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An Educational Opportunity

Fast disappearing, barns and sheds in Scarborough once outnumbered houses. Wouldn't it be a great idea to reconstruct one of these early barns, lest we forget their vital significance to our economic prosperity?

The following is taken from notes assembled in connection with the farms of William Porteous McCowan (1820-1902) in northeast Scarborough.

Most surviving old barns in this part of southern Ontario are good-sized "bank barns", generally at least 40 feet by 80 feet. These barns are on a stone foundation which encloses the stable. The mows for straw and hay as well as the granaries are above the stable.

Construction of these large bank barns peaked in Scarborough in the first decade of the twentieth century. James Green and Alex Macklin had apparently started the trend to replace the older smaller barns in about 1885. But what of these older barns of the mid-nineteenth century? There are relatively few left in this part of Ontario. The even earlier log barns are even more rare in the region around Toronto.

William Porteous McCowan had originally tenanted the Meadowcliffe Drive portion of Scarboro Heights from 1833 until 1848. Initially working with his brothers, William was sole tenant for the last few years of that period. Two farmhouses and an orchard are known to have once stood on lower Meadowcliffe Drive -- on "the flats". A barn was most certainly also built on this 35 acre portion of his farm. Probably somewhat later during his tenancy, William was the builder of two more barns at the north end of this 125 acre farm, just south of Kingston Road. 

What did William McCowan's barns look like and what were their purposes? For answers, we have some oral history in connection with William's barns on Lot 13 Concession 4, which he possibly built shortly after 1848.

The late Jim Stirling recalled several trips in about 1900 to see Susan Young, William McCowan's housekeeper. He remembered the barn being of the old style -- that is, not a "new bank barn". Jim also recalled a shed in the barnyard for the cattle. The late Frank Pearson's memory of the barn (also ca 1900) was that it may have been log. Frank too remembered the cows in an open shed. They were not kept in a modern stable under a new bank barn. The cows were milked by a woman (presumably Susan Young, the housekeeper). Harold Weir's recollection probably dates to some time shortly after William's death in 1902 -- a log barn stood south of the house.

In 1890, as bank barn building became fashionable, William was 70 years of age and had no children to take his farm. He could perhaps be excused for not constructing one of the new modern bank barns. His old-style barns would do just fine in his final years.

The memories of George and Jim McCowan, grandsons of William's heir, James, relate to a later period (1920's to 1950's) but are much more detailed. The barns were of an early style. Unlike the late 19th century barns that were built on a solid stone foundation enclosing a full-length stable, the posts of William's two barns rested on flat stones, which needed periodic levelling. Both barns were about 60 feet by 30 feet and ran north and south facing each other. (According to their father, an old log barn had joined these two barns at their north ends.) A horse byre and a cow byre were at opposite ends of the west barn with a drive floor between the two. Hay and straw were stored above the two byres. Similarly, a granary and implement shed occupied the south and north ends of the east barn -- mows above and drive floor between. The barns stood about 200 feet south-east of William's house. The orchard was south of the house and west of the barns.

... More to come...


The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #3