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Scottish Diaspora Tapestry


Neigh the Front -- Exploring Scarboro Heights
142 pages, 20 photographs, 3 maps, ISBN 0-9689501-0-8

Contents in Brief

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Reviews and Comments


I want to tell you that I really enjoyed your recent book, Neigh The Front. I was particularly interested in the reference to Drummond's coal (Ruth McCowan Letters, 1917-1918) because my sister-in-law is the only child of Mr. & Mrs. Drummond. The coal yard was on the south side of Danforth Ave. between Main St. and Dawes Rd. Their home was across Danforth on the north side. All  those properties are now demolished and redeveloped.

George Dunbar

From The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #3

What a great read!  When I started Neigh the Front, I couldn't put it down! This complete and intriguing history of the Scarboro Heights community leaves one hungering for even more. Bruce McCowan is to be commended for undertaking and completing this history in time for the H.A. Halbert Public School 50th year anniversary celebration -- no mean feat! That proceeds from its purchase support community studies means that the good work should continue over time. Scarborough students will find this a valuable learning resource, whetting appetites for Scarboro Heights' history. What's next Bruce?

Jean Harper Hilliard, Halbert Graduate, 1958


Absolutely loved Neigh the Front!  Please send another in time for Christmas!

Judy Carr-Sandham

From The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #1

Calling History Buffs of the Bluffs
by Cathy Austin Special to The Bluffs Monitor

The timing was perfect for reviewing the book, Neigh The Front -- Exploring Scarboro Heights, by Bruce McCowan. It was given to me prior to Canada Day and I read it on that historical long weekend.

Neigh The Front is suggested as an educational tool for students, primarily Scarborough students of course. But for those of us interested in the area in which we live -- be it the Bluffs, Bendale, or Highland Creek, this is a wonderful book full of brief stories and anecdotes about growing up in a now vanished Scarborough.

The contents follow a logical order: our first immigrants and farming from 1800’s to 1950, the trials and joys of their new homesteads, up to the "new era" from 1950 to 2001. Facts are outlined -- then follow wonderful stories and remembrances from people whose forefathers settled this part of Scarborough. In their own words the past springs to life which makes Neigh The Front an ideal history book and time capsule, too.

What makes the book different from others is the workbook section after each theme, marked "class discussion". Essays are encouraged (word length a bit ambitious) and thought provoking questions to students are posed. This is a perfect way to get the modern child in touch with our "old" Scarborough and have them experience life before video games and electronic buttons and gadgets.

Familiar names permeate the book, as well they should, many being related to the author. Not only is he celebrating our area’s past but his as well. Names the Scots in Scarboro Heights embraced: McCowans, Muirs, Stobos, Torrances and Purdies. They all attended the "Scots Kirk", now known as St. Andrew’s Presbyterian on St. Andrew’s Road by Thomson Park. I know and love that area well, it being blocks from where I live. The Ashbridges also figure prominently in the Heights’ history. I never knew that but learned it in here.

Just what does "Neigh The Front" mean? In an early diarist’s own words, (1842), "I think a good deal of Canada. I think it’s far better than the States. The land is cheaper and the markets as good if you settle neigh the front. John Stobo has got a very fine farm of 150 acres on the lakeshore." So there you go, title explained as well as the pull of the land by the lake into a thriving community.

The book was a joint publication of the Scarboro Heights Record and James McCowan Memorial Social History Society. The rural history is featured in the first part of the book. In the pages from 120 on, the 50th anniversary of H.A. Halbert Junior Public School is highlighted, and again anecdotes from "old" students complement the connection of the Heights’ past to the present.

Residents of the area, new and especially old will delight in this walk down memory lane. Neigh the Front is well compiled and lovingly offered. A must read for Scarborough history buffs.

The book is available from: The McCowan Society, c/o 19 Monarchwood Cres., Don Mills, ON M3A 1H3. $17 (includes postage cost).

Re-printed in The Scarboro Heights Record V9 #9

It is my pleasure to speak to the value of and Neigh the Front as effective integrated resources for guiding Scarborough students to participate interactively in the study of their community. There's no question that the personal stories of the early settlers, pioneers and citizens of Scarboro Heights that are told through these resources will help our students increase their knowledge of the area's history. As a lifelong resident of Scarborough, I encourage local students to log on or read up about their community's storied past. I also wish them all the best for a promising and rewarding school year.

Dan Newman, MPP, Scarborough Southwest


The Ontario milk industry owes Scarborough farmers a profound "thank you" for starting the milk marketing board movement 109 years ago. I look forward to student projects in connection with the evolution of our values with respect to nutrition. 

Marilyn Mushinski, MPP, Scarborough Centre


I would like to congratulate you on your efforts to promote research into local history in the Scarborough area. The on-line learning resource should provide a valuable tool for anyone interested in exploring your area's past. Your efforts to encourage others to research their own local history, particularly with respect to the dairy industry, are commendable. I hope that other groups and individuals will follow your lead and as a result, learn more about their agricultural heritage. I am aware that both the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the Dairy Farmers of Canada have documented and published historical information on the Ontario and Canadian dairy industry. I encourage you to formally share your information with these organizations. 

Brian Coburn, MPP, Ottawa-Orléans, Minister


The extensive bibliography provided as "potential inputs" effectively bridges the gap between the old world and the new, and presents a wide range of possible topics and approaches to capture the interest and imagination of budding historical scholars.

George Duncan, Heritage Coordinator, Town of Richmond Hill


The McCowan Society has been digging into local history for over 10 years and has unearthed a wealth of personal stories, letters and other documents. In their publications, the McCowan Society always puts the "who did what" into the larger context of when, where and why. Their web site,, passes McCowan Society research, interpretation and writing techniques onto budding information analysts.

John McCowan, Operations Manager, Remarc/Mat-O-Vend Inc.


The Scarboro Heights Record "Information Processing Program" provides a wealth of tools and techniques for students of all ages. It includes classroom-friendly on-line supplements to the recent publication, Neigh the Front - Exploring Scarboro Heights. The layout is extremely well-organized, making topics easy to find. In addition, the site provides new and practical angles on such crucial topics as outputting "better" information, information processing techniques, evidence and context, along with some rules for good writing. The information in this section is beneficial to anyone interested in honing their writing skills. I would highly recommend this site to all.

Ann E. Wakelin, Bach. Bus. Mgmt., VP Sales & Marketing, Remarc/Mat-O-Vend

Scarborough students will find Neigh the Front to be a fascinating and useful learning tool. Not only will they study the history of Scarborough in a variety of ways -- through personal anecdotes and letters for example -- but they will also acquire a taste for investigation, analysis and writing by engaging in the exercises. Linking Neigh the Front to the web site,, is a wonderful way to mix the old learning techniques with the new for a well-rounded information package.

Ruth Dobslaw


Filled with excerpts from primary sources including diaries, newspaper clippings, wills and other documents, Neigh the Front covers a wide swath of daily life from 1800 to the present, much of it told in eyewitness accounts.

Sheila Blinoff, Beach Metro News


The web site - its fantastic! I opened it up yesterday to see what it was like and ended up in it for 2 hours! It brought back many memories. I have very many fond memories of Scarborough.

Don Morton


Congratulations on an excellent web site. I will be purchasing your book in the next week or so and look forward to reading it... Just recently I have become interested in the history of Scarborough. Once again I congratulate you on the work you have put into your web site, and look forward to purchasing your book and reading it... Great book!!!! I finished it on the weekend, and found it to be very enjoyable.

Carl Chalupa


You are to be congratulated on your efforts to promote research into Scarborough's history. You obviously have put a great deal of time and effort into researching your book Neigh the Front -- Exploring Scarboro Heights and developing a variety of on-line research resources. We also appreciate your obvious interest in the dairy industry and your promotion of student research into this area... Thank you again for your invitation and for sharing your information with us. We are sure that students and local groups will benefit from their own exploration of their agricultural heritage.

Wes Lane, Director
Communications, Administration and Planning
Dairy Farmers of Ontario


More Reviews Here


From The Scarboro Heights Record V9 #7

Neigh The Front - Exploring Scarboro Heights is a veritable gold mine for teachers, historians, or anyone who is interested in local history. Through a collection of letters and interviews, the reader is taken along an historic journey through two centuries of this region's past. Students of all ages will be surprised at how easy this collection of primary historical sources is to understand and how clear our past can become by reading the thoughts and reflections of those people who have lived it.

This anthology allows the reader to catch glimpses of bushwhackers felling trees for Kingston Road's "corduroy" surface. One also sees that not so long ago, the weary traveller in these parts had to contend with attacks by wolves and bandits as well as muddy roads and the elements. The first cars in the area are described as are the traffic jams which clogged Kingston Road by the 1930's. The experiences of local farmers during the World Wars and the Great Depression are also brought to life.

As with the invaluable website which complements this booklet, Neigh The Front is filled with exercises and questions which can readily be used in any classroom. For all of these reasons, Neigh The Front deserves a prominent spot on every teacher's desk.

J.P. Hoekstra, Head of History, R.H. King Academy


In Neigh the Front, Bruce McCowan has assembled an impressive montage of primary sources documenting the history of the Scarboro Heights community of Toronto. The story is told through eyewitness accounts, including many by members of McCowan's own family who farmed the area for a century until 1950. Background information, learning exercises, pictures and maps amplify these first-hand accounts. Supplementing the book is a companion Internet site at presenting additional data, a bibliography, and learning sections on information processing and writing techniques.

This integrated print and electronic resource will help students develop the investigative, analytical and organizational skills that are so crucial in today's world. It also supports the need to locate relevant information from a variety of sources, including the use of computers and electronic resources.

Barbara Myrvold, librarian and local historian


Congratulations on the publication of "Neigh The Front". What a great chronicle of the events leading up to the construction of H.A. Halbert! We particularly enjoyed Murray Skinner's anecdote about the front-end loader incident. Hilarious!

Rob Katsuno, Halbert Graduate, 1969


I have been reading through Neigh the Front this week and am really impressed with the tremendous job you have done with it. My years at Halbert Public School were a highlight of my teaching career, so I find all the material in the book very personal and most interesting. Last Saturday was a delight for me. It brought back so many happy moments of those years, 1962-70, as I visited with many former students and staff. Your efforts were instrumental in making it such a great success, and for that I am very thankful. Many many thanks!

Ted Richardson, H.A. Halbert Principal, 1962-70


I've hopped, skipped and jumped around Neigh the Front --it's most enjoyable and informative. You should be very pleased with the result.

Mary Katsuno


It is an honour and a privilege to be asked by The Scarboro Heights Record to congratulate the H.A. Halbert school community on their 50th Anniversary, to be celebrated on June 16 2001. It is important to reflect back on history for lessons learned, as we all know that history has a way of repeating itself. History is more than just remembering and reflecting. History helps us to chart our course into the future by highlighting both the mistakes and the achievements in our past.

This is one of the reasons we can celebrate the Halbert community -- it is rich in history and in community spirit. The value of neighbours knowing each other and working together has been and will continue to be what brings a "small town" feel in the much larger city of Toronto. I join with you in celebrating this important milestone and I look forward to your continued success as a community,

Elizebeth S. Moyer, School Trustee, Ward 12
Scarborough Bluffs



As someone who was born and raised in Scarbrough and has represented the Scarborough waterfront for more than 17 years, it gives me great pleasure to see the publication of this collection of local stories and recollections.

Someone once said, "if you don’t know where you’ve been, then you won’t know where you are going". While we do appreciate this when thinking at a national level, this is also true locally -- but we often miss the local side of our evolution. There are clues to our past all over our community in the form of old buildings, street names, parks names and the like. Too often, people pass these by without ever wondering "why?" Well, now some of the answers are provided in this publication.

For me, the most satisfaction to be gained from local history is a sense of continuity. I remember during the debate on municipal amalgamation in 1997, one of the most common concerns I heard was that the loss of the City of Scarborough constituted the loss of our community. I have always believed that communities are a state of mind. While externalities may change, communities live on because, by definition, they exist whenever and wherever people live together. You don’t need a City of Scarborough (or any level of government) to tell you that you are a community. It is what you make of it!

Provided here is a history of our community. Like all histories, it is rich and, like all, it is living. The actions of today -- your actions -- will be in tomorrow’s history books. It may well be that school children a hundred years from now will read about your actions and wonder what your lives were like. No one can predict what the state of the world will be then -- maybe there will be no more Ontario or Canada. The one thing I can guarantee you, though, is that your community will still exist!

Councillor Brian Ashton, Ward 36
Scarborough Southwest


Greetings and Congratulations

As the Federal Member of Parliament for Scarborough Southwest, the riding in which H.A. Halbert Junior Public School is located, I am pleased to offer greetings to all who read Neigh The Front.

The purpose of this book is to help students, age 10-18, develop investigative and reporting skills using local history as a catalyst. As Leo Tolstoi wrote in his epic War and Peace: "The subject of history is the life of peoples and humanity." This is not an easy task at the best of times, but it is important to try. History teaches us -- about lives past; the human spirit; ingenuity, hubris; failure and success.

It is my hope that the students who use this book will reflect on the lives of those mentioned, and try to picture what life in Scarborough was like in years gone by.

Tom Wappel, MP, Scarborough Southwest


It is my pleasure and privilege to extend my greetings to all who have the opportunity to read and enjoy Neigh the Front Explorng Scarboro Heights. I’m also very pleased to offer my congratulations to the students and staff of H.A. Halbert Public School on the commemoration of the school's 50th anniversary.

As a lifelong resident of Scarborough, I applaud the hard work and dedication that went into recording this anthology. The personal stories of the pioneers, early settlers and citizens of Scarboro Heights that are told in the following pages will undoubtedly help our community gain a better understanding of the area's history and storied past.

Neigh the Front also shows us that while Scarborough has changed in many ways over the decades, there are many things about our community that have remained the same. Just as people from diverse backgrounds came to Scarborough and Ontario to make a better life for their families and themselves in centuries past, our community and our province continue to be a land of promise and possibility for people around the world today. We can certainly consider ourselves fortunate to be able to live, learn, work and grow in a community such as Scarborough and a province such as Ontario.

I extend my best wishes to all readers of this anthology and thank the Scarboro Heights Record for providing the opportunity to learn about our community's past as we look toward a bright future for Scarborough and Ontario.

Dan Newman, MPP , Scarborough Southwest


Message from the Principal

H.A. Halbert Public School had its official opening on June 19, 1951. June 16, 2001 is the official 50th Anniversary celebration date of H.A. Halbert. It is wonderful to have a book with the history of the community produced to coincide with the anniversary. A residential area is a collection of houses, businesses, churches and a school. A community has heart and soul. Communities, like families, need stories. Stories weave connections among people. Stories bridge time spans and change. Stories keep community roots entwined with new growth. Stories celebrate the joy of living, of accomplishments, of changes. Research seeks out the stories of daily accomplishments, of big and small changes. The accumulation and compilation of these stories is the history of the area.

This book is very special because it is both the story of the community and the story of research. This collection of memories, stories, and photos is a labour of love. It is a catalyst to get both adults and students realizing what a rich mine of information surrounds us -- and to ignite more historians of all ages. I feel very privileged to be principal of H.A. Halbert during its 50th year.

I feel equally privileged to have had the opportunity of gaining a deep sense of the area through conversations with Bruce McCowan as the book evolved. It is an important tool in preserving the pride and the identity of the area.

Carolyn Moras, Principal, H.A. Halbert, June 2001


Message to the Students -- Risk and Reward

Your Principal, Mrs. Moras, has kindly arranged for H.A. Halbert to take a very helpful interest in the production of this book by purchasing a quantity of copies at a wholesale price for school fundraising purposes. I am convinced that this reasonable risk will result in significant reward for Halbert students -- perhaps some new equipment or awards. To a large extent, life is all about taking risks -- some big, some small. Every risk that you take, every decision that you make, should be "informed" -- not necessarily "calculated", just informed.

How do you make informed decisions? You must gather and organize the relevant information, analyze and interpret the information and then output the results as an informed decision -- for example, "yes, I’ll do it and here’s how" or "no I won’t and here’s why". I hope that, by engaging in the information processing and writing exercises in this book and on the associated web site, you will learn a little about how to make informed decisions. Is there a risk in reading a book or in going to school? Sure -- time, effort and money. But if you don’t take that risk and sincerely commit yourself to the learning process, you are less likely to realize the reward of a satisfying and prosperous career. Skilled decision-making is of profound importance in life.

You are the decision-makers and risk-takers of the future. In essence, this book was largely written by risk-takers of the past: 

The decisions that were made by these hardy folk of ages past were no less wrenching than the toughest decisions that you’ll be making. You can learn a great deal from their successes and their mistakes. As you’re Exploring Scarboro Heights, imagine that you are the decision-maker of 1842 or 1866. Would you have made the same decision as Andrew Young or James A. McCowan? What input information did they have to consider? How did they arrive at their decision? How did they plan the next few steps in their task?

Best of luck with your own decision-making.

D. Bruce McCowan, Halbert Graduate, 1968 and
Bea McCowan, Associate Broker,
HomeLife Realty



Neigh the Front - Exploring Scarboro Heights Neigh the Front - Exploring Scarboro Heights has provided insight into your community’s past. Knowledge about the past is available through many sources: oral histories, written accounts, and even archaeology. While Scarborough has gone through a transformation from a rural farming area to a large urban community, vestiges of the past still remain to be seen above and below ground. As you reflect on the information contained within this book, consider what may still remain to be found by archaeologists. Excavating historic sites is another way to uncover how people lived in the past. Through examination of their material possessions and what is known through other sources, a clearer picture of Scarborough’s history may be uncovered. As you create your own past and memories, consider what will survive and how you can communicate your life experiences to future generations. has provided insight into your community’s past. Knowledge about the past is available through many sources: oral histories, written accounts, and even archaeology. While Scarborough has gone through a transformation from a rural farming area to a large urban community, vestiges of the past still remain to be seen above and below ground. As you reflect on the information contained within this book, consider what may still remain to be found by archaeologists. Excavating historic sites is another way to uncover how people lived in the past. Through examination of their material possessions and what is known through other sources, a clearer picture of Scarborough’s history may be uncovered. As you create your own past and memories, consider what will survive and how you can communicate your life experiences to future generations.

Dena Doroszenko, Archaeologist
Ontario Heritage Foundation

Neigh the Front: Exploring Scarboro Heights is a joint publication of The Scarboro Heights Record and The James McCowan Memorial Social History Society.

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