snow angel

Sliding on snow and ice helped Torontonians claim open spaces for public parks a century ago and, more recently, at the Wychwood Barns Park.

snow angel from entrancesnow angel group w. netsnow angels overhead w. Kevinsnow angels overhead w. applessnow angel kidsnow angel hanging kid angel

A century ago…

High Park. - [ca. 1910]

Fresh air and exercise was considered the key to good health.Outdoor recreation spaces grew in importance as Toronto’s urban density increased.

Group on toboggan High Park 1909

High Park for its accessibility by streetcar, frozen pond, trails and toboggan runs was the most popular city-run park during the winter.

Group of snowshoers on horsedrawn sleigh 468A“Group of snowshoers on horse-drawn sleigh”

By participating in outdoor sports you presented yourself as enterprising, fit and sociable.

Hikers in High Park"Hikers in High Park"

As parks came to be regarded as essential for city beautification and public recreation, the Parks Commissioner’s budget grew.

Skiers in High Park 1911.

Photos in Saturday editions of local papers, most notably, The Toronto Star Weekly, celebrated how the city came together in its public spaces.

Sunday walk across ice covered Toronto Bay 1909 item 689"Sunday walk over the ice-covered Toronto Bay"

The Sunday leisure habits of Torontonians became a hot topic of discussion in the winter of 1912 as photography in local dailies held a mirror to what was going on in the parks.

news photographers ca. 1911 “news photographers 1907”
A Merry Party of Snowshoers, Star weekly Dec. 10, 1910 "A Merry Party of Snowshoers", Star Weekly Dec. 10, 1910

The Toronto Daily Star had the highest circulation among handful of local dailies. Its pictorial weekend edition was launched in 1910.

old time Toronto Star City Desk “old time Toronto Star City Desk"

Star editor Joseph E. Atkinson  was a Liberal, progressive reformer and Methodist.The paper campaigned for the rights of the working class, the creation of a “social safety net”, public housing and parks.

William James s. stereoscope 1244_it3521

The local paper often published the work of free-lance press photographer William James who also sold his views of the city as postcards and stereoscopic images.

Women in High Park

The Star promoted parks through amateur photography competitions. It also published artistic landscape photos of the most popular recreation zones.

Scan10001 “High Park the Happy Hunting Grounds of Toronto Photographers” The Toronto Star Weekly     January  26, 1913
Scan1   "A Winter Study of the Rosedale Ravine Drive"“…a splendid example of art photography.”  The Toronto Star Weekly   Feb. 24, 1912
winter walk in High Park 1907 item 451Bwinter walk, High Park (1907)

High Park togogan runs

As well as revealing the picturesque aspect of parks, photography was able to increasingly capture action scenes.

skaters on Don River item 461A“Skating on the Don River”

Transformed by snow and ice many open spaces that were not public lands were claimed as playgrounds in winter.

group skating in vacant lot 1907 "Group skating, vacant lot”
Iceboating, Toronto Bay. - [between 1900 and 1920]“ice boating on Toronto Bay”
Three members of the toronto ski club in Rosedale Ravine 1907“Three members of the Toronto Ski Club, Rosedale Ravine”
skaters and workmen at Christie Pits 1909“Skaters and workmen at Christie Pits (1909)”
Group on huge tobogan Christie Pits“Group on huge toboggan Christie Pits”
four children skating item 457“Four children skating”
Group on bobsled, Don Flats item 478“Group on bobsled Don Flats”

The City maintained 32 free skating rinks,  including one on Hendricks Avenue and St. Clair West, and 18 hockey rinks.

skating at Varsity rink item 456“skating at Varsity Rink”

rinks Feb. 17, 1910 crop 3

Other rinks were private enterprises offering live music and shows, theme nights, and local hockey games.

Boys on sleds High Park

Catching the modern passion for mobility and speed, a bob-sledding craze took hold in Toronto.

Group on toboggan 1911

In an era that celebrated team endeavours, groups in long toboggans or sleighs quickly bonded in the thrill of the ride.

High Park tobogan runs

High Park, where the City had installed a monumental toboggan run, became a magnet for spectators.

City Council chamber packed Feb. 6, 1912 detail

Among the attractions was the inevitable witnessing of collisions and spills, The Toronto Daily Star reported accident statistics daily from the city’s toboggan runs.

Thousands Trooped Forth, Jan. 29, 1912

However, it was the danger to the spiritual welfare of Toronto citizens that drove the “Lord’s Day Alliance” to successfully lobby City Council to prohibit tobogganing on the Sabbath.

Tobogganing in High Park

“Amusements” such as tobogganing or other thrill-seeking activities were denounced from many pulpits as contrary to the rest and reflection demanded by the Lord’s Day.

Petition Jan. 27, 1912

A “Citizen’s Committee” petitioned City Council while it was debating the anti-tobogganing bylaw. The freedom to slide was important to public health. Moreover, it represented workers’ right to enjoy humbler versions of outdoor sports that were a feature of the lives of the well-off.

Petition Jan. 27, 1912 crop 2

Petition Jan. 27, 1912 crop 3

snowshoers in High Park

Although the bylaw was passed by City Council it proved impossible to enforce. However, the toboggan runs had hit  their height of popularity when sliding was an act of defiance that drew thousands to High Park.

EVADING THE LAW January 24, 1914 p. 1 The Toronto Daily Star, Jan. 24, 1914 p. 1

shinny rink 1

In the late 1990s, Peter MacKendrick, as part of a local movement to save an abandoned streetcar barns yard for use as a neighborhood park, began to flood the vacant lot for use as a shinny rink.

shinny rink 4

The volunteer-managed rink became a meeting ground for neighbors who took up the cause of creating a new park that incorporated the barns.


Reflecting local hostility towards the proposal  of maintaining the barns, a citizen whose property abuts the park called the City and requested that the slippery patch of ice be salted. Joe M. crop Photo:   Joe Mihevc, January 1, 2009

Phone calls went in to Ward 21 Councillor Joe Mihevc who promptly called the City and said, “What are you doing salting a community skating rink?! That’s just un-Canadian!”


This City Works Department photograph of children skating beside the first barn dates from the period when Torontonians sought  out open spaces to claim them as their own through play.

shinny rink skater photo in barns

It was used as an emblem by local residents who wanted to incorporate the memory of  the site’s previous uses into the park design and, at the barns, marks the role of photography and play in the development of Toronto parks.

the biggest toboggan in Canada

Skaters in High Park 1910 item 455 “Skaters in High Park”