Tag Archives: Huron-Wendat

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 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