In 1873 John Howard deeded his property to the City for use as a "Public Park for the free use benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of the City of Toronto forever." With the exception of Colborne Lodge and a small farming operation, this land was in a relatively natural state. Over the next century, the City's development of the park included: roads and parking lots, restaurant and concession facilities, a zoo, playgrounds, a greenhouse and work yard, allotment gardens, recreational facilities and picnic areas, ornamental gardens, groomed turf areas, walled revetments along the pond shorelines, and more. The park evolved to meet the demands, public sentiment, and management practices of the day.
Starting in the mid-1970s, things began to change. Around 1974, the City realized that the natural environment of the Park represented a key asset and began to reduce mowing in order to encourage and preserve the Oak savannah. In 1976, the Ministry of Natural Resources conducted an ecological Study of Grenadier Pond and the Surrounding Areas of High Park under the supervision of Allan Wainio. In 1986, the City Parks Department undertook a survey of the Ravines of Toronto and produced working plans to address their rehabilitation and preservation. The High Park Ravine including the Savannah study was completed in 1988 and recommended further reduction of mowing practices in order to encourage the regeneration of the Black Oak Savannah vegetation. This recommendation was implemented. In addition, the propagation of native woody plants was recommended and the native plant propagation program began at the High Park Greenhouses.
The Department initiated a further study in 1988 with the purpose of developing a comprehensive management philosophy that would guide the implementation of appropriate park stewardship. This study included all aspects of High Park: transportation and traffic flow, safety and recreation, the natural environment and virtually all aspects of park use, development and maintenance. At the request of Parks and Recreation, Steve Varga of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) conducted a Botanical Inventory and Evaluation of the High Park Oak Woodlands in 1989. His recommendation resulted in High Park being identified as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI).
Source: Community Involvement in the Restoration of High Park - paper presented by Christopher Harris to the Society for Ecological Restoration, 1999.