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McCowan Farm

Name of Historic Site

McCowan Farm: "Springbank", the original settlement of the McCowan family, 1833

Site Categories

  • Natural Features (Scarborough Bluffs, Gates Gully, Lake Iroquois shoreline)
  • Aboriginal settlement (ca 8000 BC) (see "McCowan/Cudia" site)
  • Archaeological (1833 cabin site)
  • Scottish settlement (McCowan, 1833)
  • Transport (early roadway to an isolated holding within reach of Kingston Rd.)


Lot 20 Concession B and south end of 20/C, Scarborough (at the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs, bounded by Gates Gully on the east, Lake Ontario on the south, pre-historic Lake Iroquois shoreline on the north and the allowance for Bellamy Road and another gully on the west). (Including the extreme southwest 5 (approx) acres of lot 19.) The site of the 1833 cabin is known more precisely.

NOTE: This cabin site is NOT of the "McCowan Log House Museum" presently in Thomson Memorial Park. That museum building was originally located on Lot 13 Concession 4, Scarborough.

Perly's 1997 Map Coordinates: 37, C6 (Meadowcliff Dr.)

Current Use

The area is presently executive residential. Doris McCarthy's property, "Fool's Paradise", at the east end of the site has been donated to the Ontario Heritage Foundation. The site of the 1833 cabin is on a vacant lot and relatively undisturbed. A section of the Toronto Waterfront Trail is nearby.

Historical Description and Significance

This site embraces several key heritage notions:

  • possibly the earliest presently-known site of human occupation in Toronto (early archaic, ca 8000 BC)
  • Scarborough Bluffs
  • Gates Gully (see "Gates Tavern and Gates Gully" Site)
  • fringe economic activity (smuggling via Gates Gully [not the McCowans])
  • the undisturbed site of the McCowans' first Scarborough log house, 1833
  • cholera epidemic of 1834 (two McCowan deaths in one night).

Also significant is the site's relative isolation from, yet proximity to, Scarborough's artery, Kingston Road. Rather isolated by two deep gullies (Gates and Muir's), the Scarborough Bluffs and the steep shoreline of Lake Iroquois, this fertile holding was among the few that had not been taken up by 1833. In 1833, a Scottish coal and lime entrepreneur, James McCowan, knew the value of closeness to markets -- the property's nearness to Toronto offset the handicap of the surrounding terrain. An early implementor of iron rails for coal transport in underground mines, James McCowan was confident that he could cut a trail through the ravine to link his tenanted farm to Kingston Road.

Short Chronology

  • Evidence of early archaic occupation very nearby, ca 8000 BC (see "McCowan/Cudia" site)
  • James McCowan and Margaret Porteous and their family of 4 sons and 4 daughters settle in the isolated holding, 1833
  • Tenanted by Robert McCowan (1st son of James) and his brothers
  • Tenanted by William P. McCowan (4th son of James) until 1848
  • Purchased by Robert McCowan 1876
  • Willed to Robert's 3rd son, William, 1886
  • Subdivision Plan #1100, 1891
  • general economic depression, 1893-1895
  • ca 1910, Toronto gentry build country residences along Kingston Road, including A.E. Rea at the top of the Lake Iroquois shoreline on lot 20, Plan 1100
  • 1940 residential construction finally begins below the Lake Iroquois shoreline

Relative Importance

Very High

Rationale: In cooperation with other immediately local stakeholder groups, there is significant opportunity to provide interpretation on a wide variety of local heritage themes (aboriginal and early Scottish occupation, arts, nature, geological formations)

Planning Implications

  • Cooperate with Ontario Heritage Foundation re occasional alternate interpretive themes using the McCarthy property.
  • Cooperate with private property owners re the archaeological excavation of the site of an 1833 log home.
  • Cooperate with Metro Toronto Conservation Authority re occasional uses of the adjacent Cudia park for interpretive purposes.
  • Cooperate with Waterfront Trail authorities re access to and promotion of these local interpretive opportunities.
  • Plaques: Early archaic occupation (ca 8000 BC); Scottish occupation (1833)

Reference Sources and Additional Materials

See attached list (34 of the most relevant items in our Scarboro Heights bibliography)

Aug. 3 2000 and Reprinted in The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #2