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Doors Open Toronto
Doris McCarthy's Fool's Paradise
1 Meadowcliffe Drive, Scarborough
May 29 and May 30 2004

1 to 4 PM

Named "Springbank" in 1833 when first settled by a bankrupted Scottish family, a discussion of this property opened the acclaimed 2003 BBC-Radio Scotland series, "The Lowland Clearances".  This former early settlers' farm is one of the official 250 "Toronto's Lost Heritage Sites" -- yet it offers many amazing heritage learning opportunities for the future. 

May 29-30, 2004, 1 to 4 pm

The Scarboro Heights Record V12 #4


The James McCowan Memorial Social History Society
In Cooperation With
The Scarboro Heights Record

The James McCowan Memorial Social History Society
In Cooperation With
The Scarboro Heights Record
an Essay Competition

Your Community
In a World History Context

The James McCowan Memorial Social History Society is offering a prize for the best essay on the following subject:

Discuss the impact of the agricultural revolution in Lowland Scotland on the development of rural Scottish communities in pre-Confederation Canada.

Social Studies Lesson Plans


Learning Objectives -- Building A Country

  • To identify some signs and effects of over-population
  • To identify some of the forces that can initiate socio-economic change
  • To recognize that value systems evolve over time
  • To acknowledge that value systems contribute to community-building

The story of Springbank at the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs is valuable input for the students to consider.

History matters in Canada. This is why we think it is important to bring more of the history of our peoples into the classroom.

Fool's Paradise
Aka Springbank
A Veritable Web of
Heritage Projects and Symbolism!

The McCowan Society and Scarboro Heights Record are pleased to be contributing historic information to the development of "Passage", a sculpture to honour Doris McCarthy. Passage is the second in a series of sculptures to mark people and place across Canada. We look forward to witnessing the unveiling, date to be announced shortly.

Obviously, the "people" in this case is Doris McCarthy, renowned Canadian artist. And the "place" is the Scarborough Bluffs -- very particularly, Doris' lovely property overlooking Lake Ontario. Known fondly by Doris as "Fool's Paradise", this place was part of the first farm in Canada worked by the immigrants James and Margaret McCowan and their eight children.

These bankrupted Scots could never own land in Scotland where centuries of economic order held ordinary folk to the tenant class at best. Searching for a paradise of their own in 1833, this place represented their first potential opportunity to own land -- a "place of their own". They named it "Springbank" because of the numerous springs in the side of the very steep hill along the north.

Springs... fresh water... a most fundamental need for all living beings... the land being but a carrier at this level of inquiry.

James McCowan closed a letter on August 20 1834:

I am Dear Sir your Sincair old friend with I hope a new face, James McCowan.

Referring to his new life in a new land -- and his new place -- James and his third son, David, died of cholera 8 days later. The letter was never mailed. His six surviving children decided to hold and to cherish the last written words of one who had had the vision to settle "Neigh the Front" -- close to the markets of a growing city -- to afford them a prosperous future.

Place... the land... farming... the backbone of the Ontario economy for 150 years. But, alas, when James first arrived in Scarborough, most of the readily workable land had already been taken up -- the days of free land grants had ended. But he had a solution. James' brother wrote to his fatherless neices and nephews at Springbank in 1836, asking:

...of what extent your piece ground is as we think that by the way you write you are into a bit of ground. 

That bit of ground at Springbank... the 35 acre farm was rather isolated from Ontario's main artery, Kingston Road, by two deep gullies and by the steep hill which marked the shoreline of the pre-historic Lake Iroquois. But this isolation had not bothered the experienced coalmaster, contractor, farmer, innovator and merchant, James McCowan. He was a determined man -- in Scotland he had installed a steam engine and an underground railway -- among the first of each in that part of the Lanarkshire coalfield. He knew the importance of energy. As an early adopter in the use of coal to fuel a steam engine, he could very easily harness the energy of the falling water in the two ravines which flanked his land-holding at Springbank. He had not been afraid of travelling the dangerous roads to his other coal and limeworks five miles away -- not to mention carting his product to the populous markets in Glasgow. 

