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Source: Community Involvement in the Restoration of High Park, a paper on the history of the Volunteer Stewardship Program, 1999, presented by Christopher Harris to a joint meeting of the Society for Ecological Restoration and the Ontario Parks Association. - read the full paper pdf
In 1873 John Howard deeded his property to the City for use as a public park by the citizens of Toronto. 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 1989i. His recommendation resulted in High Park being identified as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest.
In response to this report, the City initiated a broader study (than the original done in 1988) of the Park, concentrating on regeneration and restoration techniques. This was conducted by staff of Parks and Parks Planning sections. A report, High Park: Proposals for Restoration and Management and Framework for Restoration, issued in draft form in May 1992ii, was subjected to extensive public consultation over the summer and was adopted in a revised form by City Council in February 1993. This report recognized, among other things, the importance of High Park's natural areas and delineated an approach to the restoration and management of these areas. This approach was approved in principle by City Council.
In 1991, herbaceous native plant propagation began at the High Park Greenhouses on a limited basis. By 1995, it had expanded considerably. In 1996, a concerted effort began to establish a native plant nursery both as a source of plants and seed and as a demonstration site and educational resource.
Recognizing the critical need for on-going, systematic and broadly representative community input and consultation, the Parks Department recommended the establishment of a High Park Citizensí Advisory Committee (interim) which was approved by City Council in February 1993 and became a permanent Committee with the approval of its Terms of Reference in September 1995. This Committee, of which the High Park Volunteer Stewardship is a part, plays a key consultative role in the management of High Park.
Out of the proposals for restoration and management came the High Park Oak Woodlands project. Its objectives included:
The consulting firm, Applied Ecological Services Inc (led by Steven Apfelbaum), was retained by Parks and Recreation to conduct a detailed restoration strategy study in 1994. This study resulted in a better understanding of the Oak Savannah system and outlined a Test Plot Program that would measure the effectiveness of proposed restoration techniques. In addition, conducting limited tests would serve as a barometer of the publicís acceptance of such measures. This program was implemented in 1996 by Parks and Recreation in partnership with the Volunteer Stewardship Program and led to the development and implementation of the High Park Woodland & Savannah Management Plan of 2002 pdf (City of Toronto report, 25 mb).