Harris Park is more than a green space – it’s a part of local history.
After all, Eldon House, above the park, is the oldest home in the Forest City, and Harris Park recognizes the family who loved the home for over a century.
The space can go from a tranquil walking path to a high-energy festival destination. Over the years, it has seen a variety of uses, most of which you’ll find below.
1834-1959: Four generations of Harris Family carry on the home.
After the iconic Eldon House was built, John and Amelia Harris moved into the home with their 10 children. The home sat on 11 acres of property, which eventually became Harris Park.
However, the Harris family weren’t the only Londoners using the area.
Between 1835 and 1912, the Blackfriars Mill operated on the land below the Harris family home, according to Daniel J. Brock’s book “Fragments From the Forks: London, Ontario’s Legacy.”
Another book, “London Free Press: From the Vault” by Jennifer Grainger, also mentions the mill, along with two 480-feet long slides built in 1886 used for toboggan races. The chutes stretched from the eventual parkland to the Thames River’s edge.
1960-1964: The Eldon House museum and park’s beginning
Following Amelia “Milly” Harris’ passing in 1959, the descendants of the Harris family donated the house and its items to the City of London. The home, now called Eldon House, became a museum in 1961.
Eldon House is as close to London’s past as you can get. With the home left virtually unchanged, it’s like you’re visiting the Harris family yourself.
Harris Park officially opened in 1964 as a 12-acre green space that was perfect for picnicking. A London Free Press article dated August 11, 1964 noted the parks department at the time considered a play area for kids with swings and a sandbox.
Despite no playground for kids, Harris Park is still a great place for them to play. During 2018 Canada Day celebrations, children were enjoying the bouncy castles and balloons at the event.
1974-1975: Construction at Harris Park
In 1974, Harris Park’s space expanded on Ridout Street North up to the Blackfriars Bridge’s area. The Ridout Street North entrance, starting from the park’s riverside, started construction in 1975.
1991: The First Bandshell Arrives
The first bandshell in Harris Park was a blue gazebo where musicians would play.
The Magnolia Jazz Band were the first to strike up a tune in the structure after the ribbon cutting ceremony in May of 1991. The City of London contributed $75,000 and John Labatt Limited donated $50,000 towards the bandshell.
2001- Canada Day celebrations blend into the firework show
Canada Day in Harris Park comes with fresh cupcakes, performances, and booming fireworks.
Randy Warden, the former chairperson and event organizer of both the London Canada Day Committee and London Celebrates Canada, moved the event to the park in 2001.
He explained it made sense to move the day-long celebrations to Harris Park, as the fireworks show was at the Forks of the Thames.
Before the millennium, other parks in London, such as Victoria Park and Gibbons Park, held separate Canada Day celebrations.
2004- Harris Park becomes an outdoor concert destination
The annual concert series began as a Bethany’s Hope Foundation fundraiser. In the 11 years the festival partnered with the charity, Rock the Park raised $2.2 million total.
As the years went on, the lineup became more diverse, including country and 90s nights.
If you get the chance, attend Rock the Park! There’s nothing like watching the sunset and fade into the night sky while feeding off the crowd’s energy during an outdoor concert.
2017- Celebrating a sequential milestone
New developments became part of Harris Park, including ones celebrating Canada 150.
The Canada Day Pavillion and a new bandshell came to Harris Park in 2017. A time capsule buried that year will open for Canada’s 200th in 2067.
Next time you attend a festival or take a stroll in Harris Park, take the time to appreciate the history.
If you have any favourite memories of Harris Park, please share them in the comments below!
Watch the Histories of London: Parks and Festivals Mini-Documentary.