Scots of Scarborough
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Scottish Diaspora Tapestry


Although Rev. James 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, Scarborough, 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.


To order copies of The Scots of Scarborough, please print and fill in a copy of the order form at our Community Studies: Publications page.

  • The Scots of Scarborough, V1 #1:  36 pages, large format, over 50 illustrations (Includes The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry; I Remember by Jack McCowan; Tools for Working With Trees; The Rae Family of Lesmahagow and Scarborough; Thomas Telford, Eskdale Stonemason and Engineer)
  • The Scots of Scarborough -- Thinking Like Telford,  V1 #2:  36 pages, large format, over 30 illustrations (Includes The Menai Bridge Model and the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry Scarborough Exhibition; Some Innovative Scarborough Scots; Scots Contributions to Agricultural Innovations by Jenny Bruce. This second issue of Volume 1 commemorates 2016 -- Scotland's Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.
  • The Scots of Scarborough -- The McCowan Farm in the 1920s by Robert P. McCowan V1 #3:  36 pages, large format, over 50 illustrations 
  • The Scots of Scarborough -- The Purdie Family of Scarborough With Robert P. McCowan V1 #4:  36 pages, large format, over 50 illustrations 



Reviews of The Scots of Scarborough, V1 #1


The Scots of Scarborough” paints a vivid picture of several remarkable families from Scotland who toiled hard to develop a successful community in a new country. They epitomize the pioneering spirit of the people who have made Canada such a successful and divergent society. The Scots are renowned for nation building and as they helped to develop Canada, so they also led the successful establishment of other countries of the Commonwealth, like Australia and New Zealand.

The Scarborough panels of the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry are a splendid representation of the triumphs and tragedies of early settlers and the problems that they encountered: wild animals, severe weather, the dangers of logging and cholera. Their relationship to the Scarborough forests and the uses which they made of timber in construction of homes and farmsteads reinforces the reputation of the Scots as artisans and innovators in the field of construction.  No Scot was better in this field than the Civil Engineering legend, Thomas Telford. His possible relationship to Scarborough families makes him the ideal focus of this Engineering Challenge using his famous Menai Straits Suspension Bridge.  Exploring how the factors influencing his early life led to his creation of, arguably, the world’s first modern suspension bridge will provide young potential engineers with a unique educational experience. To tie Telford in with timber engineering and the “learning metaphor” of the tree is an excellent idea.

This document has a fascinating collection of stories of early settlement life, of logging bees, sawing contests and descriptions of the tools which helped to lead the rapid development of the use of timber into a successful industry.

The Scots of Scarborough” (V1, #1) is interesting and informative. It deserves to be widely circulated amongst all of Scottish heritage in this great country which the Scots played major roles in creating.

 Alistair MacKenzie P. Eng. Professor Emeritus, Ryerson University, Toronto
Past President, Canadian Society for Civil Engineering



It was a pleasure to read of the early, determined struggles of Scots families in Scarborough to create a prosperous and thriving community. Mankind has a natural urge to build and improve, in the spirit of one of the greatest creative civil engineers of all time, Thomas Telford, who features as a possible, I like to think probable, connection to the emigrants from Eskdale.

The Scots are also inveterate wanderers and, in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, “and I see like a vision the youth of my father, and of his father, and the whole stream of lives flowing down there far in the north, with the sound of laughter and tears...” However far one travels, invisible threads reach back to our roots and origins, and these deserve to be given substance, as in this narrative and the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. I am pleased to see the reference to the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame, doing exactly what it was intended - informing a wider world, and inspiring young people to see engineering as the creative art that it surely is.

I hope this good work in Scarborough can build too, and form the basis of educational projects so that the next generations can see those threads to the past and thereby give it substance and meaning, from which they too can build. 

Professor Gordon Masterton, OBE
Chairman and Founder, Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame



V1#2 Thinking Like Telford -- Foreword

Last year I was honoured and delighted to write a short review of the publication “The Scots of Scarborough” V1 #1, which featured Thomas Telford, the greatest engineer of his time, and the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. I hoped that Bruce McCowan’s inspirational work might form the basis of educational projects for the next generation that celebrate the creative art of engineering and reveal the threads that tie us to the past.

How appropriate then that this has resulted in the impressive Menai Bridge model as the means of displaying the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry in Scarborough, Canada. Threads from the present within the tapestry have given life to many stories from the past, and they are supported on the suspended deck of a representation of one of Telford’s greatest achievements. This bridge is more than just an engineering contrivance. It is a bridge between engineering and art, a bridge between the past and the present and a bridge that has joined a community together in this marvellous project.

I commend everyone involved in this multi-faceted celebration of Emigrant Scots, of the engineering genius of Thomas Telford, and of creative design – that thrilling and exciting process that allows us to produce works of art – tapestries and bridges alike.  Thomas Telford would have been pleased.

Professor Gordon Masterton, OBE Chair of Future Infrastructure, University of Edinburgh  
Chairman and Founder, Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame

Past President, the Institution of Civil Engineers



V1#2 Thinking Like Telford -- Afterword
Where to From Here?

Where can we take this "Thinking Like Telford" metaphor shown on the cover of this booklet? What discoveries can we guide students toward? What innovations can we inspire students to imagine? The list of "STEAM'D" learning activities in this booklet is wide-ranging and a meaningful starting point. Not only was Thomas Telford a profoundly skilled engineer (the E in STEAM'D) but, he was also on the leading edge of developing our understanding of materials science (S), at least from a behaviour point of view. Telford was also a poet -- the A in STEAM'D.

But perhaps most importantly -- the D for diversity in STEAM'D -- Telford was not from the nobility or upper classes about whom and by whom much of our history has been written. Telford grew up poor and is a model for self-improvement, work ethic and initiative. Our histories -- the stories of our evolution as a civilization -- should look much more closely at our ordinary citizens. We can learn a lot from the stories like these in The Scots of Scarborough.   It is a thrill indeed to learn that the original catchment area for our school, SATEC @W.A. Porter CI, includes much of the farm that was operated by the founder of the milk marketing movement in Ontario. He was just an ordinary farmer, or so we would have thought until now.

 George Mavraganis, Principal, SATEC @W.A. Porter CI  
Toronto District School Board





The Scarborough Exhibition of the 
Scottish Diaspora Tapestry

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
115 St. Andrew's Road, Scarborough, Ontario 
Monday September 19 to Saturday October 1, 2016

: Noon to 8:00 pm
Saturday, September 24/16: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Sunday, Sept. 25: 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Saturday Oct. 1: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm 

Contact: bmccowan__at__netrover__com 


Introduction: Scottish Heritage – Get on Board by Volunteering

The heritage movement in Scotland is thriving... mostly due to the dedicated work of numerous -- and tireless -- volunteers. The people of Scotland have many valuable heritage assets, not the least of which are the physical built-properties which serve as museums and various monuments to the achievements of Scots. But the Scottish heritage movement's most valuable asset is the growing group of dedicated people who volunteer their time to "get things done" to bring Scotland's rich socio-economic history, not only to resident Scots, but to visitors from around the world.

As a small token of thanks for their hard, yet enjoyable, work, modest anonymous donations were made to volunteer-based heritage organizations in Scotland in recent months... 

  • To the Jim Hamilton Heritage Society of Coalburn, in memory of Jim Hamilton whose hundreds of oral histories of the Coalburn area are legendary. 

  • To the Lesmahagow Parish Historical Association, in memory of Ian Buchanan of Stockbriggs and Bobby Graham, preserver of much of Lesmahagow’s early twentieth century photographic record. 

  • To Words of Wisdom in Cumnock for their local charitable efforts and in memory of Professor John Butt of Strathclyde University. 

  • To heritage groups in New Cumnock, in memory of Sir Anthony McCowan. 

  • To Cumnock heritage efforts, in memory of Robert D. Hunter. M.B.E., long-time Town Clerk of Cumnock. 

  • To the Ayrshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, in memory of Ian McCowan of Paisley. 

  • To the Ayrshire Federation of Historical Societies, in memory of John McCowan of Paisley. 

  • To the Scottish History Society in memory of John McCowan of Cambuslang.

  • To the Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists in memory of the two-century-old plantation of beech trees at East Auchanbeg.

For further information about these volunteer-driven organizations, please visit:

The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry – A Triumph in Volunteering

Several hundred thousand Scots now live in many other parts of the world. For over three centuries, Scots have been taking their enterprise, values and institutions to the four corners of the globe. In 2014, the Year of the Scottish Homecoming, the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry project ( was front-and-centre in the celebration of Scottish achievement around the world. Hundreds of volunteers in over thirty countries where Scots made homes outside Scotland were all dedicated to finishing their panels for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. And the celebration continues with exhibitions of the Tapestry around the world!

The Scarborough Panels of the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry

Almost twenty volunteers associated with one early Scottish community -- Scarborough, Ontario, Canada – have completed Diaspora Tapestry panels in celebration of the relationship between Scottish settlers and the Canadian forest almost 200 years ago. Symbolized in these panels are stories of hardship and survival, and others of prosperity, fellowship and faith – death by falling tree and stump remover; clearing the land for crops; sawmills for the construction of homes, barns and churches; cutting and selling masts for the shipping industry, and Alex Muir’s famous song “The Maple Leaf Forever”.

The Scottish families of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Scarborough, are modestly featured in the excellent new coffee-table book "The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry". More information is at:

Credit and profound thanks for hundreds of hours of stitching on these three beautiful Scarborough panels go to descendants of those hardy Scottish settlers: Janet Lawrie Whiteley; Christine Lawrie Trought; Margaret Lawrie Bell; Nancy Weir McCowan; Ann McCowan Wakelin; Megan Weir Burbidge; Vicki Hallworth Weir; Dale Kennedy Clarke; Ashley Barr Cullen; Diane Kennedy McCarter; Joan McCowan Conway; Betty McCowan; David McCowan; Jennifer Clarke Tse; Joelle Clarke Tse; Valerie Pike Stormer; Kirsten Burbidge Gartshore.


From Croft to Clearing 

The ordinary lowland Scots in the eighteenth century typically shared their primitive rural dwelling with their livestock. A crude log cabin protected the early Scottish settler from the wild animals of the Scarborough forest. The Maple tree, made famous in Canada by Lesmahagow-born Alexander Muir, camouflages the distinction between Scotland and Canada -- the cultural and economic ties between the old country and the new remained profoundly strong for several generations and should, today, be energetically renewed through appreciation of a common heritage. Scarborough, Upper Canada, was the destination of several hundred lowland Scots, particularly from Eskdale, Dumfriesshire, and Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire.


Bees, Frolics and Building Barns


Scarborough Logging Bee 

All of these early families, as listed on the Scarborough Logging Bee panel, attended the Scots kirk now known as St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Scarborough. The year 2018 is the 200th anniversary of St. Andrews, the first Presbyterian congregation in Toronto.

With sincere apologies to the several dozen other Scottish families who made Scarborough their home in the first half of the nineteenth century. These families include: Aiton, Allison, Beatty, Brown, Brownlie, Clark, Clelland, Core, Craig, Crawford, Davidson, Dickson, Ferguson, Findlay, Fleming, Forfar, Frame, Gordon, Green, Heron, Holmes, Hood, Hunter, Johnston, Lambie, Little, Malcolm, Marshall, Martin, Maxwell, Oliver, Paton, Porteous, Reid, Rennie, Russell, Scott, Stirling, Tacket, Telfer, Thom, Tudhope, Tweedie, Wright.

Education Outreach: The Tree as a Learning Metaphor

In education, a central symbol connecting our past and future is the “tree”. Trees grow over time, getting stronger, contributing more to their environment and adding to the enjoyment of their neighbours. We must all grow as learners -- this is called "lifelong learning" in the vocabulary of Essential Skills.

Why the Tree? Learning Connections Galore! 

And which tree? Really, any tree. Could be the revered maple – the subject of the song, “The Maple Leaf Forever”, written by Scarborough teacher, Alexander Muir, over a century ago. The maple has also been used symbolically as the cultural link for one of Scarborough’s immigrant groups, the Scots. Or the aesthetically pleasing pine, crafted into so many kitchen floors in Scarborough’s old farmhouses. Or the durable cedar, transformed into the rail fences strung across the very fertile fields of glacial clay deposits. Or the birch, its unique bark carefully sewn into a brilliant invention – the canoe -- by our first Canadians. Or the tough hemlock, trod upon by the hooves of a hundred horses on the drive floor of frame barns. Or just any tree – they all have incredible stories to tell.

Learning connections so far -- creative writing, immigration, artistic expression, architecture, construction technology, transportation, landform, food production. Indeed, the tree offers an abundance of opportunities for student critical thinking and creativity.

2016 – Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design

The Scarborough exhibition of the 304-panel Scottish Diaspora Tapestry will be unique. In the Thomas Telford Engineering Challenge, senior high school student teams -- wherever they may be -- are invited to design a thirty six foot long model of the central unsupported span of the Menai Suspension Bridge by which the entire Tapestry could (theoretically!) be hung at the Scarborough Exhibition. (Students will only build a 4 foot model of their design, however.) The Menai bridge -- arguably the world’s first modern suspension bridge -- was designed by Thomas Telford (ca 1820) who had apprenticed as a stone mason in Dumfriesshire alongside the Thomson brothers who later settled in Scarborough. The Thomas Telford Engineering Challenge will get students to practise the kinds of thinking that Telford probably used in order to “come up with this new kind” of longer-span bridge.

Please contact D. B. McCowan, P. Eng, OCT, bmccowan__at__netrover__com, for details of how to obtain the description of the Telford Engineering Challenge and other supporting educational supplements.

You may also download ThomasTelford_EngineeringChallenge_Ja26_16.pdf.

Planning the Scarborough Exhibition of the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry

Canada’s multicultural diversity will be celebrated in Scarborough, Ontario, from September 19 to October 1, 2016, in a very special way. Ordinary Scottish folk including coalminers, trades-people, farmers and farm servants carried their strong work ethic, social institutions and values around the world. In their adopted communities they made new friends, learned together, and shared ideas, perspectives and dreams.

The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry ( will be on a North American tour in 2016. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Scarborough, will host the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry Exhibition from September 19 to October 1, 2016. The first Presbyterian congregation in Toronto, St. Andrew’s celebrates their bi-centennial in 2018.

For further information – and to get involved! -- please contact D. B. McCowan,  bmccowan__at__netrover__com.


And here is how it all turned out!