Yes, James McCowan knew the value of being near good markets. So he settled his family "Neigh the Front". Blazing a trail up the steep hill, down into Gates Gully, across the top of his dam, and up the other side -- fully half a mile to Kingston Road -- was absolutely no problem. Now connected to his markets, Springbank would ultimately bring back relative prosperity...

Notwithstanding this [James' death in 1834], the family, with indomitable energy and perseverance, fought the battle of life and, although a severe one, victory crowned their united efforts.

James' three surviving sons became proud owners of almost 800 acres of Scarborough's fertile soil. His eldest son came back to Springbank as the owner. Robert McCowan proudly told his own seven children about those trying but rewarding early years at the edge of the Bluffs.

While the McCowans were the first people of European descent to ever live on this place, they were, in fact, preceded by aboriginals -- some by almost 10,000 years. The relics that were found by James' great grandsons one lot over (at the top of the steep hill) represent lost civilizations who had their own special relationship with and profound respect for the land and nature.

The exhibition, Toronto: A Place of Meeting, is aptly named. Likewise for the sub-title, "10,000 Years of Toronto History" -- for this we owe thanks to Ashley and Harold McCowan for saving the earliest evidence of human occupation in Toronto. We can truly say "Scarboro Heights: A Place of Beginning".

Take a walk with us through time and place to discover how Canadians coped with the challenges of nation-building -- and of building places of their own.

Building... shelter... warmth for both person and beast. In this era of monster homes and extravagance, wouldn't it be a great idea to reconstruct, say, one of those early barns, lest we forget their vital significance to our economic prosperity?

Indeed, Springbank could be the hub of several exciting heritage projects in the future. Please join us...


The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #7

Art and Heritage
A Perfect Marriage!

Cliffhanger Productions wants your wedding story about the Guild Inn... here's why....

The derelict condition of the Guild Inn and the community’s passionate commitment to what it once was has led to the newest Cliffhanger project. The Guild is its own legend and the forthcoming Guild Play by Mark Brownell will travel throughout the park, incorporating historic columns, limestone and granite pieces as well as characters, real and invented, from the great estate’s past. Brownell exclaims "There is a wealth of fascinating dramatic history to be mined with this show" -- including your wedding story!

And here's how this legend will come to life in the next few months...

Still bringing myths to life, Cliffhanger Productions has commissioned playwright MARK BROWNELL (Monsieur d'Eon, Iron Road, The Martha Stewart Projects, The Chevalier St. George) to create a new work about the lore and legend of one of Toronto's most famous landmarks -- The Guild Inn! And we invite the public to submit their stories! Co-produced with Mixed Company Theatre, key community partnerships include The Guildwood Village Association, The Guild Renaissance Group and The Heron Park Community Centre. Further support comes from Scarborough Councillor David Soknacki and The Laidlaw Foundation.

Cliffhanger Productions is an award winning company that presents an outdoor summer season based at the beautiful and historic Guild Inn Gardens. The Guild is home to Canada’s most important collection of architectural fragments. Cliffhanger blends these fragments into the settings of original plays and adaptations. "It's a truly spectacular outdoor stage… a glorious setting." (Robert Crew, Toronto Star)

And that’s where you come in!

Cliffhanger Productions is asking for your Guild Inn wedding story. The Guild is Toronto’s most photographed wedding site, and the weddings date way back. Funny, disastrous or poignant -- we want the family legends and a history of weddings at the Guild. 

Cliffhanger Productions is produced with the support of The Laidlaw Foundation, The Ontario Trillium Foundation, Theatre Ontario, the Ontario Arts Council, The City of Toronto through The Toronto Arts Council, The Toronto Dominion Bank Financial Group, The Lloyd Carr-Harris Foundation, The Lunan Family Foundation and The Royal Bank Charitable Foundation.
Media Sponsor: The Scarborough Mirror
Graphic Design: The Ink Tank.

While at the Guild, be sure to spend some time surveying the architectural relics of Toronto's past -- fragments from landmarks such as the Imperial Bank of Canada, Frederick Banting House and the "Boys' Entrance" at Scarborough High School. Some pieces are from buildings elsewhere in southern Ontario, regardless, all demolished between 1950 and 1981.

The Scarboro Heights Record V12 #2