Bickford Park is one of the few remnants of the ravine created by the Garrison Creek which once flowed from two sources north of St. Clair Avenue to Fort York and Lake Ontario. The current park was originally part of one of the large Park Lots which extended from Queen Street to Bloor. After a series of ownership changes, part of this lot was acquired in 1870 by Edward Bickford, president of one of the many small railroads built at that time to areas north and west of Toronto. His house, Gore Vale, stood in what is now Trinity-Bellwoods Park. He opened two streets along the lot, naming them after his daughters Grace and Beatrice. The Garrison Creek ravine which went through part of this land was gradually filled with excavation soil and garbage from residential development.
By 1900 there were plans to construct houses along an extension of Beatrice Street to Bloor. A subdivision plan of 1907 shows building lots surveyed along both sides of what is now Bickford Park, with Beatrice Street running through to Bloor Street. Because of a slow economy no construction took place, and in 1908 the city bought a total of 15 acres comprised of Bickford Park and the public land south of Harbord (then still a deep ravine) from Bickford’s widow Emily for $ 44,250. A year earlier the City had also acquired parts of Christie Pits.
In 1909, Harbord Street was extended to Ossington through the construction of the Harbord Street Bridge, a massive concrete arch designed to accommodate any future northward extension of Beatrice Street which was officially closed only in 1918. The total length of the bridge was 120 ½ feet. Rails with serrated edges to discourage climbing were later added to the parapets. A 1910 engineer’s report describes the work: A reinforced concrete arch has been built on the extension of Harbord Street crossing over Beatrice Street. It has a clear span of 34 feet 6 inches, and a clear height of 23 feet. The width is 54 feet clear between the parapet railings…. Borings taken at the site showed about 4 feet of brown clay and 10 to 20 feet of hard blue clay. Under this is a stratum of fine sand. The original plans provided for piles under both footings of the arch but were found unnecessary, except at the south corner of the east abutment, where an old well excavation was encountered.
Around 1930, the Harbord bridge was buried, and the ravine segment south of the bridge was levelled. Only the north parapet is now visible above ground. The south parapet was removed to just below grade. The bridge is still intact. In 1967, land at the north end of Bickford Park along Bloor Street was leased to the Toronto Board of Education for the construction of a secondary school, now the Bickford Centre. To appease local objections to the loss of parkland and the expropriation of several houses on the east side of Montrose Avenue, the Bob Abate Recreation Centre was built west of the school.
Around 1910, willows were planted along the east side, many of which are still there. In subsequent years, the park contained at various times baseball diamonds, football fields, an 8-rink bowling green and – most popular – 18 tennis courts. Gradually, more trees were also planted by the City Parks Department on the east and west slopes. Today, Bickford Park is potentially one of the most attractive parks in downtown Toronto. It is unusually quiet because the Bickford Centre blocks traffic noise from Bloor, and the ravine creates an intimate, enclosed space. Since the mid-1990’s, however, the park has come under increasing pressure from organized sports groups which at various times planned to convert the park into a regulation soccer field (complete with advertising on the slopes), or to enclose the entire north baseball diamond with a chain-link fence. These projects were stopped by protests from residents, but the appearance of the park and opportunities for informal or passive use have deteriorated significantly. The park is in urgent need of a redesign and a restoration of its natural environment.