Learning Unit: Character and Faith
Home ] Up ]



Studies: Publications

Educational Resources

Historic Sites in Scarborough Heights

Links for Toronto Links


Scarboro Heights Record

Search This Site

Table of Contents



Character and Faith of the People


Some Regional and Contextual Background Information

  • The religious books owned by James McCowan and the Rae family are listed (and briefly discussed) in D.B. McCowan’s A Man and His Home and The Raes in Bosanquet.

  • The Scots in Scarboro Heights, including the McCowans, Muirs, Stobos, Thoms, Torrances, Raes, Hamiltons and Purdies all attended the “Scots Kirk”, now known as St. Andrew’s Presbyterian.

  • Hannah Ashbridge’s origins were English. The Ashbridges had been in America for several generations. (See Jonathan and Sarah Ashbridge, Pennsylvania Quakers in Scarborough Historical Notes and Comments, V12 #1, Ed. D.B. McCowan and W.T. Ashbridge The Ashbridge Book)

  • Refer also to Chadwick, McCowan and McCowan The Scots Kirk

  • Several extracts from St. Andrew’s 150 Years Ago, When the Ground Fails and The McCowans Who’s Who for 1992 are in this section. The author’s contextual remarks are in italics while the original source material is in plain text.

  • Refer to worship in Scarboro and child pages

  • Go to our Search page -- use your language and thinking skills to define valuable search criteria

  • Check the Ontario curriculum document and find the expectations relating to character development



Although Rev. George's communicants may have been influenced by his 1,700 sermons, they certainly had minds of their own. In Rev. George's obituary which appeared in The Presbyterian in Oct., 1870, the people of St. Andrew's were referred to as:

Shrewd intelligent emigrants, mostly from the south of Scotland, quite capable of appreciating the best productions of his gifted mind, so that he had a constant stimulus to study.

Having originated in lowland Scotland where education and libraries were highly valued, the people of St. Andrew's were not long in establishing the first library in Scarborough.  A constitution was drafted at a public meeting on April 7, 1834 (Robert H. Martin collection):

At a meeting held in the Presbyterian Church at Scarboro, it was Resolved, that whereas it is thought expedient to establish a subscription Library in the Township of Scarboro (without reference of Sect or Party) for the instruction of the Inhabitants, as the best means of providing extensive reading: as a number associated together will be able to have a greater variety of books ... No book of a seditious, deistical or licentious character was to be allowed on the shelves, on any pretence whatever.

One pious observer at St. Andrew's was James McCowan (1773-1834). Twice bankrupted by mining and agricultural ventures in Lesmahagow, Scotland, he arrived in Scarborough in 1833. Perhaps ill-possessed to afford the five shilling entrance fee and the five shilling annual fee for membership in the Library, he was, nonetheless, a very literate man. From Springbank, Scarborough on August 20, 1834 he wrote a letter to friends in Goderich:

I should be very happy to see you and to have some conversation with you but have little hope of realizing that gratification for some time at such a distance but if we should never meet in this world or that it may pleas God that we all meet at the right hand of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in that day when He Cometh to Judge the world and hear the best of all aprobations pronounced upon us well don good and faithfull servants enter ye into the joy of your Lord

Such, perhaps, was the piety of a typical communicant at St. Andrew’s 150 years ago.

                        From D.B. McCowan, St. Andrew’s 150 Years Ago


My father-in-law, Robert McCowan, was the kindest man I ever knew.

Hannah Ashbridge McCowan, as told to her daughter Ruth McCowan Heron who, in turn, told her daughter Margaret Heron Carr


James [Whiteford] McCowan [1814-97] was a kind, Christian neighbor and as such he was loved by his family, his neighbors and all who came in contact with him. A proof of this was found in the fact that yesterday there was an immense concourse of people at the obsequies. A funeral cortege of 200 carriages followed the remains to their last resting place in Old St. Andrew's Church yard, a place dear to the hearts of many of the sons and daughters of Scarboro.

From the Obituary of James Whiteford McCowan in the Fanny Annis Scrapbook


Last thing Gran [Robert McCowan 1855-1931] did every night of his life was to read a chapter from the Bible and give prayer to thank God for all his blessings. I regret that this has become a forgotten part of life today.

Margaret Heron Carr, 1990


I remember the boys and I stayed all night once over at Papa’s [Robert McCowan] and before we went up to bed, we had to put everything aside and sit still and listen while he read aloud a passage from the Bible.

Helen McCowan Thomson, 1990


Hannah Ashbridge McCowan (1854-1935)

Gran was my playmate, but Gram was my other Mother. You just know your Mother is always there when she is needed and so I was lucky and always had two of them there for me during the First War. She made little loaves for me when she made bread. She made dolls clothes for me and talked to me a lot, when she had the time. When I was older, we spent time together and she told me about how much she liked to visit her grand­father [Ashbridge on Queen Street] and how they would go over to the island in Ashbridge's Bay to bring the cows home. Once when I was staying out for the weekend, and her housekeeper had a day off, we had a wonderful time eating picnic-style, which her house­keeper would never have allowed. Gram was really an awful lot of fun. I always thought of her as a duchess. She always held her head high, but I never felt her dignity was put on for show. It came to her very naturally. Gran loved her very much and first thing when he came into the house he called "Mamma". The other grandchildren called them Mamma and Papa. I think I was the only one who called them Gram and Gran.

Margaret Heron Carr, 1990


Ashley and Harold McCowan

While ministering at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Scarborough (1953-1960), I became acquainted with two renowned curlers, Ashley and Harold McCowan, and with their wives and families. Our families, on many occasions, appreciated the culinary skills of their wives. Both of them were lovely ladies whose memory we treasure. Harold McCowan was a member of the Board of Managers and Treasurer of the Congregation.

Ashley McCowan was a highly respected elder. When I went to old St. Andrew's, in the fifth year of my ministry, Mr. McCowan took me aside and said, "Now don't you worry about the older people: go out to all these new subdivisions and bring in the young families." It was good counsel. When the Boys' Brigade was starting, he advised me that he would be willing to provide any financial resources that were necessary. “Just ask”, he said, “but keep this between ourselves”. As it turned out, he kept his promise without having to be asked.

On our visits to the McCowan home, Ashley McCowan and I indulged our strong liking for buttermilk. Paul Hegarty, a choir member for some time before he returned to Northern Ireland, remarked “Standing beside Ashley McCowan is like standing beside a great big oak.” None could have said it better.

Ashley and Harold McCowan have a place of honour among the pioneer and later members of historic St. Andrew's, Scarborough . Happily some of their children and grandchildren still serve the Lord in the work of the congregation. TO GOD BE THE GLORY.

Rev. Frank Conkey, 1992, From The Bill and Nancy McCowan Fortieth Anniversary Album, 1992


Robert Purdie McCowan

A motion of appreciation to Robert Purdie McCowan for long and faithful service as an Elder of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Scarborough.

Bob McCowan was ordained a Ruling Elder on March 28, 1954, and retired 44 years later on March 30, 1998. He followed in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, David Purdie, who served as an Elder from 1904 to 1922, and his paternal uncle, Robert Ashbridge McCowan, who served from 1923 to 1962.

Bob's diligence as an Elder is beyond comparison in meeting Elder's duties, including attendance and participation at Session meetings, attendance at Services of Worship, attend­ance at other Church activities, and keeping contact with members on his Elder's Roll. For many years he has served as Roll Clerk maintaining the record for all Communicant Members.

His Church Activities, other than Session duties, cannot be overlooked and, no doubt missing some, include singing tenor with the choir, being extremely active with the Cemetery Board, doing all manner of jobs that needed to be done around the Church, and assisting at Church dinners. Bob has belonged to St. Andrew's all of his 80 years and has known all older and former members, but he has also been quick to meet new members and adherents and develop new friendships.

For someone who does so much, Bob maintains a low profile as he quietly gets things done. As an Elder and a Christian, he has been an inspiration and a model for us all.

A St. Andrew’s Prebyterian Church communication, Scarborough


Thrift and Canniness

Of that “native thrift”, William McCowan in Coalburn, Lesmahagow, wrote to his fatherless nieces and nephews in “Scarbourgh” in March 1836: “Your father said that you were well taught the value of a shilling”.

William Porteous McCowan, [the fourth son] was “of a rather retiring disposition and pursued the even tenor of his way with that commendable Scotch quality, canniness”.

Letter in the D.A. McCowan collection and W.P. McCowan's obituary, Markham Sun, Mar 14, 1902
As cited in D. B. McCowan, When the Ground Fails, p. 62


Jenny McCowan (1896-1979)

Although she was perhaps “just a housewife” (as some might say), she had a mind of her own. I can illustrate this by this little story that she told me about an early period in their marriage [m. 1916]. There was an old cedar hedge along the edge of the Kingston Road property. The hedge had become ragged and unkempt, and she wanted it out of there. Harold, however, never had the time or the inclination. He was either too busy in the fields, or else away hunting or curling, etc.

So, she put her plan into effect. Over a period of two or three years, whenever Harold was away long enough, she took a spade and worked around a tree or two at a time, cutting whatever roots she could get at. Eventually, that tree, and then its neighbour began to show signs of ill health and began to die. Only then did Harold agree to get the team of horses and a chain, hook onto the trees and pull them out. One by one, inexplicably, the trees in the hedge died, and one by one they were pulled out. I don't know if Harold ever caught on, but at last Jenny had achieved her purpose.

Nancy McCowan, 1992, Jenny’s daughter-in-law, From The McCowans Who’s Who, 1992



As usual, you should do additional research, especially on other pages of this web site.

Individual Exercises

1) Translate the above story about “that commendable Scotch quality, canniness” into your own words, say 100.

2) In a 100 word paragraph, describe the nineteenth century Scots of Scarboro Heights. Is there anything missing from the evidence? How do you feel about generalizing about a group of people?

3) Now rewrite your paragraph regarding the nineteenth century Scots of Scarboro Heights -- this time without generalizing. Use clear examples -- no "sugar-coating" -- and your critical thinking. Do some more research.


The Scarboro Heights Record V14 #3