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What Does the City’s 2014 Budget Mean for the High Park Zoo?

The fate of the 120-year-old zoo remains uncertain.

Highland calf  Photo courtesy of Sarah Doucette, from the Friends of High Park Zoo Facebook page

A Highland calf. Photo from the Friends of High Park Zoo Facebook page.

There have been animals at High Park since 1893, when a group of deer was invited to take up residence there. Those deer set a trend, because the High Park Zoo now features a whole lot of creatures—including bison, llamas, wallabies, and capybaras (the noble giant guinea pigs of the animal kingdom)—who are visited by an estimated 500,000 people each year. In 2012, though, the future of the zoo and its many inhabitants was thrown into doubt when the City, looking to reduce its bottom line, cut funding for the attraction.

The zoo was able to remain open because the non-profit group Friends of High Park Zoo dedicated itself to raising the nearly $230,000 needed to keep it up and running. The Friends have received financial support from big-name donors (like the Honey Family Foundation and Moses Znaimer) and from generous zoo-lovers who donate through Friends of High Park Zoo, the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, and automated donation stations set up in the park itself.

But Friends board member and city councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale–High Park) was hoping the group wouldn’t be forced to fund the park again this year. “Volunteers have worked so hard, and they’ve done a brilliant job,” she says. “Can you really ask them to do it indefinitely?”

It seems the City intends to do just that: the $228,000 needed to cover the annual cost of three full-time animal attendants, maintenance, and animal upkeep doesn’t appear in next year’s draft budget.

Doucette isn’t ready to give up on getting the zoo written into the 2014 budget quite yet. She and Friends of High Park Zoo are inviting zoo-lovers to show up at budget committee meetings on December 2 and 3 to voice their support and help advocate on behalf of a new plan, which would see the City once again take on the zoo’s operating costs while the Friends concentrate on rounding up funds for capital projects. (The llamas would benefit from a larger area, for example. It seems female llamas don’t always wish to keep company with male llamas.)

If the zoo can make its case between now and January’s city council budget meeting, Doucette’s aim is to have its 2014 funding restored and made retroactive to January 1.

Doucette stresses that it’s in the interests of all Torontonians to secure the future of High Park Zoo. “High Park is a destination park,” she says. “And the zoo is part of that destination park. It’s not a ward zoo; it’s a city zoo.”

For more information about how you can get involved, visit the Friends of High Park Zoo or Sarah Doucette’s website.


  • wklis

    Again its Rob Ford’s “Service Excellence Guaranteed” promise that screws us by not getting fulfilled.

  • OgtheDim

    So how many baby Highland cattle does that subway to a Canadian Tire cost again?

    • vampchick21

      But…we already have a subway to a Canadian Tire!

      • OgtheDim


        Its one of the few things worth getting to from “the Bessarion”.

        • vampchick21

          lol…I was referring to the Canadian Tire at Bay & Dundas, a block from Dundas Station. :) I didn’t know there was another subway to Canadian Tire! I told you I was convinced it was cow pastures north of Bloor, didn’t I?

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            There’s another CT just south of Rosedale station.

          • vampchick21

            Canadian Tire, the New Tim Hortons!

          • HotDang

            And one across from Main station.

          • vampchick21

            Really? I do need to leave Parkdale and downtown a little more it seems.

          • OgtheDim

            Make sure you see the High Park zoo on your way when you do.

            All roads lead to the baby Highland cow.

          • vampchick21

            Good, cause baby anything is cute.

          • bobloblawbloblawblah

            Sheppard ends at an Ikea and a Crappy Tire. Double the fun!

      • bobloblawbloblawblah

        Sheppard end at an Ikea and a Crappy Tire. Double the fun!

  • TristanTerrific

    This zoo is vitally important for many of us who cannot afford to go to the Big Expensive Zoo. It is so enriching to be able to have these animals as a part of our lives. Please do not allow this to be taken away.

  • OpportKnocks

    Okay fine, these animals can keep their subsidized housing units in the park, but there is no way they are getting into prime waterfront condos!!!

  • eastegg

    There’s got to be a better budget process that means we aren’t stuck having the same debate year after year about what we value and what gets cut. The way things currently work only highlights just how precarious the programs and organizations are that are funded by the City. How are these organizations supposed to be able to plan long-term and strategically when they’re forced to defend their existence every December, either because there’s a new budget chief, or unanticipated high opening pressure on the budget, or a will to reduce the tax burden because it’s an election year, or whatever?

    I’m not saying that once an organization gets funding the City has an obligation to continue funding indefinitely, but isn’t there a model where the Council can set its broad funding priorities at the start of its term and a rough budget envelope to work in for the next four years? Not so the budget becomes inflexible and unable to cope with unanticipated problems in a given year, but just so people know what to expect and budget time stops being this big surprise that forces people to depute to save their program every year.

  • shuo
  • atorontoguy

    Why can’t the High Park Zoo be merged with the Toronto Zoo? The High Park zoo is basically running on fumes. There isn’t a plan for it, e.g. why this choice of animals, etc.? The High Park animals could be stored during the winter at the Toronto Zoo. I’m sure a merger could be looked at as a marketing cost for the Toronto Zoo. The Toronto Zoo could program events at High Park.