2015 Hero: High Park Peacock


2015 Hero: High Park Peacock

Nominated for: showing the city how to live on your own terms, bright colours and all.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Heroes Peacock  Torontoist Heroes and Villains 2015   640px

How often do you think about peacocks? In most of our daily lives “peacock” makes for a reasonably evocative verb and, in the physical sense, a zoo visit annoyance whose honk is at best a touch too shrill. It’s an animal that scared us as small children and then possibly, briefly, enchanted us as slightly older children, and then we stopped thinking about it altogether.

That is, until this past spring.

On May 27, one of the five peacock residents of the High Park Zoo decided he’d had enough of a life of captivity and literally flew the coop. He escaped the zoo, then the park, and spent the night resting in a nearby neighbourhood tree, observing from above the west end’s haves and have-mores and thinking to himself, “So this is what it looks like to have made it in this world.” He saw other, lesser birds fly freely—seagulls with bits of nitrate-laden hot dog dangling from their craws; sparrows compulsively shuddering their chubby bodies into mounds of dirt. He returned home to the zoo, overcome.

His homecoming didn’t last long. The High Park Peacock wanted more than a mere taste of freedom on his gently-curved beak. And so, the following day he embarked on a five-day adventure that is colloquially known among captive North American peafowl as “zoospringa.”

It wasn’t long before he was spotted leaping across Roncesvalles rooftops, occasionally pausing to rest and take in the view.

“He’s been spreading the word about High Park Zoo…And with the Pan Am Games coming up, he’s testing his strength, too,” said Councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) at the time. It was a quaint bit of politico soundbiting that obscured a far nobler quest: one lifelong detainee’s dogged determination to claw back the independence that circumstance had denied him.

Like the sinister Ms. Finch in classic Sesame Street film Follow That Bird, animal control officers went after the High Park Peacock with misguided good intentions. They’d throw blankets at him and, occasionally, swoop at him with nets. It was stressful and terribly frightening, but our bird persevered. He ducked. He dodged. Most importantly of all, he kept moving forward.

And then, he’d had enough. Freedom was exhausting. His legs hurt, his wings ached, and his belly yearned for that reliable mid-shelf seed. He missed his friends. Hell, he even missed those godforsaken bison with their giant useless heads. And so the High Park Peacock turned around and went back home on his own accord, and in turn showed us how far a little imagination can carry us. Ferris Bueller only got one day off; our heroic fowl took five.