Tag Archives: alexander muir

Scenes From The Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens

The Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens is a beautiful park in midtown Toronto which dates back almost ninety years. The cause to memorialize its namesake Alexander Muir was so great that he had the gardens dedicated to him twice.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 2020. Source: Google Maps.

The first Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens was located near Lawton Boulevard. It was in a triangular plot of land caused by the unusual eastward veering of Yonge Street near Heath Street. The “correction” was made to directly align Yonge Street in the original Town of York with Lake Simcoe when the street was originally surveyed in the 1790s. Yellow Creek flowed through the park.

Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

With construction beginning in 1933, the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens were officially opened on August 6, 1934. It was established 24 years after Muir’s death on June 26, 1906. The Gardens were located directly across Mount Pleasant Cemetery — his final resting spot.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1934. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

“Alexander Muir Memorial Garden Officially Opened”, The Globe August 7, 1934. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1947. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The entrance to the gardens featured an ornamental gate at Yonge Street. This led to an impressive stone wall and terrace with a carving of a verse of ‘The Maple Leaf Forever” — Alexander Muir’s best known work. In the garden were 1,000 rose bushes and a well-manicured lawn. In the north of the park was a sunken rockery garden and lily pools below a willow tree. Other ‘Canadian’ trees and Japanese cherry trees were also planted.

Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens Gates, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens with Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens ravine or pond, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Alexander Muir himself was a hero of sorts of old, colonial, British Toronto, so the appetite to pay tribute to him in the 1930s was high, especially with centennial celebration of incorporation of the City of Toronto happening in the decade. Among other identities, Muir was a patriot, educator, and composer. In addition to Yonge Street, Muir’s geographic footprint stretches across Toronto from Scarborough to Leslieville to Little Portugal — all school sites associated with him late 19th century.

Muir, Alexander, 1830-1906, 1855. Source: Toronto Public Library.

His ‘Maple Leaf Forever’ is an anthem for British Canada. Its original lyrics made a point of celebrating General Wolfe — the man who led the English to victory over the French at the Plains of Abraham — and highlighted scrimmages in the War of 1812 — a conflict used heavily in the construction of  ‘Canadiana’. His funeral in 1906 was “impressive” and attended by “hundreds”, including the many older Toronto organizations Muir was affiliated with — the Loyal Orange Association, the York Pioneers, the Independent Order of Oddfellows, and others.

Muir, Alexander, gravestone, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 1920. Source: Toronto Public Library.

In the 1950s, Toronto’s character was changing — both culturally and physically. The coming of Yonge Street subway almost spelled the disappearance of the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. The Toronto Transit Commission needed to fill in the ravine to make way for the Davisville Yard. The TTC eventually pledged to cover the $100,000 cost of moving the memorial. Proposed new sites for the gardens included on Lawton Boulevard itself which would have removed four houses and on Gladstone Avenue where Muir himself once worked. Eventually, a spot only several blocks north on Yonge Street was chosen.

“Subway Forces Move of Muir Memorial”, The Globe, December 29, 1950. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.

Davisville Yard, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The new location for the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens was located near St. Edmunds Drive. The Lawrence Park neighbourhood was laid out in 1908 as a garden suburb with winding streets and comfortably sized lots. It also kept a ravine space extending south from the southeast corner of Yonge and Lawrence as parkland. This area would come to house the new Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. In preparation, several hundred trees were cut down. A red maple from the old park was also moved to the new park.

Lawrence Park, 1934. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Lawrence Park, 1947. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The new Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens opened in Lawrence Park on May 28, 1952. Impressively, the wall and terrace were reconstructed in the new location and new trees and gardens were landscaped. A new, maple leaf-ornamented plaque was added to the gates to mark the occasion.

“Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens,”, The Globe, May 23, 1952. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1952. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens terrace, 1952. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

A walk through the Alexander Muir Gardens today is a marvel. Leading from the gates is almost a labyrinth of paths and corners to discover. Well-presented flora and accompanying fauna catch one’s eye at almost every look.

 

Leading off the spacious lawn in the west part of the Alexander Muir Gardens, the park’s contours show themselves on the way up to Dawlish Avenue. This tree-covered topography hides Burke Brook, a Don River tributary. Following Alexander Muir Road past the tennis and lawn bowling courts, the trail continues through several parks ending at Sunnybrook Park.

As it has historically, the central wall and stairs rightfully remain the focal point of the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. In its modern use, the structure is best known as a popular destination for wedding parties. One wonders how much would-be brides and grooms and other park users have a look at the additional words of re-dedication which accompany the poem by Muir and reflect on his legacy and origins of the park. With everything that may come with it, Muir loved his country, and his profession in education is generally a commendable one.

In a current social climate in which the focus of commemorating Toronto history should be on untold stories rather than its colonial figures, these Memorial Gardens likely would not be a priority if they were created today. But alas, their visual beauty is a positive. Alexander Muir and his poem still live on today within the park.

Scenes From L’Amoreaux Park

North Scarborough’s L’Amoreaux Park has everything one would want in a park. It’s big, it has trails, it has sports, it has nature, and it even has a kid’s water park. But what makes it so interesting is its hidden connections to the past.

L'Amoreaux North Park 1

A focal point is naturally L’Amoreaux Pond in the northern edge of the park. Its trail and its waters are often populated by Canada Geese and today is no exception.

L'Amoreaux North Park 2

L'Amoreaux North Park 3

L'Amoreaux North Park Pond 2
The pond makes up the headwaters of the West Highland Creek – or, at least, the Bendale branch of it. But it seems like it wasn’t always here. Like a lot of waterways in Toronto, the creek has been altered, and, in this case, an entire new body of water has been added.

L'Amoreaux Park 2015

L’Amoreaux Park aerial, 2015.

L'Amoreaux 1965

L’Amoreaux Park aerial, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Also found on the path around L’Amoreaux Pond: a couple of Heritage Toronto plaques commemorating the Alexandra Site – a 14th-century Huron-Wendat village that was excavated just north of here in 2001.

L'Amoreaux North Park Alexandra Site 1

L'Amoreaux North Park Alexandra Site 2
The evidence of Aboriginal villages within the City of Toronto are few and far between. Many of them are destroyed before we ever learn about them. Thus, to know that there was a village here – and one tells us so much about lifestyle of these people – is very neat.

L'Amoreaux North Park 5

But in addition to the great information the plaques tell us about this Huron-Wendat settlement, it’s remarkable that up until 15 years ago, the Alexandra Site was still a farmer’s field! It speaks to the fact that even though Scarborough has changed a lot since World War II, pockets of its rural beginnings have still endured in recent years. Northeast Scarborough near the Markham line in particular still looks like the country in some parts. (And indeed, it is home to the Reesor farm – the last of its kind in the borough).

L'Amoreaux 1878

Lot 30 Concession IV, 1878 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York. L’Amoreaux Park was once owned and farmed by the Clarks. William Clark first settled here in 1838. Clarks Corners, the neighbourhood in the Finch Ave. & Birchmount Ave. area, is named for the family.

Rounding around the pond, one comes to Passmore Forest, a neat woodlot of looping paths and lots of great foliage. The survival of such a wooded area is remarkable if only because the legacy of colonialism is, well, a very destructive and disruptive one. Lands get cleared and farmed, invasive species are introduced, species disappear etc.

L'Amoreaux North Park Passmore Forest 1
But looking at a map of the area even 50 years ago (see above), one can see the forest even existed in 1965.

L'Amoreaux North Park Passmore Forest 2
Its naming is significant to Scarborough’s roots too, because F.F. Passmore surveyed the township in 1882. Passmore Avenue is named for him. Today, it exists as an inconsequential industrial road, but at one time ran the span of northern Scarborough (and was directly north of these woods before being obliterated for development). My theory is that Passmore became expendable as an east-west corridor because it was so close to Steeles Avenue. McNiccol Avenue further south eventually replaced it.

L'Amoreaux North Park Passmore Forest 3
As the Toronto & Region Conservation Authority – the governing agency for the Highland Creek Watershed – tells us, the existence of this woodlot is a mixed thing. On the one hand, Passmore Forest is in good shape and does accommodate some flora and fauna. On the other hand, such isolated pockets of tree cover and the effects of urbanization and human use does not allow for greater species diversity.

Out of the forest and down the other side of the pond, I find myself under McNiccol  with the expectedly shallow West Highland flowing next to me.

L'Amoreaux North Park Pond 2
L'Amoreaux North Park West Highland Creek 1
From there, L’Amoreaux Park opens up and two loafs rise high above the park. I follow the unofficial path up one and survey the scene. There are courts and fields here for tennis, baseball, soccer, cricket, and a dog park too. (Although, I best know the grounds for the Kidstown Water Park, a childhood hangout.)

L'Amoreaux North Park 6
L'Amoreaux North Park 7
From here the tree lined trail meanders around and over the creek, offering looks at the channelized  waterway before concluding at Birchmount and Silver Springs. Throughout the pleasant walk is a mental reminder that it didn’t always look like this.

L'Amoreaux North Park 8           L'Amoreaux North Park West Highland Creek 2

L'Amoreaux North Park 9

Down at Finch and Birchmount, there’s a final hidden reminder of a time long ago. The northeast corner was home to L’Amoreaux Public School (S.S. #1) from 1817-48, possibly rebuilt and replaced in the 20th century. Alexander Muir of Maple Leaf Forever fame taught at the log school. Although his name is perhaps more synonymous with Leslieville, Alexmuir School and Park carry his legacy in Scarborough.

AlexanderMuirSchoolBirchmountFinch1909

L’Amoreaux School circa 1840, 1909. Source: Toronto Public Library.

According to the Scarborough Archives, S.S. #1 was demolished in the 1970s (around 1974, more specifically) as the Birchmount Road was realigned to eliminate the job across Finch Avenue.

Finch & Birchmount, 1973

Finch & Birchmount, 1973. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Finch & Birchmount, 1975

Finch & Birchmount, 1975. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

L'Amoreaux North Park Pond

Useful Links

Hiking The GTA – Abandoned Passmore Avenue

C.B. Robinson – History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario: Biographical notices – ‘The Township of Scarborough’

Dodgeville – Lost Passmore Avenue

In Search of Your Canadian Past: Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

Jason Ramsay Brown – Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests: Their natural heritage and local history – ‘L’Amoreaux North Park and Passmore Forest’

Kevin Plummer – Historicist: Unearthing the Alexandra Site’s Pre-Contact Past

Scenes From Birkdale Ravine

Toronto & Region Conservation Authority – State of the Watershed Report: Highland Creek Watershed, August 1999