If you’re hankering after some urban greenery but you’re tired of High Park, then you could do worse than a visit to the Humber Arboretum. It’s free, it’s quiet, and best of all, there are surprisingly few wasps.
The arboretum, set up in 1977, is hidden behind Humber College way up in Toronto’s northwest, and it holds many secrets. Despite being under the nose of Pearson Airport, a Great Horned Owl is reputed to nest in the woodlot. Turtles roam free within the Nature Centre, a classroom in the middle of the gardens (they are house turtles and apparently wouldn’t survive outside). And on a pitch next to the Urban Wildlife Garden, there’s another kind of survival of the fittest: the Ontario Australian Football League plays here.
The 100-hectare site is split into two parts. The smaller consists of beautifully manicured planned gardens. In the Dunnington-Grubb gardens, which contain the bulk of the ornamental plants, there are more than seventeen hundred taxa (species, varieties, cultivars, and hybrids), arranged into a series of “outdoor rooms.” Here you can find ornamental grasses, roses, reeds, rhododendrons, and more, all changing with the seasons.
The larger part is the woodlot, which is much wilder. There are twelve kilometres of marked self-discovery trails running across meadows, up grassy hillsides, through dense forest, and along a paved cycle path hugging the Humber River, where you can see beavers, herons, and kingfishers. Unlike the gardens near the Nature Centre, where every plant is tagged, there is little exposition in the wilder part of the arboretum. This is largely good—after all, the point of self-discovery is to discover things yourself. But on the paths themselves, wayfinding signage can be random and map displays are fairly rare. (Unless, of course, you come across the same one three times, as we did while walking in confused circles.)
The arboretum has many programmes for kids, who can learn orienteering, animal tracking, or get themselves wet in the Humber River. For adults, the arboretum encourages picnics, community events, and even corporate board meetings.
It might be a slight pain to get to if you don’t have a car, but take some binoculars and a field guide—and a compass—and you’re sure of a pleasant afternoon.
The Humber Arboretum is open during daylight hours and is on Arboretum Boulevard behind Humber College.