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25 Things You Didn’t Know About the High Park Nature Centre

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This article is part of a series celebrating High Park Nature Centre’s 25th anniversary in High Park. Have a story your wish to share about your High Park Nature Centre experience? Contact us for an opportunity for you and your story to be featured on our website!

You might have taken part in one of our nature programs in High Park. Or this might be the very first time you’ve even heard about us. Either way, there’s so many things about the High Park Nature Centre you might have never known about before. Find out about this and lots more in this fun listicle about the Nature Centre.

Kids view an information display board about the ecosystems of High Park, Toronto.
Kids learn about High Park's ecosystems during a 2003 program. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

1. High Park Nature Centre was founded in 1999

High Park Nature Centre had its humble beginnings 25 years ago in the summer of 1999. Any guesses what our very first program was? It was our ever-popular summer camp of course! Since then, our programs have expanded to include a variety of opportunities to connect kids and adults of all ages with nature in High Park. Our programs also incorporate a stewardship component like planting native species, removing introduced species or counting wildlife species. Scroll down to learn more.

2. We operate out of High Park's historic Forest School building

High Park Nature Centre operates out of the Forest School building. It was built in 1932 to support the growing High Park Forest School, which began in 1914. For 50 years, the Forest School provided outdoor education and meals for malnourished children exposed to cholera and tuberculosis. After the Forest School program closed its doors in 1964, the building housed the Ontario Foundation for Visually Impaired Children from the 1970s until 2014.

A black and white image of the Forest School building in High Park, Toronto.
The Forest School building in High Park, Toronto, right after it was constructed in 1932. Credit: CIty of Toronto Archives
A Cottage with a green roof and green windows with a board that says Nature Centre in High Park, Toronto.
The High Park Nature Centre's Cottage building on Parkside Drive in 2005. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

3. We used to be stationed at the Cottage on Parkside Drive

High Park Nature Centre got its start in the Cottage on Parkside Drive in the eastern end of the park just north of the High Park TTC Streetcar Loop. It wasn’t until 16 years later in 2015 that the High Park Nature Centre moved into its current headquarters in the Forest School building. You can still see the Cottage building as you drive down Parkside Drive.

4. We are a registered Canadian charitable organization

The Nature Centre is a CRA registered Canadian charity operating out of High Park. Consider making a donation today to help plant the seeds of conservation, curiosity and connection to nature in our community through year-round, hands-on, outdoor nature education and park stewardship.

A kid holds up a leaf during a summer camp program in High Park, Toronto.
Your donations help support our nature programs and operations allowing us to host free or subsidized programs in High Park. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
A board which reads "OURSpace is YOUR Space!" outside a fenced outdoor savannah learning garden in High Park, Toronto.
The High Park Nature Centre's OURSpace outdoor savannah learning garden during its inauguration in 2017. Credit: Irena Wilk

5. We have an outdoor savannah learning garden called OURSpace

In 2017, the Nature Centre inaugurated OURSpace — an outdoor savannah learning garden just south of the Forest School. This Outdoor Urban Restoration Space, OURSpace for short, mimics High Park’s globally rare Black Oak Savannah ecosystem. It serves as a safe, fun and engaging space for kids and adults to learn about, play in and connect with this ecosystem. It is home to many native species and also houses a native bee hotel and a snake hibernaculum.

A turtle swimming in an aquarium at the High Park Nature Centre.
Houdini the Red-eared Slider. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
An orange snake slithers across a carpet in the High Park Nature Centre.
Snappy the Cornsnake. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

6. We have two beloved animal ambassadors — Houdini & Snappy

Did you know? High Park Nature Centre has two animal ambassadors as part of its staff team! Meet Houdini, the Red-eared Slider, and Snappy the Cornsnake. They play an integral part of our nature programming at the Nature Centre and help teach kids about wildlife, introduced species, conservation and more. The Nature Centre used to be home to many more animal ambassadors including Diablo the Bearded Dragon, Bob the White’s Tree Frog, Snake the Checkered Garter Snake, and Blue the Hermit Crab. Many of our animal friends found their homes at the Nature Centre through donations made over the years and could not be reintroduced into the wild as they were captive introduced species.

7. We predict peak bloom for Cherry Blossoms in Toronto

Each year, the High Park Nature Centre works with the City of Toronto to help predict the date of peak bloom for cherry blossom trees in High Park and Toronto. We meticulously track cherry blossom bloom and provide the public useful information about the history and horticulture of these springtime wonders. 

Fluffy white cherry blossom flowers in High Park, Toronto.
Fluffy white cherry blossom flowers in High Park, Toronto. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
Four images showing the four seasons in High Park, Toronto.
The four seasons in High Park. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

Spring, summer, fall or winter — High Park Nature Centre has nature programs for all four seasons of the year. Excluding some instances of extreme weather, we run all our programs in the rain, snow or shine. After all, embracing nature means embracing all that comes with it. We aren’t afraid to get messy and muddy playing in, learning about and connecting with nature in High Park all year round.

9. We've connected over 100,000 people with nature in High Park

Through our nature programs we help connect thousands of people from across the GTA with nature in High Park. Over the past 25 years participants in our nature programs have included children, adults, seniors, families, elementary and secondary school students and teachers, ESL schools, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, community centres, recreational programs, nonprofits, corporate groups and more!

A naturalist teacher leads a group of kids through a trail in High Park.
Kids head out for a hike during our PA Day Camp in High Park. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
Toddlers and their caregivers hike through the snow covered landscape of High Park.
Kids and their caregivers go for a winter hike during our Waddlers Nature Club in High Park. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

10. We run nature clubs for kids and adults of all ages

We offer a variety of different nature clubs in High Park.  These include our caregiver-accompanied nature clubs for kids ages 6 months-5 years, drop-off nature clubs for kids ages 4-12 years, High Park Rangers stewardship club for youth ages 12-16 years and adults, and our Urban Naturalists club for adults.

11. Our nature camps in High Park are a huge hit among kids

We run nature camps in High Park across all major school holidays. These include our ever-popular Summer Camp, Winter Holiday Camp, March Break Camp and PA Day Camps. Kids absolutely love getting their hands dirty playing outdoors in nature and all the fun games and activities during camp.

A kid shows off her muddy hands during summer camp in High Park, Toronto.
A kid shows off her muddy hands during summer camp in High Park. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
A kid smiles during a winter program in High Park, Toronto.
Happy Camper Fund allows kids to attend our nature camps and clubs for free or subsidized rates. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

12. Have you heard about our Happy Camper Fund bursary?

At the High Park Nature Centre we believe in ensuring our nature programs remain as accessible as possible for everyone. This is why we have our Happy Camper Fund. This bursary helps more than a hundred kids each year attend our nature camp and club programs for free or subsidized rates!

13. We also offer nature school field trips in High Park

The Nature Centre also host several schools from across the GTA for field trips in High Park. We also offer a select number of free or subsidized field trip spots particularly for schools whose students face many external challenges to student success.

An adult explains the leaves of a tree to a bunch of kids in High Park, Toronto.
Kids listen to a naturalist teacher during a school field trip in High Park. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
Adults help pull down a tree in High Park, Toronto.
The team from Deloitte Canada help remove buckthorn trees during a teambuilding program. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

14. We have nature programs for corporate and community groups

There’s nothing more fun than getting your group’s hands dirty by helping us conserve High Park’s ecosystems. Our teambuilding programs are the perfect way for your team to build group rapport while also honing their naturalist and outdoor skills.

15. Almost all our programs focus on stewardship and restoration

Nearly all participants in our nature programs have the opportunity to give back to High Park through stewardship activities. This includes planting native species, removing introduced species, closing unofficial trails, participating in wildlife counts, engaging in community science, maintaining OURSpace and other natural spaces, and many other fun, engaging and rewarding projects to help us restore and conserve nature in High Park.

Two adults help pull down a tree in High Park, Toronto.
Adult Rangers help remove a buckthorn tree in High Park. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
An adult and a child plant native species in OURSpace. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

16. We help restore and preserve a globally rare ecosystem

High Park is one of few remaining areas that houses the globally rare Black Oak Savannah. This ecosystem which once dominated Southern Ontario depleted due to increased human development, fire suppression, and other poor ecological practices. Inspired by centuries of Indigenous environmental stewardship in Toronto and High Park, we are privileged to educate people about this ecosystem and engage them in its conservation and restoration.

17. We work closely with many Indigenous groups and individuals

Our nature education and stewardship programs in High Park would not be possible without the guidance of many Indigenous Elders, Cultural Carriers and organizations. We often work closely with Taiaiako’n Historical Preservation Society, Indigenous Land Stewardship Circle, Turtle Protectors and more to host Indigenous-led events and to guide our Indigenous-led Youth Wanderers program.

