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Legends of Scarboro

  • Was an Indian woman the only female encountered by Mary Thomson during her first seven lonely months in Scarborough toward the end of the eighteenth century?
  • Did British soldiers really bury their money in Gates Gully during the War of 1812?
  • Did Andrew Thomson land a fish from Highland Creek in the middle of Scarborough that was an honest five feet long?
  • Did rebel leader William Lyon McKenzie actually hide in the cellar of Levi Annis' Inn on Kingston Road in the days following the Rebellion of 1837?

These are just a few of the anecdotes that were finally jotted on paper following decades of re-hashing by industrious farm folk around kitchen tables, at the handiest tavern and at Scarboro Fair. Did the story change even just a little with each successive spin of the yarn? We'll probably never know, but we do know that such are the legends of Scarborough. But how many other legends have we lost because no one took the time to write down even a line or two?(1)

Did the earliest immigrants to Scarboro from Scotland and elsewhere bring with them olden tales of achievement and tragedy, of love and hate in the homeland? Such stories, too, are part of the heritage of the peoples of Scarborough. For instance, did James McCowan tell his children about his years of serfdom in the Cumnock coal pits? Did James talk about his brief encounters with Robert Burns, an international hero of common folk?  Of a much earlier period, could a young Robert McCowan have heard tales of the McCowan Standard-Bearers in the service of Robert the Bruce?

Like the McCowans, many other Scarborough families immigrated from the Clyde Valley in upper Lanarkshire. Surely they must have imported stories about life and legend before Canada. Did James Weir, born on a farm on the estate of Stonebyres, hear anything of his feudal blood connection with the Chief of Clan Weir in Lanarkshire? Alas, to our knowledge, there are no such stories -- written or unwritten -- that genealogically connect the Weirs of Scarborough with the lords of Stonebyres castle, originally spelled "De Vere". But what has been written of the ancient first family of Lesmahagow Parish is certainly interesting. Fortunately, Tales and Legends of the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire was published in 1860.

I will eventually reprint one of these Lanarkshire legends. For now, here is an outline of the opening several paragraphs of the 24 page "Ada De Vere -- A Legend of Stonebyres".

  • Thomas De Vere, lord of the castle of Stonebyres had once "strenuously opposed the rapacious claims of the English king who illegally aspired to the sovereignty of Scotland"
  • But now, at the dawn of the fourteenth century, he had no choice but to allow "Saxon" officers to frequently occupy the halls of his mansion
  • Many officers had tried without success to win the affection of the daughter of Stonebyres, the beautiful Ada
  • A handsome young Saxon officer, Ferrars, came to the Lanark garrison "scornfully despising everything which pertained to the conquered Scots"
  • Hearing from his fellow soldiers of the beauty of Ada De Vere, he secured an opportunity to visit the house of Stonebyres that he might personally judge her charms
  • Kindly received by Thomas De Vere, Ferrars finally met Ada and was profoundly smitten.
  • "A mutual flame had now been kindled in their youthful bosoms and they would frequently ramble for hours alone in the woods"
  • William Wallace, having had "retired to the dens and caves that had been his lurking places in times of old, whence he sallied out with the utmost secrecy, and continually harassed the Saxon soldiery that garrisoned the various fortresses", was the noble leader of a guerilla band who would hang, without mercy, any unwary Saxons
  • One evening, Wallace jumped from a thicket, "eyes flashing with rage and right hand uplifted", and confronted the unaccompanied Ferrars and Ada
  • Addressing Ferrars, Wallace bellowed "draw and defend thy dastard self, if one single drop of manly blood still flows in your veins"
  • Surely great raw material for a creative drama production!


(1)  Thanks to David Boyle who gathered the data and put together History of Scarboro, 1796-1896.

The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #3