Tag Archives: Canadian Northern Ontario Railway

Scenes From Scarborough Museum, Thomson Memorial Park, and Tabor Hill

If one wants to learn about the roots of Scarborough, Thomson Memorial Park in Bendale is a pretty good place to start. After all, it is located on the historic property of the Thomson family – the first European settlers in Scarboro Township. Thomson Park also houses Scarborough Museum, which serves to tell the history of the Thomsons and the borough. More than that though, Bendale embodies and showcases the great layers of Scarborough: from its pre-contact period to rural pioneers to post-WWII multicultural suburbia.

Scarborough Museum Thomson Settlement
Scarborough Museum, which offers pay-what-you-can admission, is a collection of structures: Cornell House, McCowan Log House, Hough Carriage Works, and the Kennedy Gallery.  Together, they form a sort of scaled back version of Black Creek Pioneer Village.

After arriving in the township in the late 1700s, Scottish immigrants David and Mary (née Glendinning) Thomson followed an old aboriginal trail to a thickly wooded bush on the banks of the Highland Creek. Their task was tall: clear the property and make it inhabitable. In 1802, they patented 200 acres on  lot 24 concession 1 (today’s the east side of Brimley at Lawrence). David’s brother, Andrew Thomson, patented 200 acres on the adjacent lot 23 to the east.

Although none of the museum buildings themselves were part of the Thomson property, they originate from different areas of Scarborough and belonged to noteworthy families in the township. The artefacts within the museum also mostly originate within Scarborough, including a few items belonging to the Thomsons.

Scarborough Museum
Cornell House fronts Scarborough Museum, and was the museum’s first structure in 1962. Originally located at Markham and Ellesmere, it was built for Matilda and Charles Cornell in the 185os. The Cornell family sold the property in the 20th century to the Lye family. It was saved from demolition in 1961 and transported to Thomson Park. (One can imagine a building on wheels, meandering through Scarborough.)

Scarborough Museum Cornell House

A highlight of Cornell House is the wood and coal burning oven. A large part of Scarborough Museum’s programming is food preparation, and the oven plays a central role in that. (I enjoyed a delicious chocolate cookie during my visit.) For the Cornells, it also ingeniously heated the bedrooms above with wood during the day and coal at night.

The parlour room has an amazing collection of musical instruments.  Unknown to me was Scarborough has very musical roots, apparently. It also speaks to the detail and amount of artefacts within the museum. There is something in every room that catches the eye and has a story.

Cornell House Parlour Room
Cornell House bedroom

If Cornell House represents a second generation house (that is, the kind of house the children of pioneers would aspire to build), McCowan Log House might be a first-gen home. It dates from the 1830s to a William Porteous McCowan of Malvern – the same McCowan for which the street is named. Much like Cornell House, it was rescued by the Scarborough Historical Society in the 1970s and added to the museum.

McCowan Log House

McCowan Log House is built primarily of wood and consists of a main cooking/living room (with a very hearty fireplace used for more historic cooking programs) and two bedrooms. McCowan lived in the home with his mother and sister, thus the two rooms. In terms of cabins, the house is actually spacious with additions McCowan undertook on the structure.

McCowan Log House bedroom

The crib in the foreground belonged to the Thomsons.

The Thomsons built their own log house out of pine and oak, too. When he wasn’t working his land, David was a mason in Scarboro and the Town of York. Mary’s tasks were concentrated in the house, but when David was absent, Scarborough historian Robert Bonis writes she was left “to face the dangers of the forest alone with her children”. He recounts how wolves would jump on the roof of their cabin and gnaw at the door. My favourite anecdote of his, though, is Mary boldly wielding an axe to scare off a bear trying to make off with a pig! A plaque honouring Rhoda Skinner and other pioneering women stands behind the main building. Skinner was the wife of William Cornell, father of Charles Cornell.

Rhoda Skinner Scarborough Pioneer

Hough Carriage Works is a recreation of the original Hough Carriage Works which stood at Birchmount and Eglinton. This establishment was responsible for building and repairing wagons and more. Interestingly, it also functioned as a gathering point because it served an entire community, so it allowed residents to conduct business with each other.

Hough Carriage Works

Hough Carriage Works Penny Farthing

A penny-farthing, also known as a boneshaker for the toll it takes on a rider’s body.

Finally, the Kennedy Gallery is adaptive reuse at work.  Formerly a 1920s garage from the Lyman Kennedy farm in Agincourt, it is now rotating exhibition space. On until March 2016 is a neat exhibit about Frances Tweedie Milne and her writings in the context of rights and the Magna Carta.

Scarborough Museum Frances Tweedie Milne

Facebook in the 19th century: “Killed 10 pigs today. Men cut them up, Margaret and I salted them. Tired now.”

Exiting Scarborough Museum, Thomson Park is very expansive. The Thomsons used the area as a gathering point before they gifted it to become a public park in 1962, so it enjoys that continuity. It hosts an exercise circuit and a number of seating pavilions, which come in great use at the annual Scarborough Ribfest. The west branch of Highland Creek also winds through the park.

West Highland Creek

Somewhat hidden within the history of Thomson Park is the former Canadian Northern Ontario Railway. I first encountered this now defunct railway at Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor. From East York, it passed northeast through Scarborough and the western edge of this park. By 1926 however, it was abandoned and the tracks were removed.

Thomson Park Canadian Northern Ontario Railway

The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway roughly followed this path. An embankment is also still visible where it crossed Highland Creek.

Thomson Park 1956

Thomson Memorial Park area, 1956. The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway right of way is still visible. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

St. Andrews Road sits atop a ridge as it slinks from Brimley down to McCowan, echoing the route of Highland Creek to its south. It’s definitely a throwback road. For the Thomsons, the road network in the 19th and early 20th centuries mostly consisted of the main roads that essentially formed property boundaries – except for St. Andrews which curiously shows up in early maps.

St. Andrew's Road

In 1818, David Thomson donated part of his land to a congregation started by his brother Andrew and others. The result was a 30 by 40 foot frame church that would become St. Andrew’s Presbyterian – the first church in Scarborough. The street serving the church was appropriately named “Church Lane”, now St. Andrews Road. What stands today is the second St. Andrew’s Church, built in 1849.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
Historic St. Andrews Road also houses a number of other early landmarks such the 1896 Scarborough Centennial Library, and St. Andrews Cemetery, which is the resting spot for a who’s who of Scarborough pioneers. The oldest brick building in Scarborough, Springfield, the 1840 home of  James A. Thomson is also found here.

Scarborough Memorial Library
Following the Gatineau Hydro Corridor back down through the park, I cut through Scarborough General Hospital to Lawrence Avenue. The hospital dates from 1952 with its distinctive circular tower coming in 1968. It’s the major landmark at McCowan and Lawrence today, but historically the honour might have gone to Bendale’s post office.

Scarborough General Hospital

Bendale 1878

1878 Map of Scarboro Township. The 1878 community of Benlomond was renamed Bendale in 1881 to avoid confusion with a nearby town that already had the moniker. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

I don’t realize it at the time passing by it, but the subdivision north of Lawrence between McCowan and Bellamy features streets that all begin with “Ben”. Quirky? You bet.

Ben Jungle

The Ben Jungle subdivision dates from 1956.

Finally, Tabor/Taber Hill Park on Bellamy was the site of a 13th century Huron-Wendat ossuary. It was discovered in 1956 after the hill was set to be leveled to accommodate a new subdivision. Construction immediately stopped, excavations began, and at the end of it, the hill was preserved with a monument to the ancient burial mound. An excavated village on the north banks of Birkdale Ravine also connects to Tabor Hill. As I ascend the hill, there’s a family and their dog who had the same idea. They ask me to snap a portrait of them. I oblige.

Tabor Hill Park

Tabor Hill
Tabor Hill Iroquois Prayer
The view from Tabor Hill is provocative. All around is suburbia. The faint outline of CN Tower is even visible from this perspective. But none of it was here 700 years ago. The next people to see Scarborough as the Wendats saw it were the Thomsons. But the Scarborough David and Mary left was different than the Wendats’ Scarborough and different still than 2016’s Scarborough. And yet, all three realities seem to converge in this one spot.

Tabor Hill lookout

Tabor Hill looking northeast

Useful Links

A Long Walk From Toronto – “The Gatineau Hydro Corridor” by Carolyn Harris

Adam G. Mercer (Graeme Mercer), Charles Pelham Mulvany, Christopher Blackett Robinson – History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario

Andrew Chadwick – The Scots Kirk an oral history of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Scarborough

David Boyle, editor – The Township of Scarborough, 1796 to 1896

Globe and Mail – “Vibrant Scarborough now in cyberspace” by Dave LeBlanc

Metro news – “‘Ben’ a theme of unknown origin” by Rick McGinnis

Rick Schofield – Home Sweet Scarborough

Robert Bonis – A History of Scarborough

Spacing Toronto – “Ford Fest Scarborough – Revisiting Bendale circa 2004” by Shawn Micallef

The Scarborough Hospital – “Milestones”

Toronto Dreams Project – “Scarborough’s 700 Year-Old Burial Mound” by Adam Bunch

Toronto Museums – “Statement of Significance – Scarborough Museum”

Torontoist – “Historicist: Tabor Hill Ossuary” by David Wencer

Virtual Museum – “Bendale: About Place”

Scenes From Crescent Town

I have a borderline obsessive transit habit. Whenever I travel out of Kennedy Station, I have to sit on the north side of the subway car. Doing that gives me a good view of Warden Woods going by Warden Station and of the Don Valley as it passes under the Bloor Viaduct.

But sitting on the north side of the train presents another sighting: the pedestrian bridge at Victoria Park Station. For the longest time, I never knew what it looked like inside. Or where it went. Or if people use it.

Crescent Town Pedestrian Bridge (1)

Now, walking through it for the first time, I know the sky bridge over Victoria Park Avenue leads to Crescent Town, the towered community in the southeast corner of East York. And yes, people use it. It’s an important link for them and their main transit hub.

Crescent Town Pedestrian Bridge (2)

My introduction to Crescent Town comes with a neat mural that summarizes the neighbourhood with beautiful scenes of its past and present. Funded through the city’s StreetARToronto program, it’s entitled ‘Tempo, Toil, & Foil’ and was created by artists and community members.

Crescent Town Mural (1)

Crescent Town Mural (2)

Crescent Town (1)

This is Dentonia Park, the 6-acre athletic field that fronts a courtyard and its surrounding apartment towers. It’s named for Dentonia Park Farm, the dairy farm established here in 1896 by Walter Massey of the famed Toronto family of benevolent industrialists. It was named after his wife, Susan Denton Massey. Dentonia Park Farm stretched from Dawes Road to Pharmacy Avenue and Dentonia Park Avenue to Medhurst Road.

CrescentTownAerial1924

Dentonia Park Farm, Goads Fire Insurance Atlas, 1924. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

CrescentTownAerial1956

Dentonia Park Farm aerial, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives. The section of Victoria Park running adjacent to Crescent Town was built when the community was built.

Dentonia Farm Postcard 1910 (2) East York Then and Now

Dentonia Farm Postcard, circa 1910. Source: East York Then and Now.

Despite the continuity of open space, it’s hard to imagine what this land would’ve looked like a hundred years ago. But I get a little sign of it through the unusual rolling contours in the otherwise flat park. I don’t know it for sure, but my hunch is that the dip in the land hides a former creek valley.

Dentonia Park (1)

Dentonia Park (3)
At the far west end of the park, a tree lined path shields a bit more history about Dentonia Park Farm. The ‘Crescent’ in Crescent Town also goes back to the Masseys, who gifted land for Crescent School, once located here.

Dentonia Park Farm plaque

Dentonia Park Hydro Corridor

Following a corridor of hydro towers (more on that later), I circle back around to the main path and find a way down to Crescent Town Road and Massey Square. Ringed around the streets is the second group of towers in the community.

Massey Dairy Farm was bought by developers in 1969, and by 1971, they constructed apartment towers and marketed the area as Crescent Town, a new way of living in the city.

Crescent Town (2)

Crescent Town

Crescent Town construction, September 16, 1971. Source: Getty Images.

Crescent Town Massey Square Pedestrian Bridge

This development wasn’t isolated to Crescent Town. Across Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s, tower living became the planning focus of the city. Communities were created out of former farms, and then marketed as having onsite amenities  – laundry, shopping, recreation – and conveniently located near transit or highways. The objective of these high-rise towers was to make a profit out of low-cost social housing.

CrescenTownAerial1965

Crescent Town Aerial, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

CrescentTownAdDec311971

Crescent Town Ad, Toronto Star, December 31, 1971. The sky bridge was a vital part even since the neighbourhood’s inception. Source: Toronto Star Archives.

But the problem with communities like Crescent Town and St. James Town (and Regent Park, for that matter) was that as much as they were made to be their own self-contained ‘towns’, it instead made them isolated from the city around them.

CrescenTownAerial1973

Crescent Town Aerial, 1973. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

As I approach the towers of Massey Square, I’m reminded of a fortress. My goal is to get to the creek trail I know exists on the other side, but I’m not sure if I can get there through the wall of highrises. It’s a definite physical and psychological barrier. Instead, I walk to Victoria Park to get there, passing Crescent Town Elementary School.

Crescent Town Elementary School (1)

Crescent Town Elementary School (2)

One isn’t cognizant of city borders while traveling them (or, at least, I’m not), but across the road is Dentonia Golf Course (also once part of the Massey property) and Scarborough. I’m standing in East York. Further south is the Old City of Toronto. It’s a neat crossroads. It’s our local Four Corners USA.

