Nature and Park History

Park History

Trinity College

Just north of the Circle, lie the buried foundations of Trinity College. A magnificent neo-gothic structure, Trinity College was one of the finest buildings in the City prior to demolition in the 1950’s and moved to the University of Toronto campus. In the future, perhaps these foundations will be uncovered and properly demarcated. Check out the wiki page (link) which has more historical details about the park.

Trinity Bellwoods Gates

At the intersection of Queen Street where Strachan ends. These gates were part of the former Trinity College and were restored in 2007. As part of the southern edge of park, a wrought iron fence extended from the Trinity Gates along Queen Street. It is now the most iconic structure representing the park and is much photographed landmark – “meet you at the gates”.

St. Hilda’s Walk

Extending from Gibson House to just south of the playground is the partially completed St. Hilda’s Walk.

John Gibson House

Located directly north of the recreation centre, past the playground, it was originally St. Hilda’s College Residence from 1899-1925. It then became Strachan Houses from 1925-1978, where it housed seniors. Then, because of deterioration of the building, it moved to a new location in 1978. The building was left unoccupied and further deteriorated. In 1983 LOFT Community Services entered into a long-term lease with the City to operate the building as a supportive housing for people with mental and physical health challenges live successfully.

Trinity Chapel

Near the tennis courts, lie the buried foundations of Trinity Chapel. In the future, perhaps these foundations will be uncovered and properly demarcated.

Local History

Here’s some interesting Trinity Bellwoods area history that was shared by a resident, Leslie Cooper. Her mother was Grace Bickford Forbes. Thanks so much to Leslie for sharing.

For more history of the park ‘Between the Bridge and the Brewery‘ by Jon Harstone is interesting. The full version of the book can also be found at the local library.

Harstone lived in Trinity Bellwoods and is a former board member of Heritage Toronto (formerly the Toronto Historical 13om·d) and former chair of the Toronto Local Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC). The book was published by and is available from, the Trinity Bellwoods Community Association (2020 currently not active). Here’s an evocative quote from the book:

Before the opening of Dundas street, the Trinity-Bellwoods area was reached by canoe along Garrison Creek or on a footpath through the woods.

Local historian, Jon Harston

Life Science

Natural Phenomenon

A Harvest Moon View of Toronto’s Skyline

On a full moon, a great place to view Toronto’s skyline is from the diagonal path as it bisects the Circle. Walk to the point along the path where the tree canopy parts and look up

Bird Transit Lounge

Every year, from late August to early October, there is a fantastic gathering of birds at sunset in the trees near the intersection of Lobb and Crawford Street. The birds, possibly Grackles, appear to gather in the trees prior to heading off on their winter migration. Some locals call it the “Bird Transit Lounge”. For a short while, it sounds like the deepest, wildest jungle… a fantastic racket, when suddenly, in complete synchronization, the birds fall silent… and then, all together, they start up their chattering again. In addition to making people nervous by swarming the trees, the birds swirl and swoop through the air like an aerial school of fish. I recent years there certainly been noticeably an increase in bird activity. In spring of 2020, during the first pandemic lockdown a local birder recorded over 40 different kinds in the park alone! To see the list, search for ‘birds’ on our facebook page.

White Squirrels

For decades at least there has been a line of white squirrels living in Trinity Bellwoods Park, who have some cousins at the close by CAMH (The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). Colonies of these unusual squirrels have popped up in many places around the world. A white squirrel can either be a pigmentless albino – pink eyes are the clue – or what’s called a white morph, which has black eyes. Sometimes a brown squirrel will arrive with a part-white tail. They have a special place in mythology and give rise to fables, eg that there is only one squirrel (who moves fast and has lived a long life!), or that they are the product of a science experiment that went wrong, or that they are more aggressive or have other unusual characteristics. Most of these seem to be unfounded but clearly, they are one of the features that makes our park interesting and unique. Currently (2020) there is no definitive count, but there are more than two white squirrels that live in the park, generally in the trees south of the rec centre. The past few years a few have died i.e., falling from up on high hydro wires. They also in habit in and around the wider Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood. The white squirrel has become iconic to the park as the gates.

Trinity Bellwoods Arboretum

Until the 1950’s, Trinity Bellwoods was a designated arboretum. Many of the original, arboretum trees are still standing today. Among the park’s diverse species are sugar maples, a shagbark hickory tree, black locusts, willows, meta-sequoias, oaks and elms. The past 10+ years the park has seen the effect of the invasive ‘emerald ash borer’ beetle which feeds on all ash species in the park and across Ontario. Infected trees are marked with a bright green or orange spot. Some may receive an ‘intravenous’ treatment in attempts to extend its life, but most will need to be cut down. Successive planting by forestry regularly occurs to replenish – see our adopt-a-tree program! ADDENDUM: According to current Parks Branch Director, Richard Ubbens, the park was never actually a working arboretum although a sign was erected. Ubbens himself had the sign taken down when he was Director of Parks’ Forestry Branch.

Oldest Park Tree

The oldest park tree stands at the south west corner of the tennis courts, near the diagonal path that leads to and from the corner of Queen and Gore Vale.

Looking up the trunk of the oldest park tree at the SW corner of tennis courts.

Shagbark Hickory Tree

Just north of the bowl, is an aging shagbark hickory tree surrounded by a low, a stone wall. When the Garrison Creek Ravine was filled in with dirt from the Bloor street subway dig in the 1950’s, the wall was installed to protect the tree. The old shagbark hickory is perhaps the last remaining growth from the woodlands that lined the original Garrison Creek Ravine.

Earth Science

Garrison Creek Ravine

The Trinity Bellwoods “Pit” or “Bowl” is the last remnant of the Garrison Creek Ravine within the park. Originally, the ravine stretched the length of the park, flowing beneath the former Crawford Street Bridge. There is a historic plaque where the bridge is buried up near where the farmers’ market is. The valley on either side was filled in with earth dug from building the Bloor subway. Today the bowl is a local and destination dog park and is the largest off-leash area in the city. The ridge of the bowl is popular for glimpsing the CN tower and for beautiful sunset/sunrise viewing. In the winter the hills are great for tobogganing. The Garrison Creek walking trail extends from the corner of Gore Vale and Queen, north through the ravine to Stanley Park and Christie Pits Park.