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Great conversation

Connecting with our community


A Look Back at the History of

Rowntree Mills Park


Rowntree Mills Park has a vibrant history that is largely unknown to today’s residents of Humber Summit. While preparing for the 1st Annual NETWALK, I stumbled upon both valuable and interesting information from local residents and online sources, which I believe is worth sharing.

The first settlers who came to Humber Summit were German; they arrived  in the late 1700s via Pennsylvania. They were followed by immigrants from England in the 1820s. Joseph Rowntree was a pioneer in the village of Thistletown. Starting in 1843, he began building a sawmill and a grist mill on the banks of the Humber River; they became known as the “Greenholme Mills”, which operated profitably until the end of the 19th Century.


In 1927 the Finnish Society of Toronto, established a summer retreat for Finnish workers, which they named Tarmola.  It was located at the north end of present-day Rowntree Mills Park. Volunteers built a large recreational complex there including athletic facilities, an open-air dance pavilion, a band shell, a sauna and a restaurant. During the 1930s at a time when there were not many comparable tracks, many Canadian Olympians trained at Tarmola which was accessed by a dirt road from where Steeles Ave. ended at Islington Ave. The site regularly hosted Finnish-Canadian cultural and athletic festivals. As many as 3000 people would attend performances featuring choirs and athletes representing as many as 77 sports clubs from Quebec to British Columbia.


Residents of Toronto constructed rental cottages along the banks of the Humber River near Tarmola. The properties were well maintained until October 1954 when Hurricane Hazel hit and destroyed twelve cottages. After the destruction the hurricane left behind, thousands of acres along the Humber River were acquired by local governments and the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was created to regulate land use along the river.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, the community of Humber Summit grew rapidly. A park was formed along this section of the Humber River, originally named River Bend Park. It was spared being designated as a main dumpsite for North York and the name was changed in 1969 to Rowntree Mills Park in honour of Joseph Rowntree. The Rowntree family wanted the park to serve as a free, accessible recreational public park space for the citizens of Toronto.  For decades the park was enjoyed by families who had settled in Humber Summit.


In 2008, the park gates were officially closed to cars unless a permit was obtained due to some serious safety and noise concerns. The closure was to be a temporary measure for the summer of 2008 after which a proper review would be undertaken. A public review never occurred and the gates have remained locked ever since, except from May to October when the first parking lot is open.


Looking Forward


 This beautiful space is well-maintained by City parks staff; it consists of trails, bridges, picnic areas and is a natural habitat for wildlife. It is not fully accessible for many who could benefit from it. In 2013, the Toronto Star published a report on Rowntree Mills Park, calling it “Toronto’s Saddest Park”. Because of the park’s unique and special features, it’s time that the park becomes a recreational jewel once again in north-west Toronto. From time to time, problems occur in all parks. Sensible policies that ensure safety and the enjoyment of one’s property need to be proposed and implemented. Placing locks on gates to prevent public access to greenspace is short-sighted.

The barrier we are cutting down!

Intersting History

Strolling through Rowntree Mill Park

Connecting with our community

The beautiful Humber River

Taking down barriers

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