence of pre-contact native settlement in the High Park area. A well used trade route near the Humber River linked Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay, and another trail ran along the eastern side of Grenadier Pond. A major Iroquois settlement called Teiaiagon was sited to the northwest, while archaeological findings indicate that natives cultivated corn in the park itself, using fire to clear the land. All site planning related to Colborne Lodge should be undertaken with reference to potential archaeological features, in conjunction with the City of Toronto’s Master Plan for Archaeological Resources.
- The Colborne Lodge property has undergone a series of archaeological investigations including assessments of the gardens and grounds, and architectural monitoring of the building’s foundation and basement. These excavations have uncovered a number of features including evidence of pathways, a wooden step or stoop at the west entrance, a porch, fence lines, a raised terrace, and signs of a garden with an extensive planting scheme. The Howards were enthusiastic gardeners, and historic documents and archaeological findings indicate that orchards and extensive flower and vegetable beds once surrounded the house.
- Colborne Lodge was intentionally remote from the city, and sited in an idyllic natural landscape. Toronto has expanded west from its original downtown core, however the deeding of the Howard estate for public use has checked urban development in High Park itself. The 399-acre park grew from the 165-acre nucleus of land that was deeded by the Howards in the late nineteenth-century for the recreational use of the city’s citizens. In 1875 John recommended the purchase of land to the east and west of his property, and in the following year the City acquired 172 acres from the Ridout family that extended the park to its present eastern boundary. In 1930 the third major addition occurred when 71
acres were purchased from the Chapman estate to the west. Some land was lost during the construction of The Queensway to the south of Colborne Lodge in 1960, while 2 acres were gained in 1967 from the incorporation of the Village of Swansea into the City of Toronto.
- There have been few alterations to the site’s natural environment, and the Lodge has retained the feel of a nineteenth-century rural property. The Museum grounds are interpreted and managed by site volunteers with the support of museum staff, and the old farm cottage to the north is located south of the modern formal gardens. In the 1990s the Department of Parks and Recreation (now known as the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division) began a renaturalization project in the park to promote the regeneration of some forest and wetland habitats in order to provide more effective protection for the local ecology. Despite the installation of modern roads, recreational facilities, and landscaping, many natural areas have been left intact and contain native plant and animal species that are rare or extinct in urban neighbourhoods.
- John Howard was a prolific architect and surveyor, however Colborne Lodge is one of the few surviving examples of Howard architecture left in Toronto that has undergone extensive growth and major transformations in appearance since the nineteenth century. The deeding of the High Park villa and Howard estate represents a major contribution to the city’s cultural and recreational resources, and has ensured the preservation of a significant historic, architectural, and natural landmark.