Sojourns on the Bluffs
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By Ruth McCowan Dobslaw

When I think about living in Scarborough in the '60s (the first nine years of my life in the Harold McCowan farm house at Stop 20, Kingston Road) memories invariably come up about the Scarborough Bluffs. Since my grandmother McCowan, Janet, had a house on the bluffs, (Grandpa had died when I was about three) the temptation was always present - a quick bike ride down to her house. Then along one of the many paths (if you could call them that!) and away we would go. I'm not sure that my mother always knew what I was up to, but not for lack of caring. It was a different era - kids that age didn't have to be monitored every minute of the day, the way (it seems) they do today. And being the youngest of nine grandchildren, my mother assumed that my older siblings and cousins would take care of me and not put me in any danger. (It's just as well she didn't always know!) Not that we thought it was dangerous - just good adventures and lots of fun.

There are a few of these adventures that come to mind. One time my brother, Bruce, was leading the pack and decided that we should take a short-cut back to Gramma's from the beach area below her house. At that time it was possible to walk part-way up the cliff by holding onto trees on a grassy area. After that there was a stretch which could only be passed by straddling the clay ridge, and shimmying across it - with a deep gully on each side. It was about one-half way across that I think I decided that I was afraid of heights. It took a good deal of coaxing by Bruce to get me the rest of the way. I doubt if we told my mother about that one!

Then there was the time that my cousin Ann and I left a family gathering for a quick trip down the bluffs, only to get stuck in the mud while coming back up. Aunt Jewel had to come down and pull me up, and as I recall, was not too pleased about it either.

One summer day my sister, Barb, and I wanted to show my two cousins (Megan & Melanie Weir from my mother's side) what fun it was climbing the bluffs. All went well until we got caught by Gramma's next-door neighbour. Depending on the year, erosion and bush growth didn't always make it possible to climb down/up at Gramma's house, and this was one of those years. So we had to sneak across next door where it was easier. BIG MISTAKE. That was the last time we cut across the lawn next door. But it was still fun.

Sometimes we went down to the lake by the flats where the McCowan Cherry Orchard had been. There were fairly easy paths to get down to the lake from there but it still could be tricky. Barb's friend, Carolyn, slipped and tumbled quite a way - bruised and cut and a little shaken. I still enjoyed going to the cherry orchard because we could get a good view of the remains of the sunken freighter, The Alexandria, which had sunk during World War 1. My Dad had told me that his father was one of many neighbours who came to the aid of the sailors as it sunk after hitting a sandbar during a storm. One neighbour, Ed Middleton was particularly brave in that he swam out with a rope to the freighter so that the sailors had a line to follow to shore. Everyone survived. The only part left visible to me was the boiler. I have learned that most of the ship was taken away for scrap metal during World War 2. Aunt Helen told me that they (she and her brothers and cousins) also went there as children to view it. Her cousin, Ruth Heron, could swim out to it with ease. (probably something her mother didn't know about!) The wreck had become dangerous due to years of decay.

The years have also changed the face of the bluffs, even in my "short" lifespan. Every spring brought a new look to my grandmother's property as erosion ate away at the clay. One year the clay had eroded underneath a tree so that it hung horizontally out over the cliff almost at its steepest point. Cousin Doug decided it would make a good seat. Back then we probably thought he was brave. Today, in my older and somewhat wiser state I am not so sure that "brave" is the word I would use to describe his actions. I also remember a group of trees at the tip of the property – now long gone over the edge, as would be the stone lighthouse on the property had Uncle Jack, Uncle Bob and Dad not moved it back out of danger. Over the years Dad and Uncle Jack (who lived there) went down over the edge many times with ropes and ladders planting hundreds of trees on the sloping cliff. Many of these trees have lived and grown tall, their roots helping to hold back some of the erosion. Now there is The Bluffers Park and a huge Marina which can be seen from the top of the cliff. I remember when that was begun.

If I have noticed such changes, I can imagine the changes my Dad's generation had witnessed while growing up there on the farm. Dad did tell me once that the clay ridge I had to shimmy across once used to be quite a wide area covered in grass and trees - a huge change from what I crawled across! But there are always changes.

When I was nine years old we moved to Pickering, so my sojourns down to the bluffs became fewer and fewer until I grew up. Then it became a retreat just to walk out to the bluffs' edge and look over every time I visited Uncle Jack's, even in winter. When I got married, I had some of my wedding pictures taken at the bluffs. As I grew older my memories changed from fun adventures to peaceful contemplations. The biggest change is the fact that there is no longer any McCowan property right on the Bluffs. Perhaps it is fitting that this trip down memory lane is for a "Millenium Project" the biggest change yet to come.

A Post Script by Ruth's typist - her Mother

One hot summer day early in our marriage (mid '50s), I was persuaded to climb down the bluffs - I don't remember just who else went. Going down was no problem unless I looked down. Coming back up was another story. That was my first and last such adventure.

From The Scarboro Heights Record V6 #1