8000 BC
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Toronto -- A Place of Meeting
10,000 Years of Toronto History

Toronto Reference Library, Canada Trust Gallery
789 Yonge Street, Toronto, 416-395-5577
or call me at 416-447-4895
June 28 - September 22, 2002
On Display will be:

  • The Robert Ashbridge McCowan and William Harold McCowan Collections of Indian artifacts. These collections include the earliest known evidence of human occupation in Toronto, approximately 8,000 BC. The sub-title of the exhibition, 10,000 years of Toronto History, is so named due entirely to these relics found by Ashley and Harold McCowan.

  • James McCowan’s letter of August 20 1834, written from Springbank, Scarborough (lot 20 Conc B), 8 days before his death of cholera. This letter is very significant to medical history in Upper Canada for it’s references to cholera deaths in the neighbourhood and, in particular, for McCowan’s first-person description of the early symptoms of cholera.

The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #5

Note: Please refer also to our Pre-History page.

Early Archaic Occupation

Name of Historic Site

McCowan/Cudia Site, ca 8000 BC

(See also McCowan Farm: "Springbank", the original settlement of the McCowan family, 1833)

Site Categories

  • Aboriginal settlement (ca 8000 BC)
  • Natural Features (Scarborough Bluffs, Gates Gully, Lake Iroquois shoreline)
  • Archaeological (1833 cabin site)
  • Scottish settlement (McCowan, 1833)
  • Transport (early roadway to an isolated holding)


Lots 20-22 Concession B and south end of Lots 20-22 Con C, Scarborough (near the Scarborough Bluffs, bounded by Gates Gully on the east, Lake Ontario on the south, Balcarra Ave. / Pineridge Dr. on the north and Fenwood Heights Blvd. on the west). (Including the extreme southwest 5 (approx) acres of lot 19.) One site of archaeological finds is known more precisely. Cudia Park comprises (approx.) the southwest quarter of the site. Part of "Muir's Gully" is the east portion of Cudia Park.

Perly's 1997 Map Coordinates: 37, B6-C6 (Meadowcliff Dr. / Cudia Cr.)

Current Use

Cudia Park is presently under-utilized recreationally. Otherwise, the area is presently executive residential. Doris McCarthy's property, "Fool's Paradise", at the east end of the site has been donated to the Ontario Heritage Foundation. The site of the 1833 cabin is on a vacant lot and relatively undisturbed. A section of the Toronto Waterfront Trail is nearby.

Historical Description and Significance

This site embraces several key heritage notions:

  • possibly the earliest presently-known site of human occupation in Toronto (early archaic, ca 8000 BC) (ref. McCowan collection of First Nations artifacts)
  • Scarborough Bluffs
  • Gates Gully and Muir's Gully
  • fringe economic activity (smuggling via Gates Gully [not the McCowans])
  • the undisturbed site of the McCowans' first Scarborough log house, 1833
  • cholera epidemic of 1834 (two McCowan deaths in one night)

Significant to the prehistoric human occupation are the watercourses running through the nearby ravines (Gates Gully and Muirs' Gully). Also significant is part (lot 20) of the site's relative isolation from, yet proximity to, Scarborough's artery, Kingston Road. Rather isolated by two deep gullies, the Scarborough Bluffs and the steep shoreline of Lake Iroquois, this fertile holding was among the few that had not been taken up by 1833. In 1833, a Scottish coal and lime entrepreneur, James McCowan, knew the value of closeness to markets -- the property's nearness to Toronto offset the handicap of the surrounding terrain. An early implementor of iron rails for coal transport in underground mines, James McCowan was confident that he could cut a trail through the ravine to link his tenanted farm to Kingston Road.

Short Chronology (lot 20 portion)

  • Evidence of early archaic occupation very nearby, ca 8000 BC
  • James McCowan and Margaret Porteous and their family settle, 1833
  • Tenanted by Robert McCowan (1st son of James) and his brothers
  • Tenanted by William P. McCowan (4th son of James) until 1848
  • Purchased by Robert McCowan 1876
  • Willed to Robert's 3rd son, William, 1886
  • Subdivision Plan #1100, 1891
  • Economic depression, 1893-1895
  • ca 1910, Toronto gentry build country residences along Kingston Road, including A.E. Rea at the top of the Lake Iroquois shoreline on lot 20, Plan 1100
  • 1940 residential construction finally begins below the Lake Iroquois shoreline

Relative Importance

Very High

Rationale: In cooperation with other immediately local stakeholder groups, there is significant opportunity to provide interpretation on a wide variety of heritage themes (aboriginal and early Scottish occupation, arts, nature, geological formations)

Planning Implications

  • Cooperate with Ontario Heritage Foundation re occasional alternate interpretive themes using the McCarthy property.
  • Cooperate with private property owners re the archaeological excavation of the site of an 1833 log home.
  • Cooperate with Metro Toronto Conservation Authority re occasional uses of Cudia Park for interpretive purposes.
  • Cooperate with Waterfront Trail authorities re access to and promotion of these local interpretive opportunities.
  • Plaques: Early archaic occupation (ca 8000 BC); Scottish occupation (1833)

Reference Sources and Additional Materials

See attached list (34 of the most relevant items in our Scarboro Heights bibliography)

In particular, Associate Professor Bruce Schroeder, University of Toronto, "Evidence for Early Human Presence in Scarborough", Scarborough Historical Notes and Comments, 1989 (V XIII, No. 1).

The McCowan Collection of points includes evidence suggesting that the McCowan-Bellamy Road lakefront area may be the earliest known site of human occupation in Toronto.

Aug. 3 2000 and Reprinted in The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #2