Public Garden: Ashbridge Estate

If you’ve travelled along Queen Street East, you’ve passed the white-picket fence enclosed Ashbridge Estate. This is the family homestead of one of the east end’s earliest settlers. The Ashbridges – from whom Ashbridge’s Bay gets its name – were Loyalists from Pennsylvania, granted 600 acres that stretched from the waterfront of Lake Ontario to Danforth Avenue.

AshbridgeEstatePorchAlthough this mansard-roofed house was constructed in the 1800s, in two installments, the Ashbridge family lived on this site continuously between 1793 and 1997. No other place in the city can beat that record. Ownership of their home was bequeathed to the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1972, and is today the offices of the Ontario Archeological Society.

At one time, the management of Canada Blooms had occupied this space (which would have been a great pairing), but I understand that that marriage didn’t work out.

But, more to the point, it is a public space that welcomes polite visitors. I had no idea this was the case, till I ventured by on foot, naturally with a camera in hand. It’s a quiet respite from busy Queen Street, and the TTC yards across the way.

PaperBirchFrom a garden perspective, it’s a great place to see trees – really old trees. The rainy weather on the day of my visit really brought out the textures.

[But, soft, what light from yonder laptop breaks? It is my clock telling me I have to launch this post in order to fulfill my very last daily post of November, before the clock strikes midnight… BRB.]

Back again. The tiger-striping on the old paper birch (Betula papyrifera) above is extremely decorative, along with curls of exfoliating bark.

And, above, closer to what I imagine might have been the original homestead site (there’s a plaque), the deeply grooved bark of one of two very old black locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia). Farmers would have planted these to use their super-strong wood for tool stocks.

On the far side, the entrance to the drive is flanked by large horse chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum), evident by the fat terminal buds, even when leafless.


Towards the back of the property, beside a hollow in the land that must have been the watercourse of a now buried stream, is an ancient weeping willow, so whittled away by time that it is surrounded by its own circle of chain link fence – to protect it from onlookers, or vice versa.

Behind the house, I was glad to see that the flower garden is piled up with fallen leaves.

Now that I’ve broken the ice, you know I’ll be back: respecting the privacy of the tenants, removing my litter, cleaning up after my pets, and leaving the flowers for others to enjoy, just like the sign says.


  1. I just love the old trees that are often present in old, public gardens. The gold and orange colors of the plants along the pathway are so striking against the green of the house.

  2. Helen, I didn't realize this garden became "public". I used to sit on the "501" when I lived in the Beach, musing how I would love as big a garden as that. Looking forward to the spring when I can go for a stroll myself.

  3. That first photo is stunning.

    And I believe congratulations are in order for you successfully producing 30 posts in 30 days for NoBloMo. Nice work in putting out that many consecutive, quality posts. Keep up the good work … and you can take a day off now. LOL

  4. Noelle, In an urban setting as relatively young as Toronto, carved out of the bush not so very long ago, there aren't many places where you can see trees that are more than a century old. My guess is that some of these guys are likely approaching two, and it's all just a 20-minute streetcar ride from the financial centre. Neat.

    VP — these last few days, I've had songs about freedom stuck in my head. So glad it's all over, but so glad I stuck with it. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Deborah, I had no idea it was public either, till I walked by and noticed the little sign on the fence. It looks fairly weathered, so has probably been posted for years! I've often lusted after the garden space, myself.

    Tatyana, Thanks! This is one of my favourite places to pass.

    Kelly, As I said earlier in my replies, how do you spell "relief": NaBloPoMoOver! But it will actually be hard to quit cold turkey.

    How It Grows, Thanks — glad you could drop by to enjoy it.

  5. What a classic, pretty house! I love the first bark picture. I would have guessed it was a cherry instead of a birch. But it's beautiful.

  6. Beautiful photos Helen … the colors light and composition in your first photo work perfectly… So inviting. Your portraits of the birch and locust are great too… I can nearly feel the texture. Great to have a place like that open to the public. Carol

  7. Sorry for the delayed response, folks. I guess after the 30 posts in 30 days of NaBloPoMo, I've been all shagged out after a long squawk.

    Diana, Thanks for your vote of confidence. Sometimes when going for quantity, you worry that quality suffers.

    VW, Now you've got me thinking that perhaps I jumped to conclusions on the tree ID — I'll have to go back and double-check for birch fruits. Will let you know.

    Deborah, the willow is definitely huge, and the core of the trunk is disintegrating with decay. Probably the reason for the fence. It does have character!

    Barry, Have a pleasant visit. East End Garden Centre is just up the way, and I can recommend the coffee and especially those chocolate shortbreads at Red Rocket (unsolicited mentions, both).

    Lu, Thanks for visiting, all the way from Halifax. I'm guessing picnics would be okay, as long as the picnickers clean up afterwards.

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