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Good friends enjoy a lunchtime walk through Edwards Gardens in this file photo from June 2002. - Tannis Toohey/Toronto Star file photo
Good friends enjoy a lunchtime walk through Edwards Gardens in this file photo from June 2002. - Tannis Toohey/Toronto Star file photo

North York’s Edwards Gardens Named after Millionaire who Cut City Good Deal

Businessman Rupert Edwards turned down more lucrative offers from private developers, writes Susan Goldenberg

“Grab That Park!” the Toronto Star urged in an Aug. 6, 1955 editorial when millionaire Toronto businessman Rupert Edwards offered to sell his gorgeous 26-acre North York country estate at Leslie and Lawrence to the city for a bargain $160,000. He had been offered more than $400,000 by developers.

“No person will object to his hope the park will bear his name.” And so the property which Edwards had bought in 1944, called Springbrook Farm, and nurtured from weeds to splendour became a public park, Edwards Gardens.

Edwards (1894-1967), the founder, owner and president of Canada Varnish Ltd. in Leaside, also owned a Forest Hill home. As of 1944 Leslie and Lawrence was rural, but by 1955 residential development and accompanying traffic had taken over.

Edwards Gardens provided a quiet oasis. “It is a great joy to know that there are men like Mr. Edwards — men who will give years of their life to the creation of beauty and then pass on the fruits of their labours to be enjoyed by their fellow men,” Toronto resident M.J. Coote wrote in a letter to The Globe and Mail, published Aug. 15, 1955.

The property originally was part of 500 acres owned in the 1800s by Scottish immigrant Alexander Milne, a prosperous wool and lumber producer.

The land, mostly ravine, was overgrown when Edwards bought it. He hired a 12-person crew to landscape. He had three full-time gardeners but did considerable work himself. The ravine slopes were planted with thousands of bulbs, shrubs and trees. The rockery contained 426 tons of stone trucked from the Credit River Valley. A self-reliant sprinkling system was installed with its own springs, supplying 86,000 gallons daily, so no water was siphoned from North York’s system which had been a concern.

How much he spent was his secret; the press estimated “thousands of dollars.” Toronto park officials enthused that the result equalled or surpassed anything on the continent.

Why was Edwards donating his creation? “There’s nothing left to fix,” he wryly told The Globe Aug. 5, 1955, then added, “It would be a crime to subdivide it.”

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on May 24, 2020, on toronto.com.