Dentonia Golf Course

A long stairway leads into the valley of Taylor-Massey Creek. With winter approaching, it’s a rather dead and haunting scene. But even so, it’s easy to see this is a great space.

Massey Creek Trail (1)      Massey Creek Trail (2)

There’s a constructed wetland, and several paths that traverse the rolling topography of the park. By a lookout point, there’s the remnants of a little fire, freshly extinguished and filling the air with its ashy aroma.

Massey Creek Trail (3)

Massey Creek Trail (4)

Massey Creek Trail (6)

Massey Creek Trail (7)

At the park’s highest point, I find the Massey Goulding Estate house, otherwise known as Dentonia. Constructed here in 1921, the cottage is built in a very distinct Tudor style. I struggle to think of other examples of Tudor architecture in the city – there seem to be very few, so this is a treat. Perfectly positioned to overlook the farm once upon a time, Dentonia is its last remaining structure today.

Children's Peace Theatre Dentonia (1)

Dentonia Farm Postcard 1910 (1) East York Then and Now

Dentonia Farm Postcard, circa 1910. Source: East York Then and Now.

Dentonia Park Farm Library Archives (1)

Dentonia Park Farm, undated. Source: Library & Archives Canada.

After the dairy enterprise ceased, the house and park came under the ownership of the Borough of East York and then the City of Toronto. Children’s Peace Theatre – celebrating its 15th year in 2015 – now makes its home inside (and outside) Dentonia.

Children's Peace Theatre Dentonia (2)
Children's Peace Theatre Dentonia (3)

Descending some ancient narrow stairs back down, I follow Taylor Creek Trail under and past Dawes Road. Taylor, by the way, is the other old, industrious Toronto family, who owned mills along the Don River, including Todmorden Mills.

Taylor Creek (1)      Taylor Creek (2)

Taylor Creek Trail continues westward until it meets the Don River near the Forks of the Don. Tracking the trail the entire way sounds like fun, but I opt to take that adventure another day. Instead, I make towards the trail’s entry/exit point towards Lumsden Avenue.

 Taylor Creek Trail (1) Taylor Creek Trail (2)

Lumsden isn’t my goal, however – the Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor is. I’m fascinated by this informal path because of its former incarnation as a railway corridor. Looking at the dead vegetation lining it only increases the thoughts of ghosts and past lives.

Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor Canadian Northern Ontario Railway (1)

Yes, Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor once housed tracks for the now defunct Canadian Northern Ontario Railway, which ran from the also lost Todmorden Station on the north side of Don River, through Taylor Creek valley, and northeast into Scarborough and beyond. It bisected Dentonia Park Farm (now at the north end of Dentonia Park).

CanadianNorthernOntarioRailwaySubway1913

Canadian Northern Ontario Railway, 1913. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

The Bloor-Danforth subway tracks between Kennedy and Victoria Park Stations are the only tangible remnants of the CNOR’s former corridor in Toronto, which was out of use in the city as early as 1925. (And here I thought the subway was carved out of farmland and expropriated homes). The rest has been swallowed up by the city around it. If one looks, however, the signs of existence are there. (Note to self: take on this adventure).

CanadianNorthernOntarioRailwaySubway2015

Canadian Northern Ontario Railway, 2015. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

Following the hydro corridor east would bring me back to Dentonia Park, but I make my exit at Eastdale Avenue. Concluding my travels, I find my way back to Dawes Road and follow its odd diagonal routing down to The Danforth. That too is something to explore.

Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor Canadian Northern Ontario Railway (2)         Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor Canadian Northern Ontario Railway (3)

 

Useful Links

Edward Relph – Toronto: Transformations in a City and Its Region – ‘Chapter 5: A Post-suburban Skyscraper City’

ERA Architects – Toronto Tower Renewal: Lessons From Crescent Town

Globe and Mail – “A Toronto subway station redesign links neighbourhood and nature” by Dave LeBlanc

Ron Brown – In Search of the Grand Trunk: Ghost Rail Lines in Ontario – ‘Chapter 19: The Canadian Northern Railway: Ontario’s Forgotten Main Line From Toronto to Hawkesbury’

Scenes From Warden Woods Park

Toronto Neighbourhood Walks Project – Crescent Town

Toronto Star – “Once Upon a Time: Dentonia Park born of Massey’s dairy dream” by Valerie Hauch

Torontoist – “Historicist: ‘If It’s City Dairy It’s Clean and Pure. That’s Sure.'” by Kevin Plummer

Train Web – Canadian Northern Ontario Railway – Toronto to Ottawa Line

Urban Toronto Forum – ‘Rare Maps of Toronto’ Thread | Page 12