Crops rise above surrounded by savannah plants in High Park, Toronto.
Three Sisters Mound planted by Indigenous Youth Wanderers in OURSpace. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
Botanist Ryan Godfrey speaks with participants during our Pride Month event in High Park. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

18. We often collaborate with other experts and organizations

High Park Nature Centre often partners with experts and organizations specializing in various nature subjects to host unique events, hikes and workshops in High Park on subjects ranging from specific plants, insects, birds and animals to nature-centered journaling and art projects.

19. Nature doesn't disappear after dark and neither do we

Nature connection isn’t just a daytime activity. We also run several nighttime nature programs in High Park! These include our evening events to discover the wildlife of the night like Moth Nights, Bat Nights, Winter Solstice events and more! Most notably, our evening nature programs for Guides & Scouts groups allow them to be confident young naturalists in the outdoors whether its day or night.

Participants stand around a lit up cloth sheet at night to observe moths in High Park.
Participants observe moths around a moth sheet lit up by UV lights during our annual Moth Night. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
An adult holds up a bunch of leaves and interacts with two children gathered around a red wheelbarrow on a fall day in High Park, Toronto.
A volunteer interacts with participants during a winter nature program in High Park. Credit: Tanguy Coignion

20. We are a small team supported by many incredible volunteers

Our staff would not be able to conduct all our nature education and stewardship programs in High Park without the help of our volunteers. From supporting our camps and clubs to helping us with several tasks around the Nature Centre, we are incredibly grateful for their unwavering dedication and support!

21. We have a seed library

Did you know? High Park Nature Centre is a branch of the Toronto Seed Library! Seed libraries help to spread seed and food literacy. We carry organic, open pollinated vegetable and wildflower seeds! You are welcome to come to the library to take seeds for free, plant the seeds, raise the plant, let a bit of it go to seed and bring some of those seeds back to the library the next season so that the collection continues to grow. Reach out to us to learn more.

An envelope which reads Toronto Seed Library rested on top of a few seeds and books.
High Park Nature Centre is a branch of the Toronto Seed Library. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
Kid wearing snowshoes run across the snow-covered landscape of High Park.
Kids snowshoe in High Park. Credit: Andrew Yee

22. Our ice cleats and snowshoes make winters snow much fun

Worried about signing up yourself or your child for our winter nature programs because of all the snow and ice? Keep your worries frozen away! We have loads of ice cleats and snowshoes to make our winter hikes in High Park safe and all the more fun. We often include snowshoeing as part of our nature clubs and camps and host one-off snowshoeing events in High Park. Trust us, you and your child will come away learning to embrace the winter wonderland that is High Park.

23. Show off your High Park pride with our merch

We sell t-shirts for kids, youth and adults, onesies for infants and bandanas and buttons inspired by nature in High Park. This year we also began selling a wall calendar featuring various High Park wildlife. Keep your eye out as we are going to start selling a variety of different merchandise soon!

A bunch of High Park Nature Centre shirts, bandanas and buttons arranged on a table.
High Park Nature Centre's merch store includes t-shirts, bandanas, buttons and more. Credit: High Park Nature Centre
Two adults dig in some plants among savannah tallgrass in High Park, Toronto.
Participants help plant native species in OURSpace during our Community Plantsgiving event. Credit: High Park Nature Centre

24. We are working on adding a second OURSpace learning garden

We are in the process of adding an additional OURSpace savannah learning garden in High Park. That’s right! This new space will be right next to our current one south of the High Park Nature Centre. Not only will this give us more programming space, but it will also help restore more of rare Black Oak Savannah ecosystem and will include accessible trails for all High Park visitors to appreciate and enjoy. 

25. We are going to begin the multi-million dollar renovation of the High Park Forest School

This fall, in partnership with the City of Toronto, the High Park Nature Centre will begin renovating the historic Forest School building to house the High Park Visitor and Nature Centre. Besides a much-needed visitor centre for High Park, the renovated building will also include improved programming space in an energy efficient, retrofitted facility.

Andrew Brobyn contributed to this article.

This article is part of a series celebrating High Park Nature Centre’s 25th anniversary in High Park. Have a story your wish to share about your High Park Nature Centre experience? Contact us for an opportunity for you and your story to be featured on our website!

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