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.

A crowd shot of Harris Park during Canada Day in 2010 in London, Ontario. Photo courtesy of Randy Warden
Londoners filled up Harris Park during Canada Day 2010. London Celebrates Canada organized he event. Photo courtesy of Randy Warden.

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.

Special thanks in advance to the London Room staff at the London Public Library for their help with the research! Their collection of the London Free Press archives shaped this article.

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 in London, Ontario

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.

Red and white cupcakes arranged in the shape of a Canada Day flag in Harris Park in London, Ontario.
Come down to Harris Park on Canada Day for a sweet celebration!

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

Rock the Park debuted in July 2004, with Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Alice Cooper, and Steppenwolf headlining.

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.

Rise Against at Rock the Park , an annual event at Harris Park in London, Ontario.
Lots of bands like Rise Against performed at Rock the Park

As of 2016, Rock the Park supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Western Mustangs Football Team, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Brandon Prust Foundation.

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.

The Pairs at Harris Park on Canada Day in 2018 in London, Ontario.
The Pairs performed at the new bandshell during Canada Day 2018.

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.

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